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The Daily: Michelle Obama’s Subtle Fashion Diplomacy

The Daily: Michelle Obama’s Subtle Fashion Diplomacy

March 13, 2014 10:56 am by: Category: The Daily Comments Off on The Daily: Michelle Obama’s Subtle Fashion Diplomacy A+ / A-

Our round-up of news, notes, tips, and tweets exhibiting how public diplomacy affects the world each and every day.

Considering the scrutiny the First Lady receives from across the globe, Michelle Obama’s subtle fashion diplomacy (and its lack of missteps) is even more impressive.

In 2009, she stepped out at the Administration’s first state dinner in a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind champagne-colored strapless gown with silver sequins forming an abstract floral pattern that was custom-made by Indian-born, U.S.-based designer Naeem Khan. She completed the look with a stack of bangle bracelets and dangling earrings. The guests of honor at the dinner also happened to be Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gurshan Kaur, making her fashion choices particularly fitting and thoughtful. “Most people wouldn’t know one way or another about Naeem’s background, but if one sentence gets mentioned to the prime minister, then her subtleness would pay off,” said Hal Rubenstein, fashion director for InStyle magazine. Her discreet fashion choices also speaks volumes about cultural awareness, understanding and collaboration without necessarily endorsing a specific designer from that country in every public appearance or opting for the traditional, but obvious sari option. [Elan]



In conjunction with “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy,” a traveling exhibition that focuses on art promoted by the U.S. State Department in the 1940s, the University of Georgia will host a symposium on art and diplomacy.

The theme of the symposium expands the scope of the exhibition, which focuses on a 1940s U.S. State Department project that assembled a traveling exhibition of modern American art, by addressing the broader theme of diplomacy throughout the history of visual and material culture. The visual arts have been used to promote and facilitate diplomatic agendas, yet they have also challenged or impeded diplomatic efforts. Through the process of cross-cultural exchange, an object or image may shift in value and meaning, thereby illuminating, obscuring or reinforcing cultural differences. Cynthia Schneider, Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, will deliver the keynote address March 28 at 6 p.m. [Online Athens]



Christopher Hill, head of International Relations at Cambridge University, talks to Voice of Russia about British soft power; but, honestly, the best part of this piece is the spelling of “Professor Joseph Nigh.”

A new study by the British Academy has urged the government to put more time and resources into developing and supporting ‘soft power’. The authors say that cultural, historical and institutional aspects of Britain may have greater influence on foreign countries than more immediate diplomatic or economic strategy. We speak to author Professor Christopher Hill, head of International Relations at Cambridge University. Professor Hill told VoR: “We are really talking about the long-term ability of Britain as a society, not as a government policy, to shape the choices of people in other countries.” [Voice of Russia]


Speaking of British soft power, here is a good read that sees the new study as a regression rather than a progression of UK’s understanding of the concept.

The Beloff reference is fascinating because the report (like almost all discussions of soft power) is completely ahistorical and that reference opens up a whole history.  Beloff’s article was a response to the Plowden Report of 1964 on Representational Services Overseas, primarily concerned with opening the way to the merger of the Foreign Office with the Commonwealth Office it, in passing, advocated a relatively narrow instrumental view of the kind of ‘information work’ that should be undertaken by the ‘official information services’ the BBC and the British Council.  Beloff’s article can be seen as making a kind of proto-branding argument that the general image of a country affected how its political and commercial interests played out.   The title of his article alluded to a 1932 pamphlet by Sir Stephen Tallents, The Projection of England which was an even earlier iteration of the argument.  Projection was a word that cropped fairly frequently in mid-century British official discussions of national publicity and my suspicion is that it’s taken from the French notion of rayonnement, which my dictionary translates as radiation which takes us back to the Sun King himself. [Public Diplomacy, Networks and Influence]



I don’t really see the connection between jihadists setting up websites and increasing their soft power, but I can buy the argument that hard power in combatting terrorism is exacerbating the problem (though that is not really fleshed out here).

Ultimately, the internet is a very large and complex animal that is very difficult to patrol and regulate. There appears to be no prospect of an effective international monitoring regime of the internet in the near future, and in the meantime it could be more effective to take a soft power approach to countering cyber jihad. Jim Winkates downplays the US hard power approach to combating terrorism and says more soft power methods should be taken instead. In his article “Soft Power Contributions to U.S. Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” he mentions some guidelines laid out by the RAND Corporation on how to combat radical jihad through soft power methods. Many of these points are applicable to cyber jihad, including: Promote the creation of moderate networks to counter radical messages; Disrupt radical networks, particularly how they communicate, recruit, and fund their operations; Promote democratic change in Muslim world over support for oppressive regimes; engage muslim communities, especially in humanitarian endeavors (RAND Corporation 2004; Winkates 2007). The US and its allies should be reaching out to Muslim communities with these soft power techniques both physically and virtually if they want to make any progress in reducing radical jihad. [Post]



photo credit: Elan

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About Michael Ardaiolo

Michael Ardaiolo is currently a student in Syracuse University's Public Diplomacy Master's Program: M.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and M.S. in Public Relations from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. In addition, he is a recovering record slinger, a Criterion Collection addict, an NBA obsessor, and a struggling student of the Korean language.
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