Convergence and Hyphenated Diplomacy (or a New Hyphenated Diplomacy)

I have a “teaching affects my research” moment! After a few months of discussing transmedia storytelling with my senior students, my take on diplomacy and public diplomacy is changing. I surely am not the first person to come up with this idea of taking a transmedia approach to public diplomacy. James Pamment of Lund University had a similar article published in 2015. Building on his work and my teaching experience, I argue that a transmedia approach that acknowledges media convergence might help different hyphenated diplomacy terms to converge (or might create Transmedia Diplomacy)

 

 

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Theory and Practice in Public Diplomacy: Diplomatic dish-washing

For the last couple of months, I have been working on the latest project of Turkayfe.org – our online coffeehouse project. The website, which started out as an online “social diplomacy” / place branding project is going offline, and meeting people on the street with “Mobile Turkish Coffee House” project.

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Turkayfe.orgstarted out as an idea in May 2009, and the website went live in May 2010. From our very early days, we did our best to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our project. As a doctoral candidate studying public diplomacy, and a dilettante practitioner; I tried to use my practical experience in my academic studies and vice-versa.

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Practice-Focused Theoretical Approach in Place Branding

As a doctoral student, I spend most of my time in the world of theory. In conjunction with my last post, I want to discuss what a practice-focused theoretical approach can do in place branding. And yes, I made up the term ‘practice-focused theoretical approach’.

Let me try to explain what I mean by the term. Again, as a disclaimer – I am in my third year of my graduate studies. Therefore, it is very difficult for me to talk about anything without referring to a theory. Why?

  • A theory describes your ontological and epistemological stance. In ‘smaller’ words, when I use a theory, I actually tell my audience what I think about reality and how I can make sense of that reality.

    So, what is a place brand? Is it something objective that can be reach? Do we have a list of ‘must-have’s for an attractive place brand? Or is it case-specific? Does it depend on what people think about a place?
    Similarly, what is place-branding? Is it trying to complete a list of ‘to-do’s? Is it communicating with foreign publics?

    How do we measure the brand of a place? Based on what we understand from place brand and branding, we should be able to come up with measurement criteria. If our understanding of a place brand is based on substance, our measurement cannot be based on perception. (And we also should not claim nation branding does not exists when our measurement scale is inherently flawed.) (And by we, I mean Simon Anholt.)

  • A theory, then, tells us how to approach a subject. Our conception of reality guides us when we are in the field. If we don’t know what place branding is, we cannot engage in the practice. Even if we do so, our practice will be based on our prior experience. This is why several marketing and public relations firm try to come up with branding projects that are solely based on logos and slogans.

    What should I look at when I am in the field?
    What should I do to improve the ‘brand’?

    I try to introduce a critical-theory influenced approach to place branding and define the term as “a communicative action process in which legitimate actors engage in speech acts to reach a common understanding of a place”. This definition has its roots in Habermas and even to an extent Weber. I discuss how actors claim legitimacy, structure communicative action, make claims, and engage in ‘constative, regulative, and expressive’ acts. Yet, my ultimate goal in these discussions is to reflect on practice.

    Here are some of my ‘academic’ conclusions:
    – A place brand is created with an intersubjective relationship between a speaker and the audience.
    – Creation of a brand and its communication are interactive.
    – Place branding takes places in a political environment where power and legitimacy are fundamental concepts.
    – Legitimacy is a sociologically relative term, and should be negotiated in every step of the social action.

    One of my projects is based on this understanding of communicative action. We believe that a brand is an intangible and social constructed phenomenon, therefore a branding project should aim to intervene in the construction of the place image by the audience. Communicative action is based on a cooperative deliberation process. Therefore, the audience should be able to negotiate the meaning of the place with the speaker with the ultimate aim of reaching a common rational understanding of the place.

    And the end product is….a website – Turkayfe.org. Long story short, theory does not necessarily complicate the social life for us. On the contrary, theoretical approaches simplify the reality to be analyzed more easily. Big theoretical studies are not confined to academic journals. If we can have a ‘practice-focused theoretical approach’, in other words use theory to come up with better practices; (a) we will have more robust projects, (b) we will have be able to craft better strategies.

    PS: If you are interested, here is an article I wrote with Gizem about Turkayfe:
    Sevin, E., & White, G. S. (2011). Turkayfe.org: share your Türksperience. Journal of Place Management and Development, 4(1), 80-92. doi:10.1108/17538331111117188

  • Theory & Place Branding: Theorizing or Terrorizing?

    Another important discussion we had during the 2nd Place Branding Conference was the lack of theoretical frameworks. There is no theory of place branding per se. Yet, should we aim to create a theory (or theories)? If so, how should we proceed? Here is my two cents.

