Ben O'Loughlin presented some of his latest research with Alister Miskimmon on strategic narratives at the Centre for Media Studies research seminar at SOAS on February 24, 2016. Please find the title and details of the talk below.
Strategic Narratives and Power Transition: Communicating our Way to a Peaceful Order?
Historically, the transition of power from one hegemon to another has involved an all-out war in the international system. Britain acquired primacy, challenged then by Germany, who in turn was overcome by the US, and now there is a surge in speculation about a post-US order; power transition theory, that underpins conventionalist realist IR and therefore Western foreign policy, suggests that when the challenger reaches parity in material power, a war to define the rules of the international system takes place before a new order is institutionalized (Organski, 1958; Gilpin, 1981). But the rise of China, the rise of ‘the rest’, and the emergence of digital and network power all suggest we are entering a new kind of power transition. While the economic (GDP) power of China and the EU surpass the US, neither is challenging the US in a systemic war or seeking to assume hegemony. Instead, international order is increasingly based on competition for recognition in the context of plural narratives. This places communication central to how international order is constituted. Every country and city has a soft power and branding strategy. Price writes of a ‘marketplace for loyalties’. Each country that seeks recognition as a major power has an international broadcaster. In short, public and cultural diplomacy have become integral to the negotiation of identity and recognition in this new kind of power transition. The stakes again are high. Previous power transitions resulted in total war. Can the strategic narratives of the major players align today? Will a communication-based competition cultivate the conditions for a conflict-free power transition?