Wednesday, September 7, 2011

[New] Chaos is Back

It's been a while since I last blogged, for which, I realize, I deserve a reprimand. But now, well into my second week as a Ph.D. student, I guess I no longer have an excuse to be lazy about it.

Where had I been all this time? Mostly in DC, getting ready to start school for the forth time, which involved stocking up on lots and lots of books (most on International Relations). Unfortunately, universities are still to start offering a Doctoral degree in Public Diplomacy - for better or worse - so if you're a PD enthusiast, like myself, who wants to take the time and the effort to explore the field thoroughly (and here I'm talking about years of time and effort), you're most likely to end up in a Communication school. But then, since the debate on public diplomacy's location (discipline-wise) is still raging, and - as I found out - some would even argue over whether public diplomacy can be theorized at all, I decided to go the IR [International Relations] route.

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There are multiple reasons for this choice. Firstly, I see the difference between the "communication" and "IR" approaches as being similar to the one between marketing/PR and public diplomacy. PD should be based on and informed by good old communication and persuasion techniques. It can also gain a lot from understanding how various media and media systems work in shaping, changing and maintaining certain images and perceptions. However, since PD deals essentially with foreign publics, since it emphasizes genuine understanding and engagement - beyond mere product promotion or image management (or at least, it should) - and since it takes place within a certain political and international context, isolating its "subject matter" within the field of Communication is clearly insufficient. IR, especially the flexible and multidisciplinary program at the School of International Service, therefore, provides the complexity, the freedom, as well as the openness necessary for such an approach.

And yes, my semi-stated aspiration for the next several years will be to build a coherent and inclusive approach for studying public diplomacy (I won't go as far as calling it a "theory", of course). This endeavor will need to incorporate elements not just from communication and international relations, but also from cross-cultural communication, anthropology, psychology and perhaps sociology.

Heh... good luck to me!

Cartoon from

Yet, in line with the typical "American academic approach", we will be spending our first year or two reading (and re-reading) the major works of thought and methodology in the field of International Relations. My PD perspective on all that will, most probably, remain largely unchanged. However - and here comes the disclaimer - given the slightly different focus of the literature, as well as its sheer volume, you might start finding more IR-related discussions and thoughts on Global Chaos as well. My hope is that it will only enrich and complement the subject of public diplomacy, and yet, not all thought (and certainly not all practice) in IR is relevant or compatible with PD.

In short, I will not be giving up the blog, even if you see my posts becoming increasingly infrequent at times. If anything, I hope Global Chaos will incorporate new perspectives and ideas, as I advance. And, as always, I will greatly appreciate any comments and suggestions from the reader!

A lot has happened in the past two months - i.e. since I last blogged - that merits attention. I hope to catch up on it all some day. As for now, I wanted to share two more or less new pieces with you here:

The first is yet another of my papers published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Journal of International Service: "Hizballah’s Media Strategy: Creating a 'Theater of Terror'." Although it does not focus on public diplomacy per se, the paper analyzes the communication strategies of the Lebanese terrorist group within the larger framework of asymmetric information warfare. What is more, the subject does still carry PD relevance, since I was focusing primarily on Hizballah's foreign-language outreach when analyzing its "new media" strategy. With the increasing prominence of non-state actors and transnational issues, the analysis of such cases has become indispensable, even if for the simple reason of devising a "counter-attack".

And yes, this was just a test-run. Larger and broader projects will hopefully follow.

The second piece I wanted to share here was a program recently made by Al Jazeera, as a part of their "The 9/11 Decade" series (which, by the way, features a great collection of reports and perspectives). This one is called "The Image War" and, I should say, is a very interesting, insightful, and (perhaps) at times provocative take at some of the major PD-related issues that dominated the past decade.

Stay tuned...

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