In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Diplomacy

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Soft Power
  • New Century, New Public Diplomacy
  • Beyond the New Public Diplomacy

International Relations Public Diplomacy
Jan Melissen, Shangbie Du, Abhiraj Goswami
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0018


Public diplomacy is a relatively young concept and a field of study that has produced a deluge of literature since the turn of the century. The learning curve has been considerable. This bibliography is mainly based on the literature since 2010, so as to present cutting-edge knowledge in the field. The worldwide practice of diplomatic engagement with people preceded the integration of its terminology within governments and ministries of foreign affairs. In the present century, public diplomacy efforts have become increasingly mainstreamed. The practice is subject to wider evolutions occurring in international relations, diplomacy, and state-society relations. As such it is considered to be different from traditional government-to-government diplomacy, in the first place because it engages nonstate actors. Many policymakers and scholars associate public diplomacy primarily with “soft power” and there is no one-size-fits-all definition in what is a truly multidisciplinary field of study. The initial normative debate has distracted from deeper issues in the field and public diplomacy’s evolution and significance. Two common conceptual frameworks recur in the early-21st-century literature: “old” (unidirectional government communication) and “new” (network relational multi-actor) public diplomacy. These categories are attempts to make sense of public diplomacy’s concepts and key functions in a fast-changing international environment. More recent scholarship seeks to move beyond these categorizations by emphasizing the integration of old and new as well as public diplomacy’s integration within diplomacy. Some of the latest work on public diplomacy is in response to recent trends in international politics, such as enhanced geopolitical rivalry, the impact of digital technologies and the rise of populism. US writings once dominated the literature, but contributions from Europe have been significant, while academic output from the postcolonial world is growing rapidly and is increasingly important. This article begins with works that offer a General Overview. Following this, selected secondary sources on Soft Power are listed and, in New Century, New Public Diplomacy, works discuss early-21st-century trends in the debate, followed by Beyond the New Public Diplomacy. Works cited under Coming of Age: Diplomacy’s Public Dimension highlight the importance of realizing that public diplomacy accompanies wider developments in diplomatic practice. This section stresses new themes and modes of communicative practice. Literature cited under Public Diplomacy Worldwide focuses on the United States, China, and India as well as the European Union, and the article concludes with Book Series and Journals.

General Overview

Because public diplomacy literature relates to a myriad of issues and has been studied from various conceptual, disciplinary, and geographical points of view, works that provide an all-inclusive overview do not exist. Special issues of journals provide varied overviews of the broad scope of public diplomacy and chapters in handbooks and textbooks are sometimes overlooked. See, for instance, Huijgh 2016 and Melissen 2018. Among fairly recent edited works, Zaharna, et al. 2014 and Snow and Cull 2020 provide interesting insights in the learning curve in public diplomacy studies. These accessible standard works bring together writings on different topics, cases, and approaches. Gregory 2016 dissects the various boundaries of public diplomacy. Also recommended to those searching for a straightforward means of expanding their fluency on the topic and as good starting points for delving more deeply into specifics are three recent monographs: Cull 2019, Huijgh 2019, and Manor 2019 (cited under Digital Diplomacy). Zaharna 2022 takes the discussion on global public diplomacy forward. For the reader interested in a general overview of public diplomacy research, see Ayhan 2019 and Sevin, et al. 2019.

  • Ayhan, Kadir Jun. “The Boundaries of Public Diplomacy and Non-state Actors: A Taxonomy of Perspectives.” International Studies Perspectives 20.1 (2019): 63–83.

    DOI: 10.1093/isp/eky010

    This article reflects recent interest in the study of public diplomacy in Korea. It gives not just a taxonomy and argument for more robust methodologies in public diplomacy research, but also provides a critical reflection with ideas about the future course of research. Conceptual and making a sound argument for analytical rigor.

  • Cull, Nicholas. Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2019.

    This accessible introduction, for a broad readership, is foundational, engaging and based on strong historical research as well as an assessment of recent trends. One of the strengths of the book is that the author discusses key skills and characteristics of public diplomacy and cultural relations.

  • Gregory, Bruce. “Mapping Boundaries in Diplomacy’s Public Dimension.” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 11.1 (2016): 1–25.

    DOI: 10.1163/1871191X-12341317

    In this important article the author discusses the centrality of public diplomacy in the practice of diplomacy. Hence, in his view the term public diplomacy comes with the risk of marginalization. The author discusses four boundaries of public diplomacy, two of which include a framework for diplomacy that connects actors with process variables and a distinction between diplomacy and other group relationships.

  • Huijgh, Ellen. “Public Diplomacy.” In The SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy. Edited by Costas M. Constantinou, Pauline Kerr, and Paul Sharp, 437–450. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781473957930.n36

    A thorough and detailed overview with interesting sections on public diplomacy “beyond the new” and avenues for future research. Authoritative on public diplomacy’s domestic dimension and writing with great nuance on substate public diplomacy.

  • Huijgh, Ellen. Public Diplomacy at Home: Domestic Dimensions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Nijhoff, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004394254

    This empirically rich and authoritative account makes an argument in favor of an integrative perspective on official actors’ public involvement at home and abroad. It includes case studies from North America, Europe, and the Indo-Pacific region.

  • Melissen, Jan. “Public Diplomacy.” In Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices. 2d ed. Edited by Pauline Carr and Geoffrey Wiseman, 199–218. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    Textbook chapter with didactical features such as key points and boxes with examples, sample questions, and a guide to further reading. Wide-ranging overview paying special attention to the fundamentals of public diplomacy and its practice outside the West.

  • Sevin, Efe, Emily Metzgar, and Craig Hayden. “The Scholarship of Public Diplomacy: Analysis of a Growing Field.” International Journal of Communication 13 (2019): 4814–4837.

    Overview of public diplomacy as a field of study that is, like this bibliography, limited to scholarly journals and books in English. Ranks serial publications dedicated to the study of public diplomacy. The analysis produces an interesting range of facts and figures, including principal research themes and trends.

  • Snow, Nancy, and Nicholas J. Cull. The Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2020.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429465543

    Handbook with forty-five chapters by scholars and practitioners. This massive volume maintains a broad scope and draws attention to case studies on public diplomacy outside the transatlantic world. Accessible and a significant improvement on the first edition, for instance in that it will be of greater appeal to a global readership.

  • Zaharna, R. S. Boundary Spanners of Humanity: Three Logics of Communications and Public Diplomacy for Global Collaboration. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190930271.001.0001

    A book with a passionate and provocative argument on public diplomacy for global collaboration, searching for commonalities in global communication and proposing a humanity-centered perspective on global diplomacy as well as theorizing everyday diplomacy.

  • Zaharna, R. S., Amelia Arsenault, and Ali Fisher, eds. Relational, Networked and Collaborative Approaches to Public Diplomacy: The Connective Mindshift. London: Routledge, 2014.

    A fine collection of essays for a readership of graduate students and academics. The book makes a significant contribution in stressing the relational dimensions of public diplomacy from a range of angles and with contributions from various disciplines.

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