The Use of Culture as an Educational Tool

By Kristin Lord (Executive Vice President, Center for a New American Security)


Public Diplomacy and Cultural Diplomacy can help people understand the context of America- you might learn about it from movies, from novels, you might learn it from a Law and Order episode, or some play- and Cultural Diplomacy will help you to understand these pieces of information, otherwise you might now know what meaning to draw from them.

The first thing that Public Diplomacy can do is inform, engage, and influence foreign opinion about specific policies. There is a lot of misinformation about what policies actually entail, and if you want to be understood and build political support for particular policies, the first step is ensuring that people have an accurate understanding of the issue. You can say that the traditional ways of doing this are the media, factsheets, publications, speeches, and you may ask what Cultural Diplomacy has to do with this. I would say that these are the primary instruments for informing people about the policies, but there might be times when culture is the most appropriate means. For instance, you can argue that if the United States was trying to explain its position on climate change, then documentaries are far more influential than any official speech or any presidential interview. So culture can be very powerful and something that people can relate to on a mass level.

The United States, or any other country, can use Public and Cultural Diplomacy to help promote shared values, and these are the American values- values we might all share- whether it is about human rights or protecting the environment, or what have you. I would argue that Cultural Diplomacy is sometimes the best vehicle for conveying news and information- not an American-elected official lecturing about the best approach, but rather something that makes it seem appealing. For instance, there are Mexican soap operas which draw on issues like human trafficking which are likely to be much more effective in teaching people about the problem- teaching people to see the human dimension of the problem of human trafficking.

Public Diplomacy and Cultural Diplomacy can both build the relationships between people, and I do not just mean at the mass level.

If we have exchange programs, speaker programs, and visitor programs that bring people in conflict together, these might be some very important channels for establishing opportunities or addressing challenges for the future.
- The International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in the USA 2012; Washington D.C., June 27th, 2012