Thursday, 19 May 2011


The further up the academic ladder you go, the more theory work you encounter. I'm not a theory person. It's always irritated me when people name drop a theorist in non-academic discussions (particularly in the pub). Maybe it's my own insecurity, as it's usually a name of someone I've heard of but never actually read. Somehow, I managed to get through undergrad without having to read much theory--but now I feel a bit like an English major who's never read Shakespeare. I read a bit of Habermas and Derrida, but as a European Studies major, the reading was about the Old Europe/New Europe paradigm--current events in 2007/8, not exactly the "theory" pieces that made them famous.

Fun fact: When you google image search their names, you get the same image--an old white man posing in front of a bookcase...
Claude Levi-Strauss

Theory doesn't exactly come into my research project, and I'm not sure what to do about that. Phil Taylor used to get irritated by scholars who talked about public diplomacy theory. He said "Public diplomacy is a practice, not a theory." He was right--there is no theory of PD. There are, however, some scholars who think the field needs theory. I recently re-read Eytan Gilboa's "Searching for a theory of public diplomacy" (Annals, 2008, 616). He shoots down every attempt that scholars have made to relate theories and models to public diplomacy. After criticising the field for about 20 pages, he notes that "some progress can be found", and points to his own models among a handful of examples. He closes with the call-to-action statement that the field needs theory design and implementation--but I'm left wondering where to start, after seeing him disparage nearly every approach out there!

Personally, I don't think anyone needs to formulate a single theory for PD. Its interdisciplinary nature means that "PD theory" can be borrowed from existing theories in these other disciplines--international relations theories, communications theories, etc. Although that means I'll have to read some theory literature in all of these fields now...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

On death and viral communication...

I found out about Bin Laden's death via my morning Facebook check. Several of my friends had posted about it, and some of the organisations I've "liked" posted, too--my newsfeed was filled with it, just like when Michael Jackson died. Over the next day or so, I kept seeing this Martin Luther King Jr. quote posted over & over--and it turns out to not even really be a MLK Jr. quote. I love how things go viral and unverified so quickly on the internet.
Just because it isn't really MLK Jr.'s words doesn't mean it isn't true, though. Celebrating the death of our enemy brings us down to their level.

President Obama has approached this entire operation with caution & restraint, and his reaction to the outcome was just as measured & restrained. He has so much more dignity and class than we've seen in the past administration, with its swagger & cockiness marred by failure to achieve their objective of capturing Osama bin Laden.

Images of crowds gathering at Ground Zero chanting "USA! USA!" after hearing the news just show the worst side of America--the mob mentality, saying "we're number one because we killed the bad guy," etc. But the popularity of this misattributed quote says something about the best side of America--sharing a voice of calm and reason, reflecting on the meaning of an event rather than waving flags and chanting mindlessly, and looking to our heroes for inspiration and guidance--even if it wasn't really our hero's words at all.