Diplomatic tenses

A social evolutionary perspective on diplomacy

Author: Iver B. Neumann

This book complements extant histories of diplomacy by discussing change in the form of tipping-points, understood as the culmination of long-term trends.

The first part of the book discusses social evolution on the general level of institutions. The diplomatic institution has undergone four tipping-points: between culturally similar small-scale polities, between culturally different large-scale polities, permanent bilateral diplomacy, and permanent multilateral diplomacy. The consular institution has seen three: the emergence of the consul as the judge of a trading colony, the judge as a representative of the state, and the imbrication of the consular institution in unitary foreign services. The second part challenges extant literature’s treatment of diplomacy as a textual affair and an elite concern. It lays down the groundwork for the study of visual diplomacy by establishing diplomacy’s visual genres, discussing how diplomats spread images to wider audiences and drawing up a taxonomy of three visual strategies used for this purpose: a hegemonic and Western strategy, a national strategy, and a strategy that is spiteful of Western hegemony. Two case studies discuss the evolving place of the visual in one diplomatic practice, namely accreditation, and the importance of the social imagination. One possible evolutionary effect of the latter seems to be as a lair of hibernation for the otherwise threatened idea that diplomacy is not about dialogue but about the confrontation between good and evil. The book concludes by seeing the future of diplomacy in a continued struggle between state-to-state-based diplomacy and diplomacy as networked global governance.

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