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Diplomacy as a social process – a prelude to sociology of diplomacy

Published on 17 May 2016
Updated on 05 April 2024

After years of practising diplomacy, I realised that there are only a few broader reflections on diplomacy that would per se include an interdisciplinary approach and keep simultaneously a clear focus on diplomacy. Generally, the majority of definitions come either from the broader scope of political sciences, international relations, and legal contemplations or from the rather narrow and specialised area of emerging diplomatic studies. Hence, let me put the record straight: the sociology of diplomacy is missing.

During my lectures to students and young diplomats and in numerous discussions with colleagues, both practitioners and academics, as well as after reading thousands of pages, various aspects and elements needed for an understanding of diplomacy from a social point of view appeared one after another.

What is diplomacy? There are as many definitions as there are their authors, and they are not contrary but complementary. They include primarily understanding diplomacy as an activity, a skill, a foreign policy, an organisation, and a behaviour.

Here I would add the following point: one could understand diplomacy also as a dynamic social process that enables constant communication between states as well as between states and international organisations with an aim of fulfilling their foreign policy interests. This process is ongoing in the international arena (i.e., community) and also includes the participation of other actors; all produce social interactions that support the existence of the international community from one point of view and the sustainability of diplomacy from another. So, we could claim this as the process nature of diplomacy.

Next, what is crucial and new is that diplomacy by substance (and to a certain extent also by form) depends on a given social and historical situation. Additionally, it is exactly the unprecedented structural intensification of globalisation after the end of the Cold War that has made this dependence obvious, inevitable, and conditional. As we already know, the intensified advancement of communication and transport technology has also heavily influenced the work of diplomats, namely what they do and how they do it. The performance of diplomats at home and abroad, their recruitment, their education and training, their promotion within the diplomatic organisation (in particular between the ministry and missions abroad), gender equality, the introduction of new methods and topics on their agenda, all this demands a sociological approach to understand, explain, and implement diplomacy. Still, you remember Comte, don’t you? Savoir pour prévoir, prévoir pour prévenir [Know to predict, predict to prevent].

This way of thought led in parallel towards the first articles like one in the journal Perspectives in the summer of 2013 and also to the first book on the sociology of diplomacy in Slovene in August of 2012 by the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana that I conceptualised and edited. The expanded English version with an indepth introduction study by David Criekemans was published by Istanbul Cultural University in November 2014, while the Russian translation of the English version was published by the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in August 2015. They include two fundamental texts on sociology of diplomacy, one by the late Professor Emeritus of the University of Ljubljana Vladimir Benko and one by me. The additional case study text should be pointed out as well: Diana Digol prepared a sample study of the social portrayal of diplomats that were recruited in the first years after the end of the Cold War in post-socialist countries.

Last but not least – what next? Two tracks follow in parallel: encouraging the empirical production of papers as well as additional generalising and theorising. More on both next month in this blog.

Dr Milan Jazbec is Professor of Diplomacy at the University of Ljubljana. He was the Slovene Ambassador to Turkey (2010–2015), accredited also to Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. He is employed at the Slovene Ministry of Foreign Affairs and teaches diplomacy at the Graduate School of Governmental and European Studies, Kranj. He is the author of fifteen books on diplomacy (in four languages) as well as more than one hundred articles on this and related topics. 

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