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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Twentieth-Century Public Diplomacy
  • Beyond the “New Public Diplomacy”: The Future
  • Public Diplomacy in Europe

International Relations Public Diplomacy
Jan Melissen, Shangbie Du, Abhiraj Goswami
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0018


Public diplomacy is a relatively young, though popular, concept and field of study, with a deluge of literature since the turn of the century. The practice of public diplomacy, or diplomatic engagement with people, preceded the integration of its terminology within governments and ministries of foreign affairs. Public diplomacy as a practice and field of study is subject to wider evolutions occurring in diplomacy, international relations, and societies. Public diplomacy is traditionally considered to be different from traditional government-to-government diplomacy because it engages nonstate actors. Although many policymakers and scholars associate public diplomacy primarily with “soft power” (the power to persuade by attraction), it is relevant to both soft and hard power. In recent decades, public diplomacy has become increasingly central to the practice of diplomacy. Public diplomacy is a multidisciplinary field of study with little in the way of a theoretical body and uniform definition, and it is characterized by conceptual confusion. With hundreds of diverging descriptions, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of public diplomacy, and the debate on what it is and is not remains robust. But this debate also distracts from deeper issues in the field and broad international agreement on public diplomacy’s evolution and significance. Despite definitional issues, two common conceptual frameworks recur in the literature: “old” (unidirectional government communication) and “new” (network relational multi-actor) public diplomacy. In effect, these analytical categories are scholarly attempts to adjust public diplomacy’s concepts and key functions (actors, publics, means, goals) to the changing international environment. They do not replace one another but are complementary to each other. The latest round of scholarship seeks to move beyond these categorizations by emphasizing the integration of old and new in public diplomacy as well as public diplomacy’s integration within diplomacy. US writings once dominated the literature, but contributions from other regions are increasing rapidly. The study of and literature on public diplomacy is no longer confined to the West, with works now coming from and on Asia, particularly China. This article’s aim is to guide readers in their comprehension of public diplomacy through a selection of sources from various viewpoints. Beginning with works and online resources that offer a General Overview, the article further suggests key Journals to consult on public diplomacy. Its next section (A Multidisciplinary Field of Study) recommends a selection of literature coming from major disciplines and viewpoints in which public diplomacy has been studied (public diplomacy and Communication, Diplomacy Studies, Soft Power). Following this, it presents a selection of literature on public diplomacy’s conceptual frameworks from different time frames (20th-century, 21st-century, and future public diplomacy). Finally, it recommends literature from and on different geographical regions.

General Overviews

Because public diplomacy literature relates to a myriad of issues and is studied within various conceptual, disciplinary, and geographical points of view, works that provide an all-inclusive overview simply do not exist. There are, however, special issues of journals, such as Cowan and Cull 2008 and Special Issue: Credible Public Diplomacy, and edited compendiums that provide strong and varied overviews of the broad scope of public diplomacy. Three edited works—Cowan and Cull 2008, Melissen 2007, and Snow and Taylor 2009—provide essential field knowledge. For newcomers and experts alike, these sources give the reader a particularly fine overview of public diplomacy by bringing together writings on different topics, cases, and approaches. These standard works are accessible to students, scholars, and practitioners. They are 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. For the reader interested in more literature on public diplomacy, an overview of publications, bibliographies, discussions, and events can also be found online at different institutes’ and universities’ websites. These vary in quality, and most are subject to change and differ in political angle. A few sites are of fine quality, recommendable and of particular use to students, scholars, and practitioners searching for interactive forums, events, databases, and publications, such as the website of the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. There is also an extensive archive of lists of literature online from Bruce Gregory’s Public Diplomacy Resources, and Phil Taylor’s Website.

  • Bruce Gregory’s Public Diplomacy Resources. Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication, George Washington University.

    An extensive annotated overview of public diplomacy books, articles, government reports and websites. Useful for teachers, students, scholars and practitioners. Updates readers every two months on the newest literature. Archive (from 2003) available online.

  • Cowan, Geoffrey, and Nicholas J. Cull, eds. Special Issue: Public Diplomacy in a Changing World. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616.1 (2008).

    Provides broad insight into public diplomacy theory, tools, case studies, and scholarship development. Approaches public diplomacy from different angles, such as soft power, the public sphere, place branding, international relations theory, and new technologies. Its conceptual section is somewhat reliant on US thought, but also includes Chinese and South American cases.

  • Melissen, Jan, ed. The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

    An edited collection of articles on the new environment, changing perspectives, and improving practices of public diplomacy. Contributed to putting the notion of the “new public diplomacy” on the map. First published in 2005.

  • Phil Taylor’s Website. Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds.

    Discontinued after its creator’s death in 2010 but still very valuable for its overview of three hundred sources on public diplomacy and related fields, with a slight focus on US publications. Many references have full articles or in-text executive summaries and hyperlinks attached.

  • Snow, Nancy, and Philip M. Taylor, eds. Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    This handbook generously adds to the literature, with twenty-nine essays by scholars and former practitioners. It brings together various perspectives (strategic communication, historical, public opinion, etc.), facets (cultural and citizen diplomacy), and cases (Asian, American European). It is slightly oriented to the United States, but is broad in scope.

  • Special Issue: Credible Public Diplomacy: A Lesson for Our Times. Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 32.3 (2008).

    Less frequently cited, this special edition provides useful articles and speeches given at the Fletcher School’s 100th Anniversary Edward R. Murrow Memorial Conference. It is available in hard copy and online and contains contributions on key issues such as credibility, definitions, and the use of culture and broadcasting in public diplomacy.

  • University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy.

    Continuously updated website with extensive information. Contains public diplomacy publications from staff and fellows as well as from international public diplomacy scholars and practitioners. Includes: blogs, PDiN (Public Diplomacy in the News), book review collections, literature list, and archive from 2004.

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