One of the more moving speeches at this week’s conference on Public Diplomacy was Dr. J.P. Singh’s talk on Humanization in Public Diplomacy. It’s not a completely new topic for our International Communications class, particularly in Chouliaraki’s article on how the media and news present suffering. However, his historical perspective was very helpful in putting the concept in context.
In history, much of the areas of the world that are now the focus of public diplomacy and often development projects were once areas of empires and colonization. As Singh put it, there were basically two approaches: 1. Are they just savages? 2. Can we make them like us with education? Today’s modern diplomats and militaries are faced with an uncomfortably close version of these questions. He put it in terms of armies: are we able to fight a war if we humanize the other side? The reverse is: must we humanize the other side in order to stop fighting wars?
But are there new possibilities in modern communications that change the ground rules? Tweets are not the answer, in Singh’s opinion. And as Dr. Nicolas Cull put it, Tweeting by diplomats where a country only has followers but doesn’t follow any cultural shapers in other countries is damaging to public diplomacy in fact. But I would argue that new media can change the ground rules in that it puts the tools of media technologies in the hands of so many more users.
This trend of media participation, in which everyday citizens have a much lower cost to publish and disseminate ideas and information—make their own voices heard—in other parts of the world, and to other cultural audiences, is what is new today, as both Castells and Bennett point out. To me, this is the space for humanization. The Pandovi article was a great example. In L’Arcilla, by using and taking advantage of new media, the citizens were able to put a real face to the situation post-earthquake.
Citizen advocacy networks are becoming powerful channels for social change because with a camera, or a flip video clip, or a cell phone, images and video can be shared all over the globe in seconds that add a human face to any policy issue. The key to change, especially in the realm of global justice where we have to reach beyond our immediate communities, is deeply rooted—depends on really—the ability to humanize and to see ourselves in others.
I think that when we try to define and redefine what exactly Pubic Diplomacy 2.0 is, our actions need to always seek what humanizes. Humanization is both our starting point and our litmus test. Anything else is just more noise.