Real contact leads to better Cultural Diplomacy

As Albro discusses and as it discussed in this week’s lecture public diplomacy is in need of a new cultural diplomacy that is based on relationship building, and not just on presenting culture for foreign publics to try and understand. I say try because as Albro explains in his blog post titled “Cultural Diplomacy’s Representational Conceit” sometimes cultural practitioners believe that by presenting culture (whatever the medium is art, film, performance, etc.) and leaving it to the public to decode is enough, it is not. It is important to create a process where participants can engage in dialogue and exchange ideas while coming to an understanding together of each other’s cultures. Like the author explains we must not focus on us, and what we want, but on how we can help the other, and collaborate so everyone can benefit.

Another type of culture diplomacy that has proved to be effective is one in which public and private organizations collaborate in order to share different aspects of culture abroad. For example, the Sesame Workshop initiative that employs local production teams to create characters and stories that empower girls in countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, China, India, among others. This initiative not only shares lessons on how these types of programs are done in the US, and values that are central to countries in the West, but it is also a collaboration between both countries. Where local producers bring local values and merge them with ideals from the West that can benefit young girls in their respective countries. Another example is the Cultures in Harmony initiative in which through music they help people share and understand issues that are relevant to their community or culture.

What these examples and others that we read highlight is the need to share common values, enter in dialogue, listen to what foreign publics consider important or what they need, and to remember that although culture is incredibly helpful in sharing understanding between two people (or in this case governments and publics) it needs to be sustained with people to people contact, and with the idea that we must collaborate instead of trying to turn publics into receptors without explanation of who we are, our values and beliefs.

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One thought on “Real contact leads to better Cultural Diplomacy

  1. Great post. I agree with what Albro says, that it is simply not enough to present an article or some other representation of one’s culture and let others decide how to decode it. Often, there is not an equivalent idea or norm in a corresponding environment for a foreign citizen to process what a representation of culture should be.

    Creation of process, especially those that enlighten the reception of a cultural idea are very important. A good example of this is the way that the US train foreign militaries. The National Guard State Partnership Program finds military units that are similar makeup to the nation that they will be training. Due to the United State’s great diversity, this is possible. Units that have large populations of soldiers of Filipino descent, like the HI State National Guard, are often sent to train soldiers in the Philippines. This allows our troops to project systems and values, while often sharing a lot of the cultural values as their counterparts, and will help them interpret these systems the correct way.

    By instituting exchange programs that can show similarities between one nation and the one they are seeking to influence, ideas and norms can be communicated across cultures. This can allow one nation to have a positive view of another country’s people, culture and policies and lead to great cooperation down the road.

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