Webster University, Visiting Prof. Alisher Faizullaev: “Social Diplomacy is a Societal Phenomenon and Has Certain Distinct Features.”


    Recently, there have been discussions about various forms of diplomacy, and social diplomacy is one of them. Compared to traditional diplomacy, this type of diplomacy has the potential to strengthen relations between social actors and offer innovative solutions to various social problems.

    In order to assess the effectiveness of Social Diplomacy, Ankara Center for Crisis and Political Studies (ANKASAM) presents to your attention an interview with Prof. Alisher Faizullaev from Webster University.

    1. How would you define the concept of social diplomacy and what are its main differences compared to traditional diplomacy?

    Traditionally, the term “diplomacy” has been synonymous with international diplomacy. This conventional form of diplomacy appears as an instrument of foreign policy and international politics of the state. It may involve the pursuit of political, security, economic, moral, legal, and relational objectives, but it is predominantly a political phenomenon and takes place in the international arena. While it traditionally focused on state actors, the emergence of new international players such as non-governmental organizations and transnational corporations has expanded our understanding of diplomacy.

    Social diplomacy is a societal phenomenon and possesses some distinctive characteristics. It uses diplomatic spirit, culture, and means to enhance relations between various social actors and thus their ability to coexist. Key attributes of social actors include their purposefulness and capacity to engage and establish relations with other purpose-driven entities, encompassing individuals, groups, organizations, companies, states, and their collective entities. Unlike the power-centric nature of political diplomacy that focuses on national interest, power distribution, governance, and control, social diplomacy revolves around connectedness, interaction, relations, relationships, and creation social goods.

    While the realms of the political and the social are intertwined, the focus of political and social diplomacies differs. If we use the game metaphor, political diplomacy unfolds as a peaceful instrument of a power game on the international stage, while social diplomacy operates as a peaceable means of a relational game within society. Nevertheless, both share fundamental diplomatic qualities such as goodwill, peacefulness, and commitment to dialogue.

    In recent years, we have seen how the concept of diplomacy is expanding, covering new areas that were previously not characteristic of traditional diplomacy – for example, multi-track diplomacy, paradiplomacy, city diplomacy, faith diplomacy, and so on. In other words, diplomacy is becoming pluralistic[1] and is increasingly beginning to be understood not only as a sphere of interstate relations, but much broader, for example, as a social institution.[2] The concept of social diplomacy aligns closely with concepts of transprofessional diplomacy[3] everyday diplomacy[4] everyday ambassador[5] and polylateral diplomacy.[6] These concepts offer an unconventional perspective on diplomacy by shifting its political dimensions to the background and emphasizing diplomacy as a social practice[7] pointing to the societization of diplomacy,[8] and highlighting its social facets and impact. By its nature, social diplomacy is a humanistic endeavor. Social diplomats are individuals who integrate diplomatic culture and methods into society, striving to generate social goods by fostering good relationships among diverse social actors.

    While traditional diplomats engaged in political diplomacy focus on negotiation as a core activity, social diplomats, operating in various domains of social life, prioritize conversation as a principal tool. Social diplomats can widely employ negotiation and mediation, but they are, fundamentally, conversationalists. They can engage in conversation with anyone, even the “bad guys,” and do not require “diplomatic relations” to do so. Genuine conversation presumes empathy, equality, unconditional acceptance of the counterpart as a human being with dignity. Conversation helps to build bridges between people and develop relationships. Different people and representatives of many professions can act as social diplomats or use elements of social diplomacy in their professional and everyday life. These could be social workers and psychologists, activists and members of NGOs, teachers, police officers, clergy, mediators, bloggers, and others.

    Social diplomacy manifests at both explicit and implicit levels, signifying its presence with or without conscious awareness. A notable form of social diplomacy are goodwill ambassadors, acting not only as representatives of government agencies and international organizations such as the United Nations, but also of schools, universities, libraries, charities, and other non-governmental organizations. These unconventional ambassadors spread goodwill in society and contribute to the societal development, promote mutual understanding and tolerance in society.

    2. What role does social diplomacy play in international relations and what kinds of problems can it offer an effective solution to that cannot be solved through traditional diplomacy?

