Paradoxes of ‘public diplomacy’: Ethnographic perspectives on the European Union delegations in the antipodes

Altman, Tess and Shore, Cris. 2014. Paradoxes of ‘public diplomacy’: Ethnographic perspectives on the European Union delegations in the antipodes. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 25(3), pp. 337-356. ISSN 1035-8811 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

‘Public diplomacy’ is a term increasingly used among policy makers and academics, yet its meaning is ambiguous and contested. Advocates proclaim it as a new approach to statecraft entailing a participatory approach of shared meaning‐making between politicians and the public markedly different from the elitist, Machiavellian inter‐governmental practices of traditional (‘Westphalian’) diplomacy. The European Union (EU) has embraced these ideals, proclaiming public diplomacy a cornerstone of European external relations policy. We examine these claims in the context of the EU's delegations to Australia and New Zealand. Using three ethnographic case studies, we highlight discrepancies between official discourses on public diplomacy and its practice. The participatory ideals of EU public diplomacy, we argue, are undermined by the EU's preoccupation with image and branding, public relations and marketing techniques, and continuing reliance on traditional ‘backstage’ methods of diplomacy. We conclude by outlining the implications of these paradoxes for both anthropological research and EU external relations.

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public diplomacy, EU delegations, EU external relations, soft power, political symbols, ethnographic perspectives

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6 September 2014Published Online
16 December 2014Published

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15 Feb 2019 11:27

Last Modified:

15 Feb 2019 11:30

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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