Place Branding and Public Diplomacy

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 22–35 | Cite as

The evolution of the ‘public’ in diplomacy

  • Christina la Cour
Original Article


Should diplomacy be public? The answer to this question, as well as the understanding of what ‘public diplomacy’ means has evolved over time. Through the lens of a Quentin Skinner-inspired framework, this article presents the findings from a comprehensive study of four influential historical answers to the question, articulated respectively by Woodrow Wilson, Harold G. Nicolson, Henry A. Kissinger and Joseph S. Nye. Each scholar operates with a distinct conceptualization of ‘public’ and ‘public diplomacy.’ These conceptualizations vary in terms of who, what and how ‘the public’ is, as well as what it means to maneuver ‘in public.’ Resulting from differing conceptualizations of ‘public,’ the four scholars advocate very different forms of ‘public diplomacy,’ and their respective attitudes to public diplomacy diverge. Beyond demonstrating the broad range of variance in historical conceptions of public diplomacy, the article presents one main finding: The meaning of ‘public’ has generally kept expanding since the beginning of the twentieth century, but the notion of public diplomacy has changed from referring to the conduct of ‘diplomacy in the open’ to a special form of diplomatic activity where diplomats communicate directly to foreign publics.


Diplomacy Public Conceptual history 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European University Institute (EUI)San Domenico di Fiesole (FI)Italy

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