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What is Sociology of Diplomacy?

Published on 22 August 2016
Updated on 05 April 2024

As a continuation of our June blog post, let me put forward the following logical question: If sociology of diplomacy really is missing in the observation of this ancient phenomenon, what is it and how can we define it? As a starting point, let us try to focus on the issue of its definition.

We should touch again on my previously presented definition of diplomacy: diplomacy is 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. Actors that participate in this process produce social interactions that support the existence of the international community from one point of view and the sustainability of diplomacy from another.

For a better insight, let us bring the term diplomatic organisation into the discussion. By this we understand the main diplomatic body that produces a complexity of diplomatic activity and relations among various actors. It consists of the foreign ministry as its central part and the network of diplomatic missions (both in receiving states as well as in international organisations).

So, stemming from the above, what then is our understanding of sociology of diplomacy? Generally speaking, sociology of diplomacy is a science that falls among the special sociologies. It deals with the study of phenomena, relations, and processes in a diplomatic organisation and its environment. Consequently, the diplomat is the basic and probably also the initial object of its research attention.

This scientific endeavour, on the one hand, uses sociology’s methodological toolbox to study the relations and processes that emerge and take place on that field of human activity expressed through involvement with diplomacy. On the other hand, it focuses on the substance with which diplomats concern themselves when implementing foreign policy and the way in which these tasks (diplomatic functions) are implemented in particular social environments.

Finally, let us have a look at some initial and optional defining approaches: From one point of view, sociology of diplomacy is a subfield of sociology (i.e., a special sociology), which deals with the study of the social conditionality of diplomacy as well as the sociological study of the social context, development, and operation of diplomacy.

From another point of view, it is also a branch of sociology that studies the social phenomena, relations, and processes included in the shaping and implementing of foreign policy, and which deals with understanding and explaining diplomacy as well as relations between general and other social structures that emerge through this process or participate in it, and the interactions that are thereby produced.

Additionally, we could see it as a sociological and multidisciplinary analysis of a diplomatic organisation, its structure, and the dynamics of social relations within it (in particular, the shaping and implementing of foreign policy, managing processes, organisational change) and the relations that take place between it and other organisations or institutions that deal with the shaping and implementing of foreign policy and with diplomatic activity, referring in particular to bureaucracy as a special form of organisation.

Last but not least, it would be the study of the connectedness and interdependence of organisational structures and technological complexity to an extent and scope that includes diplomacy.

This offers enough food for thought for a creative contemplation of sociology of diplomacy. More on it next time. 

Guest blogger: 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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1 reply
  1. Barbara Rosen Jacobson
    Barbara Rosen Jacobson says:

    A sociological reflection
    Dear Prof. Jazbec, this is a very interesting way of viewing diplomacy, and the apparatus of international institutions that are part of it, which opens a wealth of questions and insights. For example, who are ‘the diplomats’? While continuously anchored and reminded by their national origins, they fly the world and interact with others. I once heard someone arguing that even though they represent their own cultures, the continuous interaction between diplomats has generated a ‘culture of diplomacy’, which has brought them ‘culturally’ closer to one another than towards their own nationalities. How is this diplomatic culture created, and how does it interact with their national identity, or with the place where they are posted? I’m looking forward to your newt post!

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