Wednesday, November 25, 2009
An Updated Approach to Public Diplomacy
Both the Fisher article and the Corman, et al. piece are concerned with updating the antiquated message influence model of public diplomacy. However, this blog post will focus on the merits and downfalls of the pragmatic complexity model. Corman, et al. put forth the pragmatic complexity model, which proposes that "communication is a complex process of interpreting one-another's actions and making attributions about thoughts, motivation, and intentions" (page 9). The authors stress that the system of communication is under neither the sender's nor the receiver's control and that communication failures will be the norm. Although the piece touches briefly on how these two attributes of the pragmatic complexity model should not discourage people or organizations from trying to communicate their messages, I am still not convinced that, under this model, actually participating in public diplomacy or strategic communication would leave the actors better off than if they just didn't participate at all. For instance, Corman, et al. write, "once we let go of the idea of a well-ordered system that is under our control, we can start to think of what is possible in situations of uncertainty" (page 12). Well, this sounds great in theory, but the authors fail to give any concrete examples of what come of those possibilities are. Also, in a society like the US, where seeing an immediate effect is highly valued and expected, the whole premise that this model will only be successful over time will be hard for many to swallow. In the article, it is suggested that the US should try to discuss its problems and invite comparisons, rather than promote the virtues of its democracy. The authors come to the conclusion that "doing this would reproduce Western values of freedom of thought and expression and show that we are not afraid of criticism" (page 13). But to me, this is just another assumption made about how the audience will react to the new role of the US as a facilitator for public dialogue. Corman, et al. do explain how the actual communication process works in their model, but they also are open about the weakness in their model's predicting potential. Although it is obvious that receivers in the message influence model do not always interpret the message in the way that the sender envisions, the pragmatic complexity model relies on so many components in order to determine whether a communicator has succeeded or not and is basically non-falsifiable because one of the basic assumptions is that "failure is the norm" (page 11). So, if a communicator fails to succeed in his or her environment, it does not mean that there is something lacking in the pragmatic complexity model itself, but rather that this outcome is the norm.