Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

What have been the key transformations of cultural diplomacy?

Insights into the key transformations of cultural diplomacy has been through in the last three decades
Probably the main key transformation is the generalisation of the term and the introduction by governments in their foreign policy programmes of cultural diplomacy dimensions. I think if you went back 20 years, you would find a core group of countries who had long practised it. You would find that– as I mentioned earlier, France. You would find Britain with the British Council. You would find Germany with the Goethe Institute. And in all of those case– And of course, the main– I was almost forgetting– the key protagonist, of course, was the United States. And it’s from the United States that a key term emerged at the turn of the present century, which is Joseph Nye’s notion of soft power.
And one of the reasons that cultural diplomacy has caught on so much, in my opinion, is the influence of Joseph Nye’s term, where you have a serious political scientist, international relations scholar, who’s never been part of the realist camp, who’s always been part of the liberal camp, but who nevertheless says, look, guys– he’s speaking to his own rulers, his own government. We have plenty of very stick power, hard power. But we are not using the soft power of our culture, of our ideas, of our ways of life, of our values, of our principles. And we need to think about balancing our hard power with our soft power.
Now that idea, at the core of which was the cultural assets that you can use– culture itself it’s not soft power. Nothing is power until it is used for a particular purpose. Then it may become power. And that’s a distinction that is often forgotten. But the reason I’ve dwelled so much on the Nye concept of soft power is not just that it has triggered off a big debate in international relations literature, but also it has come to remind the authorities in many different countries that, yes, we should be thinking seriously of the cultural dimensions of our foreign policy.
And it has also carried over into the policies of the European Union, as we know, although official EU usage, the way the commission talks, is to avoid as much as possible the use of the term cultural diplomacy because they are all too aware of the instrumentality. They don’t want to appear instrumental. We all know that it is instrumental, but you try– particularly a large bureaucratic organisation in such bureaucratic cultures, there’s always a culture of linguistic euphemism. So just to recap, the vogue now for cultural diplomacy is also, as I said earlier, it’s linked to soft power and the attractiveness of that term.
But it’s also linked to the growing awareness of the importance of the cultural– even though it may be un-theorised, it’s a bit vague, there’s a lot of confusion around the idea. But it’s fashionable, and it’s now become very important for any country to have a foreign policy which includes a dimension of cultural diplomacy. I think the biggest one is its importance. We’ve had cultural exchanges, cultural relations, cultural interactions as key terms in diplomacy for a long time. But especially since Joseph Nye’s writings about soft power, the idea of instrumentalizing that soft power to certain types of things like public diplomacy or cultural diplomacy has become important.
And things that were already happening, for example, the ones I mentioned– cultural exchanges, cultural relations– have now been put under the umbrella of cultural diplomacy, but in and way in which it’s recognised across various international organisations, national organisations, even sub-state actors, or even people-to-people interactions. And so, A, its salience, and two, its use by a variety of actors is probably what I would say are the biggest changes in the last 20 years or so that it’s become such an important topic.

Yudhishthir Raj Isar from The American University of Paris and JP Singh, from the University of Edinburgh, give us their insights into the key transformations that cultural diplomacy has been through in the last decades.

This article is from the free online

Cultural Diplomacy

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education