Socialist Cultural Diplomacy of the ХХth Century: Institutes, Actors, Discourses

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the international conference “Socialist Cultural Diplomacy of the ХХth century: institutes, actors, discourses”, which will take place on October 9-10, 2018 at the German Historical Institute Moscow. Please find more information on the conference here.

Why did you organize the conference “Socialist Cultural Diplomacy of the ХХth century: institutes, actors, discourses”, and what are you hoping to achieve?

The current state of the East-West relations which is often portrayed as the “the new Cold War” or “Ice War” has sparked a new wave of interest to various dimensions of global rivalry in the second half of the ХХth century, including its communicational and symbolical levels. As it appears, in spite of intense ideological confrontation, it was the permeability of the “iron curtain”, enjoyed by the institutes and actors of cultural diplomacy, that added flexibility to the overall system and helped to preserve not only military and strategic, but also cultural and symbolic balance in a split world.

Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the UNO, 1960. (Picture: http://diletant.media/articles/35253898/)

The planned conference is one of the important results of our research project, which is supported by the Russian Science Foundation. By studying Soviet cultural diplomacy in the Cold War, we revised many fixed stereotypes and would like to discuss the results of our research with colleagues. Additionally, as we focus mainly on material of the Soviet side, we are not always able to reconstruct the level of perception by the target groups in the socialist camp or of the efforts of the cultural diplomacy in other countries. We hope for a lively exchange of views and positions with colleagues who work in this research field.

Why do you think it is particularly important to research cultural diplomacy in the ХХth century, and not only focus on “traditional” diplomacy?

Since the mid-twentieth century, when Frederick Barghoorn released his pioneering book on Soviet propaganda abroad, the issue of cultural diplomacy has become a dynamic field of research. The scholarly approach of cultural diplomacy studies embraces the analysis of culture, diplomacy, history of transatlantic and socialist integration, intra- and inter-bloc communication, transnationalism, cultural confrontation and dialogue of the two seemingly incompatible and hostile worlds. However, until the last decade, these studies were mainly focused on the USA and its absolute domination in the sphere of international relations, diplomatic history and culture of the Cold War. Exploring and problematizing both the most debatable and most underestimated aspects of cultural diplomacy in the socialist camp, the conference seeks to rectify this imbalance and provide better insights into many issues that still stay unexplained: the relative stability of the opposing blocs’ structures and factors of socialist integration, the phenomenon of “n(ost)algia” for socialist past, survivability of certain socialist brands and communicative networks, over the crush of the bipolar world.

Which questions in the field of Socialist Cultural Diplomacy are still understudied and in which ways might your upcoming conference contribute to fill these gaps?

In order to discuss the multidimensionality of cultural diplomacy and emphasize its role as a means of transnational communication in terms of oscillating political and ideological confrontations, the conference will approach the issue from several angles:

  • Institutional (the channels and institutions of production, preservation and export of culturally and politically infused meanings; the agencies, techniques and spaces of transnational and trans-cultural contacts; the level and limits of state control over the repertoire of the images to be spread out; the resistance and subversion of the institutional pressure)
  • Subjective and subjectifying (cultural diplomacy’s addressers and addressees; professionalization of cultural diplomacy; the trans-border biographies of the “cultural envoys” and intermediaries, their generational, age- and gender profiles; cultural diplomacy as collective and individual career strategy; official and unofficial  transnational cultural networks)
  • Media (representations of the opposing social models; specific aspects of exploiting cultural influence in 1917-1991; cultural (re)branding and adjustment of certain personalities, events and phenomena to the demands and expectations of the targeted audience).

Taken within wider chronological framework, these prospects let us explore the complex trajectories and cycles of the cultural and political interactions of the two sides of divided world during the “first” and “second” Cold Wars and their close connections with global economic, political, media and existential trends, as well as with internal and external crises.

Oxana Nagornaja (1977), PhD. Since 2016 head of the Research Group “Soviet Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War (1949-1989)” (cultdip.ru) by the Russian Science Foundation (http://rscf.ru/).


Citation: Oxana Nagornaja, Socialist Cultural Diplomacy of the ХХth Century: Institutes, Actors, Discourses, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 20.06.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10277.


 


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