5 Panels, 2 Papers, 1 Award: Another Busy ISA #ISA2024

Korean dataset

Kadir Jun Ayhan


Thursday, April 18, 2024

International Studies Association’s (ISA) annual congress is my favorite conference. On the one hand, it is the largest international studies conference. On the other hand, you meet your colleagues in smaller groups within concentrated sections. This year’s ISA annual congress was held in San Francisco in early April. I had the chance to present two papers, lead one panel, participate in one Distinguished Scholar panel, and one round table.

Additionally, ISA International Communication Section (ISA ICOMM) awarded me and my co-authors (Sejung Park, Lindsey M. Bier, and Hanwoo Park) the Best Paper Award.

Let me go through each separately here:

2024 ISA ICOMM Best Paper Award

The following is an excerpt from a blog post I have written back in 2018.

There is much discussion in the blogosphere (Hayden, Brown, Riordan, Hone, Conway, Hone) on what (public) diplomacy entails. When it comes to people-to-people exchanges, most scholars simply treat them as what they really are: exchanges. Others are convinced that these exchanges, too, qualify as “diplomacy’s public dimension” (Bruce Gregory attempts to map the boundaries between diplomacy and civil society, but many others don’t).

In these accounts, the underlying assumption is that diplomacy exists whenever “there are boundaries for identity and those boundaries of identity are crossed.” Manuel Castells goes as far as to suggest that public diplomacy is, indeed, “diplomacy of the public, that is, the projection in the international arena of the values and ideas of the public.” Recently, Isolate or Engage, edited by Geoffrey Wiseman, emphasizes people-to-people exchanges as the only channels in the absence or limitations of official channels of American public diplomacy in adversarial countries.

The case of inter-Korean people-to-people exchanges is an even more curious one. First, while estranged from each other for 73 years, the two Koreas both aspire to unify their country, at least in rhetoric. They do not recognize each other as sovereign entities and do not wish to maintain their separate identities while mediating their differences, which is often suggested as an “essence of diplomacy.”

Second, if there are to be exchanges between the North Korean and South Korean people, they need to get permission from both governments. North Koreans are even more restricted in terms of travel. Traveling to the South is out of question, except under special circumstances. Therefore, you can actually count the number of exchanges that happen between the North and South Korean people.

This blog post was the beginning of my journey to research inter-Korean people-to-people diplomacy which produced multiple publications. Our team was fortunate to receive two Korea Foundation grants totaling $100,000 for this project. In one article, I and my co-author mapped the South Korean government’s theories of change regarding inter-Korean people-to-people diplomacy based on policy documents and interviews. We also explored the outcomes of inter-Korean exchanges reflecting South Korean participants’ insights.

Building on the findings of this previous study, I and my co-authors designed a new experimental study. We received a new Korea Foundation grant of $50,000 for this research. It was back in 2020 coinciding with the emergence of COVID-19, making it quite difficult to go through the IRB process and design the experimental surveys. Nevertheless, we pulled it off.

We asked if South Koreans’ superordinate identification with North Koreans leads to increased humanization of and empathy for North Koreans. We found that South Koreans’ increased superordinate identification with North Koreans leads to greater humanization of the latter as well as less negative feelings toward them but does not affect support for unification. Our findings implied that extended contact may be enough to generate superordinate identification with the outgroup but not enough to affect support for government policies.

We are honored that ISA ICOMM awarded us with the 2024 ISA ICOMM Best Paper Award.

I am receiving the 2024 ISA ICOMM Best Paper Award

Honoring ISA ICOMM Distinguished Scholar Bruce Gregory

Better late than never. Bruce Gregory received this well-deserved Distinguished Scholar Award from ISA ICOMM at this year’s annual congress. I feel honored to have taken part in the panel honoring him.

Bruce Gregory is the walking library of public diplomacy. Most public diplomacy scholars and practitioners would be familiar with the Bruce Gregory’s Resources on Diplomacy’s Public Dimension, a.k.a. Bruce’s List. He reads almost every work published on or related to public diplomacy, and publishes a list with his annotations every two months. As of April 2024, there have been 122 of these lists!

There are more important things that make Bruce stand out as a public diplomacy, or diplomacy’s public dimension, expert. He is an expert both as a scholar who is well-versed in interdisciplinary theories, as well as a seasoned and extremely knowledgeable practitioner. His previous works especially on the boundaries of diplomacy’s public dimension have been quite influential in my own work. Yet, his recent book, entitled American Diplomacy’s Public Dimension, is his most major contribution to the literature.

The book begins with a fascinating overview of the history of American public diplomacy, finding the historical roots of “American way of diplomacy”:

Societal drivers of an American way of diplomacy, manifest over the course of four centuries, have particular relevance to US diplomacy’s public dimension. (1) A preference for military and economic instruments of power over diplomacy. (2) Episodic interest in public diplomacy correlated with war and ambition. Time and again, from the Pequot War in the 1630s to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after 9/11, Americans “discovered” public diplomacy when motivated by threats and fear. (3) A messaging and information-dominant communication style consistent with a culture that prioritizes individual freedom. (4) Belief in American exceptionalism characterized by the nation’s outsized view of its virtue, democracy, and capacity to steer history (page 2).

Maybe some other historian might have written this first part, though not as well as Bruce. However, I think only Bruce could have written the later part of the book that dealt with the contemporary American diplomacy’s public dimension. In addition to sources he referred to, he is a living witness to much of this history both as a practitioner who served as the Executive Director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD (1985-1998), a coordinator on the Department of State’s Response to Terrorism Working Group on Public Diplomacy, a co-drafter of three Defense Science Board reports on strategic communication (2001, 2004, 2008); and a co-drafter of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report on Public Diplomacy (2003).1 Much of ACPD’s scanned archives come from his personal archive!

