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Diplomacy and Culture

The course explored the changing relationship between different kinds of "power" (coercion, military, economic—and the power of the arts as intervention, reflection, moral framework, etc.) Thinking of cultural diplomacy as a way to understand the people, societies and politics of countries and regions, the course looked at the specific ways performances, films, and different types of media help us to do that, through theoretical frameworks and a wide range of case studies, screenings, guest speakers, etc.

As revolutions spread throughout the Arab world, and the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and citizen journalism upend traditional power structures, cultural diplomacy and “soft power” play increasingly important roles in diplomacy and foreign policy. At the same time, performance, film, and media increasingly engage international issues and/or topics of concern around the world and, in some cases have an impact on shaping those issues. This course studied the intersection of culture and politics from the perspectives of diplomacy and international relations, as well as global performance, film, and media studies. Class participants looked at a range of films, media events/broadcasts (i.e. the Presidential Election and its coverage as performance, I Am Cuba, Homeland), and performances that have, purposefully or not, played explicit roles in the shaping of policy, or are reflections of them. 

Topics studied included how creative expression foresaw the Arab Revolutions, how Idol programs are changing the world, examples of a wide range of performance practices as documented in Acting Together on the World Stage text and documentary film, and the role of cultural history in shaping identity and countering extremism. Students looked at numerous case studies, drew on the rich resources of campus arts programming as well as on Washington’s embassies, arts institutions, NGOs, government agencies, and associations. They studied both “high” and “popular” culture, from ballet to hip hop, and traditional to “digital” diplomacy.

The class compared the U.S. strategy for cultural diplomacy with the approaches of other countries. Special attention was paid to the challenge of cultural diplomacy between the United States (and the West) and the Arab and Muslim worlds. Guest speakers, both American and international, included artists, representatives from various institutions and embassies in Washington, the State Department and Foreign Service, as well as from the private sector and NGOs. 

Soliya Program

This course also offered students an opportunity to experience cultural diplomacy in action through the Soliya program. Beginning in October, some students had a weekly-facilitated discussion about current events with students in universities from different regions in the US, Europe, and the Arab/Muslim world. Students were divided into groups of eight, representing multiple universities and countries, and “met” virtually via webcam for weekly discussions. Several reading assignments were given in advance of the discussions and provided a framework for the conversation. In addition, students participated in two group project assignments as part of the Soliya program.

This class (CULP-220/TPST-222) was taught by Cynthia Schneider and Derek Goldman as a Doyle Seminar (small upper-level classes that foster deepened student learning about diversity and difference through research and dialogue).



Cynthia Schneider headshot

Cynthia Schneider

Walsh School of Foreign Service

Derek Goldman headshot

Derek Goldman

Department of Performing Arts