    International actors act in a certain – international – society. The English School in international relations theory paid special attention to this. Those who act and interact in the international arena may have differences in interests and values, and they can overcome these differences by force or peacefully, that is, through war or diplomacy. A peaceful way of coexistence involves managing relationships through dialogue, and this is the socially motivated activity. Even states and other international actors seeking to maintain or develop good relations among themselves may act in accordance with their relationship-based imperatives. But such socially oriented diplomacy, as already discussed, is not the main driving force in international politics, where political goals based on interest-based imperatives come to the fore. For actors involved in international politics, political and economic gain or ensuring security is often more important than maintaining or developing good relationships. In short, we can talk about limited forms of socially oriented or relationally driven diplomacy within traditional, primarily interest-based and politically oriented diplomacy or in international political relations.

    3. What future developments do you expect in the field of social diplomacy and what new opportunities are there for researchers and practitioners in this field?

    Diplomatic studies are experiencing a major upswing now. One of the reasons for that is the introduction of interdisciplinary approaches, various ideas from sociology, psychology, cultural studies, and other social sciences. We can say that there is a social turn in diplomatic studies[9]– an expansion of the understanding of diplomacy as a social practice. In this regard, I expect the development of existing and the emergence of new approaches to the societization of diplomacy, including interest in social diplomacy.

    As the modern world becomes more complex, interrelated and less predictable, the need for social diplomacy will increase. It is difficult to say whether social diplomacy will be institutionalized in the future, but unlike traditional diplomacy, it can work successfully without any institutional basis. As any other diplomacy, social diplomacy is a mission, and it can be taken by everyone who cares about improving society or those who will see such an endeavor as a life mission.

    As for practice, we can expect the emergence of new forms and practices of transprofessional and socially oriented diplomacy, various educational and training programs in this regard. In today’s world with its new problems and challenges, the need for diplomacy is increasing both at the international and societal levels. International and social diplomacy can and should go hand in hand, reinforcing and complementing each other.

    Prof. Alisher Faizullaev

    Professor Alisher Faizullaev, D.Sc. in Political Science and Ph.D. in Psychology, is a scholar, author, teacher, diplomatic and negotiation skills trainer, and coach. He was the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United Kingdom (1999-2003), Benelux countries, the European Union, and NATO (1995-1998). He was a Fulbright Scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University (2011-2012), as well as a Visiting Scholar at McGill University (2014), Cambridge University (2005) and Western Washington University (1992).

    Prof. Dr. Faizullaev has published numerous books and scholarly articles on diplomacy and negotiation. His last book “Diplomacy for Professionals and Everyone” was published by Brill in Leiden and Boston in 2022. Currently, he is Leif J. Sverdrup Global Teaching Fellow and Visiting Professor at Webster University, St. Louis, MO, USA.

    [1] Cornago, Noé (2013). Plural Diplomacies: Normative Predicaments and Functional Imperatives. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

    [2] Neumann, Iver B. (2020). Diplomatic tenses. A social evolutionary perspective on diplomacy. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

    [3] Constantinou, Costas, Noé Cornago and Fiona McConnell (2017). Transprofessional Diplomacy. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

    [4] Sennett, Richard (2012). Together. The rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. London: Penguin Books.

    [5] Otto, Kate (2015). Everyday Ambassador: Make a Difference by Connecting in a Disconnected World. New York: ATRIA Paperback.

    [6] Wiseman, Geoffrey (2010). “’Polylateralism’: Diplomacy’s Third Dimension,” Public Diplomacy Magazine 4 (Summer), pp. 24-39.

    [7] Sharp, Paul (2013). “Diplomacy in International Relations Theory and Other Disciplinary Perspectives,” in Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices, eds. Pauline Kerr and Geoffrey Wiseman. New York: Oxford University Press.

    [8] Melissen, Jan. “Jan Melissen on academic opportunities around diplomacy.” Leiden University, https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/news/2020/03/jan-melissen-on-research-challenges-around-diplomacy(Date of Accesion: 02.02.2024).

    [9] Faizullaev, Alisher (2022). “On Social Diplomacy”, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 17(4): 692-703.