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How do globalization, new communication technologies and the rise of populism disrupt and transform the work of diplomats?
This project applies leading sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s theory of ‘liquid modernity’ to the changing practice of diplomacy. Bauman argues that our liquid modern world is unable to stand still and keep its shape for long. Today’s technologies and apparent moves toward illiberal populism present both a new context for diplomatic work and a transformative force for their (slowly) adapting practices.
To understand ‘Liquid Diplomacy’, we assess in particular these impacts on diplomacy, together with changing aspects of gender and sexual identity, non-state actor roles, including that of cities, and the rise of disinformation.
The Polish-born sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) was a professor of sociology at Leeds University (1971-91, and then emeritus). He wrote Liquid Modernity in 2000 (Polity Press), in which he analysed the “disappearance of the solid structures and institutions that once provided the stable foundations for well-ordered modern societies, and the consequences for individuals and communities”. Bauman examines how we have moved away from a ‘heavy’ and ‘solid’, hardware-focused modernity to a ‘light’ and ‘liquid’, software-based modernity.
The last decade has seen an academic focus in diplomacy studies on what now constitutes modern diplomacy and the challenges faced by foreign ministries. As Aggestam and Towns note: “diplomacy is often portrayed as an art based on tradition and historical precedents, which is practiced by an exclusive group of male diplomats with trained intuition” (2018: 3).
This picture and the associated practices that have long been the central focus of scholars of diplomacy are increasingly at odds with contemporary diplomatic practices that have been disrupted by social, technological and political changes constitutive of liquid modernity.
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