     

    “Image from http://antaryamin.wordpress.com/

    Scholars tend to use theories for analytical purposes, rather than practical ones. In other words, a theoretical framework will enable us to take a systematically critical look at a social phenomenon. Given the fact that place branding seems to be a practice-driven field for the time being, theoretical frameworks will provide the scholars with more opportunities to assail place branding projects. (For some reason, I believe scholars do not need more opportunities to criticize anything…. They are doing a great job right now anyways). If practitioners keep facing ‘theoretical’ criticism from scholars, they might be in a position where they do not feel the need to share their experiences and findings with the academic community. This situation will definitely hinder the development of the field.

     

    Yet, theoretical discussions also have practical implications. Theory is fundamentally the way you approach an issue. If we explicitly acknowledge our theoretical assumptions, we might be able to strategize our place branding projects in a more effective and strategic way. Moreover, theoretical frameworks will ensure the compatibility of different aspects of our projects. As I tried to discuss in my earlier post, these different aspects come from various disciplines; therefore, there is a need for a foundation to unify them under one heading.

     

    In short, yes, we do need a theory (or theories). However, we need to work on building up these theories without terrorizing the field, our colleagues, and more importantly the practitioners.

     

    When we consider the fact that even well-established disciplines suffer from theoretical and methodological debates, such debates might ‘kill’ our emerging discipline. Undermining role of one or more disciplines in place branding might alienate some scholars. And lastly, as I discussed above, harsh criticism might cause practitioners to leave the discussion table.

     

    Therefore, I believe, we should first of all ‘cut practitioners some slack’ for the time being. Through a wait-and-see approach, we will help our ‘data-set’ to grow. The higher number of place branding projects means a larger volume of data for us to start building up theories. Secondly, we should keep encouraging inter-disciplinary dialogue and make use of existing theoretical frameworks. I know that these recommendations are easier said than done. Not criticizing practice also means postponing the development of the study (and the practice) by years. Combination of inter-disciplinary theories might be nearly impossible due to different epistemological and ontological assumptions. However, I still argue that this is our best shot! If we want to theorize the study of place branding, we have to do so without terrorizing.

     

    This post is also published at http://placebranding.ning.com/

    Perils of Ambiguity: Interdisciplinary and Cultural

    After another very long break, I’m back blogging. Last week, I was in Bogota, Colombia attending the 2nd International Place Branding Conference. The conference was an invaluable learning experience – and a great motivator. I decided to write down some of my ideas as blog posts to share my impressions as well as to build up some background information for future publication ideas.

    First of all, I owe a big thank you to all the organizers. The conference was perfect! We were around 80 practitioners and scholars around the globe (and it took us around 5 minutes to divide the group into two camps –practitioners and scholars– with several people, including myself, stuck in between). Moreover, both practitioners and scholars were coming from different backgrounds: marketing, political science, communication, international relations, geography, history, architecture etc… We discussed individual presentations, as well as the development of (the need for?) place branding as a distinct discipline.

    Right now, I am on my flight back to Washington, DC and have several ideas in my mind. Let me start with the first one. We (i) label place branding as interdisciplinary without really naming the ‘disciplines’ and (ii) claim that ‘one does not fit for all’ in place branding because of the role of culture without really explaining what that role is. In other words, we avoid some –very difficult to conclude– discussions via our safe words: ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘cultural’. I have less to say about the latter, so I’ll start with that one.

    It is not possible to replicate a successful place branding project out-of its cultural context. But what is that context? Are we talking about the variation in how audience(s) perceive messages? Do people from different cultures have different place understandings? Do different places have different properties? Is the relation between locals and audiences different in every place? – I know, the answer to most of these questions is just yes, but this doesn’t disprove my point. We can still identify, at least try to identify some of the dynamics that make up the culture difference in place branding campaigns and come up with ‘guidelines’ if not modifiable/flexible models.
    Interdisciplinary…. During the closing panel, I tried to mention about the peril of this work. I, myself, have written about the interdisciplinary nature of the field formally and informally. I have also tried to name those disciplines: communication, marketing, political science, international relations, (and as I learned at the conference), history, place management, geography and more…. I do not know a scholar who has a working knowledge in all these areas. Alas, I even cannot think of a team of scholars from all these disciplines working together.

    However, several of the questions we have been trying to answer in place branding/nation branding/and to an extent public diplomacy have already been answered by scholars… Our answers are out there in the literature. Though, it is difficult to pinpoint which literature we are talking about in this sense…

    Therefore, how should we approach to the study of place branding? Should we send out scouts to the domains of unknown literatures and wait for their return with precious knowledge? Should we figure out what we can agree on in our limited experience of knowledge-creation in place branding and then focus on them? Or should we just accept that place branding is not and will never be a discipline? Should we build up theories on practice? on ideological stances? Or should we just not build up theories?

    I, personally, think we should recruit brave knights from several different disciplines…

    This post is also published at http://placebranding.ning.com/