Thursday, April 21, 2011

People Power

Greetings, manICateers! And apologies for my irregular posts this month. As graduation looms, I've been swamped with oral comps, thesis shenanigans and job hunting hijinks. And now, to add insult to injury, I'm going to cross-post from my class blog:

"Leadership in a global information age is less about being the king of the mountain issuing commands that cascade down a hierarchy than being the person in the center of a circle or network who attracts and persuades others to come help. Both the hard power of coercion and the soft power of attraction and persuasion are crucial to success in such situations. Americans need better to understand both these dimensions of smart power." -- Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

I think the quote above, taken from Joe Nye's recent article in Foreign Policy, succinctly summarizes one of the main points we've been discussing about smart power this semester, namely that hard and soft power together are stronger than hard power or soft power alone, and that current technologies have increased the need for networked communication, as opposed to hierarchical.

Manuel Castells makes a similar point in Communication Power, where he argues that new technologies have given rise to what he calls "horizontal communication networks" that empower individuals and challenge state autonomy in new ways. We've seen evidence of this in recent months, most obviously in Egypt, but we've also seen evidence of its limitations. Cohen and Schmidt address this to some extent in their article in Foreign Affairs, when they discuss the impacts of varying degrees of connectivity and freedom, and while they only provide a quick summary, I think they do a good job of underscoring why Internet freedom doesn't always automatically translate to successful revolutionary action.

Nonetheless, as Cohen and Schmidt, Castells, Secretary Clinton and many of the other people we've read this semester have pointed out, individuals can be powerful, particularly when they work together and when they have access to appropriate technology.

Recently at a University event, a prospective student asked me why I thought the field of Public Diplomacy was growing and whether I thought it reflected a change attitudes about diplomacy in general within the United States. While it's impossible to determine the effects of new attitudes, I do think it's fair to say that U.S. attitudes about diplomacy have changed significantly in recent years, and that Obama and Clinton have adopted a much more expansive, citizen-focused view.

Maybe it's just Spring in the air, but that makes me feel optimistic.

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