Geography Geographies of Diplomacy
Thomas Jackson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0220

Introduction: Space, Place, and Diplomacy

From the micro-geographies of specific diplomatic sites to the global imaginations of world politics that inform diplomatic relations, diplomacy has countless spatial dimensions. In recent years, scholars from various disciplines, including geography and International Relations (IR), have begun the task of critically engaging with geographical questions that diplomacy raises. At the core of this endeavor is foregrounding the often overlooked significance of space in diplomatic practice. At a micro-scale, diplomacy is comprised of a collection of activities and materials that are necessarily located somewhere in space. These specific “sites” of diplomacy have their own spatial organization—from the seating plan of a state dinner to the offices and corridors of embassies and foreign ministries—and these locations are shaped by their unique micro-geographies. The spatial dynamics of both spectacular and mundane diplomatic sites have led scholars to draw on the core geographical concept of “place” in analyzing diplomatic practice. Location has an emotional and affective agency that influences our perception of events; decisions as to where diplomacy takes place are as significant as the diplomatic actions themselves. Beyond specific sites, scholars have also considered how diplomacy plays a much wider role in the spatialization of world politics. First, diplomacy is an act closely associated with the functionality of the state. Performing the capacity to represent a polity through engagement with external actors is a legitimacy-building process and a key tool of statecraft. Second, the act of diplomacy also has transformative potential. Encounters between states that take place in diplomatic settings can mediate disputes, ignite arguments, and generally reshape how relations between actors are imagined. Research into the geographies of diplomacy benefits from a great breadth of perspectives. At a time when technological innovation and forces of globalization have given rise to “new” diplomatic actors and practices, multiple disciplinary perspectives have highlighted the changing spatial dynamics of diplomacy. In particular, innovative theoretical and methodological approaches have been developed to study alternative diplomatic actors both “above” and “below” the state. This challenge to traditional notions of who and what might be considered as diplomatic actors suggests that scholarly work on the geographies of diplomacy sits at the forefront of engagement with the rapidly changing terrain of contemporary diplomatic practice. The works included in this bibliography were selected to reflect current trends in this vibrant and rapidly evolving subfield. They are, however, only a sample of the wider work associated with the geographies of diplomacy and should be seen as a starting point for engagement with the literature.

General Overviews

As a relatively new field of study, the multiple “geographies of diplomacy” are not well captured by any single monograph or edited collection. However, there have been occasional review articles that offer surveys of academic engagement with spatial dimensions of diplomacy. Van der Wusten and Mamadouh 2010 traces the historical evolution of technologies that have transformed diplomatic practices, reshaping both traditions and the classification of diplomatic practitioners. McConnell 2019 makes the case that rethinking diplomacy from a geographical perspective is a means to engage with a broader range of actors, objects, and practices that may be considered as diplomatic. In addition to these broad articles, some in-depth overviews offer more comprehensive accounts of specific aspects of diplomacy’s geographical dimensions. Neumann 2013 is a monograph focusing on diplomatic sites. The edited collection Dittmer and McConnell 2016 addresses diplomatic cultures and their geographical heterogeneity. Kuus 2013 is a detailed account of diplomatic practices, the behavior of diplomats, and the politics of knowledge production in these diplomatic spaces. From a more theoretical standpoint, Sending, et al. 2015 is a foundational text by IR scholars on the use of practice theory in the study of international politics, and is a very useful starting point for those interested in ethnographic accounts of macro-geopolitical ideas. Finally, it is worth highlighting some texts that, while not explicitly spatial readings of diplomacy, provide insight into diplomacy’s many geographies. Accounts of diplomatic history by practitioners such Henry Kissinger, such as Kissinger 1994, are an excellent way for geographers and others to apply their critical tools to the experience of agents in the diplomatic field. Likewise, seminal guides to diplomatic practice, such as Satow 1917, offer a fascinating lens into deeply ingrained behavioral traditions that dominate the international diplomatic arena.

  • Dittmer, Jason, and Fiona McConnell. Diplomatic Cultures and International Politics: Translations, Spaces and Alternatives. London and New York: Routledge, 2016.

    An edited interdisciplinary volume that offers a rich contribution to both empirical and theoretical aspects of diplomatic culture. The introduction outlines the topic and traces its history. Also includes discussion of “alternative” diplomatic cultures beyond state diplomacy.

  • Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. London: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

    A sweeping overview of modern diplomatic relations from a leading practitioner. The book is not explicitly a geographical reflection, but can be critically analyzed from a geographical perspective.

  • Kuus, Merje. Geopolitics and Expertise: Knowledge and Authority in European Diplomacy. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118291719

    A detailed study of diplomatic knowledge creation in the EU. Based on substantial ethnographic fieldwork, the book provides thoughtful engagement with the geographical notion of “place” in Brussels.

  • McConnell, Fiona. “Rethinking the Geographies of Diplomacy.” Diplomatica 1 (2019): 46–55.

    DOI: 10.1163/25891774-00101008

    One of the few pieces that deals specifically with the “geographies of diplomacy,” and an excellent starting point for those new to the subject. The paper surveys the leading attempts by geographers to engage with the spaces and places of diplomacy, and calls for further consideration of a broad range of diplomatic actors beyond the state.

  • Neumann, Iver B. Diplomatic Sites: A Critical Enquiry. London: Hurst, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199327966.001.0001

    This book is a major contribution to the field in its analysis of diplomatic sites. In the context of globalization and its implications for diplomacy, Neumann explores how different sites have emerged as locations for diplomatic practices.

  • Satow, Ernest. A Guide to Diplomatic Practice. London: Longman, 1917.

    This guide was first published in 1917 and is a classic text in the study of diplomacy. Essentially a handbook for how to behave as a diplomat, it is useful in thinking through how diplomatic practices have changed (and not changed) over time.

  • Sending, Ole Jacob, Vincent Pouliot, and Iver B. Neumann. “Introduction.” In Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics. Edited by Ole Jacob Sending, Vincent Pouliot, and Iver B. Neumann, 1–28. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316162903.001

    The introduction to this edited collection offers a very clear theoretical outline of the relationship between diplomacy and what might be considered “world politics,” The subsequent chapters deal with both traditional and innovative modes of diplomatic practice.

  • van der Wusten, Herman, and Virginie Mamadouh. “The Geography of Diplomacy.” In The International Studies Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. Edited by Robert A. Denmark, 141–150. Blackwell Publishing, 2010.

    A rare paper on the specific geographical aspects of diplomacy. The authors make the link between diplomacy and geographical worldviews, noting the potential of “public” diplomacy to reshape these imaginations.

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