Monday, November 8, 2010

The Space for Humanizing in New Global Justice Networks/New Media?

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.


  1. the two historical approaches that Singh discusses are interesting in that it continues to affirm the ideas we have been reading --that we have an inability to connect with people who are not like us. If the idea that citizen advocacy networks is that it will put more people in contact with each other who would otherwise not communicate; perhaps this IS one of the only ways that real globalization and cosmopolitanism can be reached. As of now it seems that news and media has a tendency to focus on cultural differences instead of similarities, so members of the public diplomacy community definitely need to look at how social networks play a role in humanizing 'the Other.'

  2. The role of news media in the past has not just been to report the news—but to make things newsworthy. Unfortunately, similarities don’t sell newspapers, or increase ratings. It’s in conflict that the viewers and the readers flock to their news outlets—and we have to remember that media is a profit-driven industry, so whatever will bring in money will be what’s featured. But the ability of social media to increase user participation in the reporting process will obviously play an integral role in the development of the media industry. Because people are bringing “real,” or their own, voices to the discussion, it’s harder to watch the news as just something that’s happening to someone else. This trend will probably turn out to be more of a phenomenon, and completely change the game of humanizing those who we are fighting against.