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Managing Uncertainty: The Everyday Global Politics of Post-9/11 US Public Diplomacy

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Public Diplomacy and the Politics of Uncertainty

Part of the book series: Palgrave Macmillan Series in Global Public Diplomacy ((GPD))


As a field, public diplomacy has been predominated by the International Relations (IR) concept of soft power. But can such accounts grasp the complexity of the everyday politics of public diplomacy in our late modern moment? For uncertainty lies at the heart of public diplomacy. Exploring public diplomacy as everyday politics, this chapter maps out an alternative theoretical and methodological path to critically explore public diplomacy and its entanglement with the politics of uncertainty. It advances a critical IR approach—a poststructuralist framework of performativity and governmentality—to trace how multiple everyday uncertainties make themselves felt in contemporary US public diplomacy. Drawing from a larger research project on ongoing US cultural exchange programmes ‘in response to’ the September 11th 2001 attacks, it argues that everyday life and culture co-constitutes global politics. Centring the ordinary individuals and banal practices that comprise these cultural exchanges enables this critical approach to interrogate the specificities of these programmes and thereby reveal the uncertainty co-constituted within them. This chapter explores how the everyday global politics of post-9/11 US public diplomacy hinges upon the management of/via uncertainty across three key sites: uncertainty as riskiness, as contingency, and as possibility. By engaging with uncertainty in multiple and complex ways, this chapter illustrates how an alternative and critical approach of performativity and governmentality provides rich, insightful analyses of the everyday practices of US public diplomacy and the global politics it co-constitutes. Uncertainty then can be embraced as opening possibilities for other knowledges, alternative identities and a reimagined politics of the everyday of US public diplomacy.

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  1. 1.

    This extends to even the use of the term ‘post-9/11’. I do not do so here in ignorance of its problematic effects as a totalising eventalisation. There is therefore uncertainty in this usage, where I employ it but only by keeping it under erasure to demonstrate its very constructedness and undecidability.


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Correspondence to Laura Mills .

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Mills, L. (2021). Managing Uncertainty: The Everyday Global Politics of Post-9/11 US Public Diplomacy. In: Surowiec, P., Manor, I. (eds) Public Diplomacy and the Politics of Uncertainty. Palgrave Macmillan Series in Global Public Diplomacy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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