Strategic Narratives at ISA New Orleans

Ben O'Loughlin will take part in a series of talks this week about strategic narratives at the International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Convention in New Orleans. At ISA there will be over 5,000 delegates including a vibrant Communications research section. Ben will take part on a roundtable on 'rapid-response public diplomacy', chair a panel of emerging research on strategic narratives, and present two co-authored papers exploring political leaders' narratives of conflict and how audiences interpret them. Details are below. We hope to see some of you in New Orleans!

Narratives And/Of Public Diplomacy
When: Wednesday, February 18, 1:45 PM - 3:30 PM
Where: Grand Salon 22, Hilton New Orleans Riverside


The Identity Function of Public Diplomacy: Confirming and Disconfirming Identity Narratives 
Good Messages Used by Bad People: Cooptation of Western Public Diplomacy Themes in Islamist Extremist Narratives
Rhetorical Complexities of Narrative in Contemporary Public Diplomacy
Strategic Narratives of the Internet Society
Foreign Policy Narratives
Friday, February 20, 8:15 AM - 10:00 AM
Grand Salon 22, Hilton New Orleans Riverside

Public Narratives about Syria: A Q-Sort Analysis of UK and US Students - Laura Roselle, Alister Miskimmon and Ben O'Loughlin

Scholars of international communication recognize that narratives are important to the construction of policy agendas and implementation. This paper addresses the broader communication context for understanding foreign policy in the United Kingdom and the United States in regard to Syria.   This study first analyzes and categorizes UK Parliamentary statements and US Congressional statements on Syria found in the UK Hansard Parliamentary record and the U.S. Congressional Record, and then applies a Q-sort methodology to assess how individuals construct their own narratives about foreign policy towards Syria.  It shows that individual citizens’ perspectives are far more nuanced than dominant elite narratives suggest, underlining the need for further research in to how audiences receive and interpret political communication. This study demonstrates how individuals select policy narratives on Syria emerging from debates in the United Kingdom and the United States. The paper highlights 6 British and 4 American narratives which respondents generate from their engagement with policy debates in 2013-14 on whether to militarily intervene in Syria. This demonstrates how strategic narratives of policy makers are reconfigured by individuals in how they understand the Syrian crisis.

Red Lines: Syria, Metaphor and Narrative - Federica Ferrari and Ben O'Loughlin

Did Obama’s ‘red lines’ metaphor nearly trigger a military intervention in Syria in the summer of 2013? What work does that metaphor do in shaping understandings and conduct in international affairs? The term is used by political leaders to express likely behavioural consequences to international rivals and allies and to domestic publics. What difference in diplomatic practice does it make to speak of a line, and a red one? How do such metaphors trigger or sustain narratives, and how do narratives interact with metaphors? In the context of conflict in Syria we examine the trajectory and remediation of the red lines metaphor, taking as an empirical nexus a series of officials’ speeches in September 2013 by Kerry, Power, Lavrov, Moon and others. We find that the red line initially trapped Obama, leading to rhetorical shifts before a trajectory shift from the red line to the path forward in mid-September as the US and Russia reach a deal to eliminate the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. The paper opens up theoretical reflection on the function of metaphor and narrative in steering sense-making in diplomatic practice. The political significance is to question what alternative metaphors Obama could have used in the first place. 


Rapid-Response Public Diplomacy
When: Friday, February 20, 10:30 AM - 12:15 PM
Where: Grand Salon 18, Hilton New Orleans Riverside



Public diplomacy is best implemented as part of a long-term commitment to soft power. But when crises arise such as that in Ukraine in 2014, policymakers must respond promptly. Competing narratives and innovative outreach methods must be employed as part of a real-time strategy. This panel, which includes scholars and one of the top U.S. public diplomacy officials, will explore the study and practice of public diplomacy as a rapid-response foreign policy tool.