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The field of Strategic Communications Professionals: a new research agenda for International Security

  • Nicholas Michelsen (a1) and Thomas Colley (a1)

Abstract

Communication has long been accepted as integral to the conduct of international affairs. The role that discourses, ideas, norms, and narratives play at the systemic level of world politics has been examined extensively. Scholarly interest has now turned to how international actors use political communication tools to create and counter threats, such as propaganda, hybrid warfare, fake news, and election tampering, and it is often taken for granted that states are inferior to their challengers in these domains. To address this, ‘Strategic Communications’ has emerged as a mode of thought and practice promising to enhance state communication; encompassing long-established activities including public diplomacy, public relations, nation branding, and information operations. In this developing field, private sector professionals are increasingly being called on to support and advise governments. Particular attention has been paid to the ‘Big Data’ private companies may have access to, but there has been little IR research examining the experts seeking changes in how strategic communications is practised. Informed by elite interviews with communication professionals across the public-private space, this article sets out a research agenda to fill this gap, enhancing understanding of the expert relationships that shape international strategic communications.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: nicholas.michelsen@kcl.ac.uk

References

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20 Hallahan et al., ‘Defining strategic communication’, p. 3.

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23 Brookes, ‘Confessions of a strategic communicator’.

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29 Brookes, ‘Confessions of a strategic communicator’.

30 Boudreau, ‘We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us’, p. 41.

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32 Jansen, Stealth Communications.

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34 For insightful examples, see Fisher Liu, Brook, Horsley, Suzanne, and Blake Levenshus, Abbey, ‘Government and corporate communication practices: Do the differences matter?’, Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38:2 (2010), pp. 189213 ; Gelders, Dave, Bouckaert, Geert, and van Ruler, Betteke, ‘Communication management in the public sector: Consequences for public communication about policy intentions’, Government Information Quarterly, 24:2 (2007), pp. 326337 .

35 Abrahamsen, Security Beyond the State.

36 Berndtsson and Stern, ‘Private security and the public–private divide’, pp. 422–3.

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40 Bernays, Edward, Propaganda (New York: Ig Publishing, 1928); Jansen, Stealth Communications.

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44 Ian Cobain et al., ‘Inside RICU, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the Cold War’, The Guardian (2 May 2016), available at: {https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/02/inside-ricu-the-shadowy-propaganda-unit-inspired-by-the-cold-war} accessed 27 February 2018.

45 See, for example, Vercic, Dejan, Grunig, Larissa A., and Grunig, James E., ‘Global and specific principles of public relations: Evidence from Slovenia’, in Hugh M. Cuthbertson and Ni Chen (eds), International Public Relations: A Comparative Analysis (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996), pp. 3165 .

46 L’Etang, Jacquie, ‘Public relations, culture and anthropology – towards an ethnographic research agenda’, Journal of Public Relations Research, 24:2 (2012), pp. 165183 .

47 Quotations were sometimes abridged due to spatial constraints, with false starts and fillers omitted to improve flow while remaining as faithful as possible to researcher’s interpretation of the original meaning of the text.

48 This aligns with the British government’s perspective on strategic communications. See Ministry of Defence, ‘Strategic Communication’.

49 Inkster, Nigel, ‘Information warfare and the US presidential election’, Survival, 58:5 (2016), pp. 2332 .

50 Davis Cross, Mai’a, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities twenty years later’, Review of International Studies, 39:1 (2013), pp. 137160 .

51 Adler, Emanuel, ‘The spread of security communities: Communities of practice, self-restraint, and NATO’s post-Cold War transformation’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:2 (2008), p. 195 .

52 Ibid., p. 202.

53 European Communication Monitor Report 2017, available at: {http://www.communicationmonitor.eu} accessed 10 December 2017.

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55 Björn, Jerdén, ‘Security expertise and international hierarchy: the case of “The Asia-Pacific Epistemic Community”’, Review of International Studies, 43:3 (2017), pp. 494515 .

56 Cross, ‘Rethinking epistemic communities’.

57 Bigo, Didier, Bonelli, Laurent, Chi, Dario, and Olsson, Christian, The Field of EU Internal Security Agencies (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2008), p. 8 .

58 Bourdieu, Pierre, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993).

59 Bigo et al., The Field of EU Internal Security Agencies; Bueger, Christian, ‘From expert communities to epistemic arrangements: Situating expertise in international relations’, in Maximilian Mayer, Mariana Carpes, and Ruth Knoblich (eds), The Global Politics of Science and Technology, Volume I: Global Power Shift (Berlin: Springer, 2014), pp. 3954 .

60 Michelsen and Frost, ‘Strategic communications in international relations’.

61 Bigo et al., The Field of EU Internal Security Agencies.

62 L’Etang, ‘Public relations, culture and anthropology’.

63 Davies, Philip H. J., ‘Spies as informants: Triangulation and the interpretation of elite interview data in the study of the intelligence and security services’, Politics, 21:1 (2001), pp. 7380 .

64 Bolt, ‘Strategic communications in crisis’.

65 Inkster, ‘Strategic communications in crisis’.

66 Castells, Communication Power.

67 Galloway, Chris, ‘Media jihad: What PR can learn in Islamic State’s public relations masterclass’, Public Relations Review, 42:4 (2016), pp. 582590 .

68 Michelsen and Frost, ‘Strategic communications in international relations’.

69 Ikenberry, John, ‘The plot against American foreign policy: Can the liberal order survive’, Foreign Affairs, 96 (2017), p. 2 .

70 See Miskimmon et al., O’Loughlin, and Roselle, Strategic Narratives.

71 Leander, ‘The power to construct international security’.

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European Journal of International Security
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