1 https://ipdgc.gwu.edu/bruce-gregorys-resources-on-diplomacys-public-dimension/bruce-gregory/

Long story short, Bruce’s book is a huge service to diplomatic studies scholars and practitioners to understand the ins and outs of American diplomacy’s public dimension.

A little side note on my first meeting with Bruce. I was a visiting scholar at the George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication back in 2018. I contacted him to meet. He came to the meeting at a café in Washington D.C. with a print-out of my recent publication, annotated it, and interrogated (😂) me on my boundaries of public diplomacy. I always tell my students that it was the most intellectually satisfying conversation I have ever had with anyone at a café. Fast forward to 2024, when we met in Washington D.C. for lunch, this time he was interrogating (😂) me on my public diplomacy framework for global governance issues.

As my colleagues also pointed out during our Distinguished Scholar panel, Bruce is the most amazing and generous (anonymous or non-anonymous) reviewer any author can ask for! He gives you the most constructive feedback even if you don’t necessarily ask for it. I was applying for the 2024 Fulbright Visiting Scholar Award for my American Public Diplomacy Dataset project, and I asked Bruce to write me a recommendation letter. I attached my proposal for his reference. He did not only agreed to write me a recommendation letter, but he also wrote me detailed feedback for my proposal!

I congratulate Bruce once again! I feel happy that I will be living in the same city as him beginning from June 2024. I look forward to learning more from Bruce through our intellectual conversations.

Honoring Bruce Gregory, the recipient of ISA ICOMM Distinguished Scholar Award

Paper 1: Persistent Competition for Hearts and Minds: Analyzing United States’ Public Diplomacy Expenditure across the World

By extracting data from ACPD and State Department pdf reports, I created a few unique datasets on U.S. public diplomacy. The data includes the US’ public diplomacy expenditure, the number of local and American public diplomacy staff at diplomatic posts in 176 countries, and USAGM’s budget for each broadcasting service between 2014 and 2023.

To complement this quantitative dataset, I have also extracted the word frequencies of country names through distant reading. See this blog post for an overview of the word frequency data.

I was awarded the 2023-2024 Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program to continue to work on this research project at the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at George Washington University while on sabbatical leave, but I had to forego that opportunity for personal reasons.

My colleague Steven V. Miller has recently joined me in this endeavor and we wrote a manuscript analyzing the foreign policy priorities that shape the American public diplomacy activities. We argue that countering adversary influence is the main driver of US public diplomacy. We analyze the determinants of US public diplomacy expenditure and American staff allocation in 176 countries between 2013 and 2022 employing random-effect-within-between models. The findings suggest that countering Russian influence, War on Terrorism, and economic interests have been the major drivers of US public diplomacy expenditure abroad while economic interests are the main determinant of American staff allocation. These results suggest that the Cold War competitive mindset of US public diplomacy persists despite the evolving normative literature on ‘new public diplomacy.’

I will publish an R package that will allow users to generate country-year data frames on the United States’ diplomatic post-based public diplomacy expenditure and staff allocation data, service-year international broadcasting (USAGM) data, and country name word frequencies based on State Department and U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy reports.

Watch this space for updates on this research and R package.

American total public diplomacy expenditure between 2013 and 2022

Paper 2: Korean Diplomacy Data Hub: Analyzing Korean Summit Diplomacy

Recently, I have created several novel datasets on Korean diplomacy for my research, mainly focusing on high-level diplomatic visits (both outgoing and incoming), their formats (bilateral, multilateral, informal), nature (such as state visits), purposes (economic, security, etc.), timelines, and the conveners in multilateral contexts among others. I will make these datasets available via a new R package, kdiplo. In this paper, I introduce the data, and the R package as well as analyzing the foreign policy drivers of high-level diplomatic visits (both outgoing and incoming) through Bayesian cross-sectional time-series logistic regression models.

Watch this space for updates on this research and R package.

Comparison of Korean presidents’ diplomatic visits abroad based on era and ideology

Panel: Public Diplomacy in Other Words

Last year, with the aim of facilitating inclusiveness and dialogue in public diplomacy research, I initiated a project to bring non-English literature on public diplomacy to the attention of English speakers.
We have put together 9 teams that systematically reviewed the public diplomacy literature in 9 different languages: Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.
We have had several workshops to give each other feedback. At ISA’s 2024 annual congress, teams presented their findings. It was a great panel with Q/A session being as insightful as the paper presentations. We will publish the papers in a special issue in the Journal of Public Diplomacy in June 2024. It will be my first guest editorial for the journal after leaving my position as the Inaugural Editor-in-Chief.

Read more about this project here.

Public Diplomacy in Other Words panel

Interactive Roundtable: Public Diplomacy Through the Lens of Relationality

This roundtable was in line with the ISA’s main call for proposals: Putting Relationality at the Centre of International Studies. The roundtable featured Antoaneta Vanc from Quinnipiac University, Rhonda S. Zaharna from American University, Eytan Gilboa from Bar-Ilan University, Nicholas J. Cull from the University of Southern California, Kathy R. Fitzpatrick from the University of South Florida, Pawel Surowiec from the University of Sheffield, Ilan Manor from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Geoffrey Wiseman from DePaul University, and César Villanueva from Universidad Iberoamericana A.C. as well as myself.

Rhonda gave all participants a question to tackle. My question was “How might assumptions of relationality challenge or enhance state-centric perspectives of public diplomacy?”

Following Geoffrey Wiseman and Bruce Gregory, I mainly talked about diplomacy, treating public diplomacy as diplomacy’s public dimension.

The ISA’s call for proposals talks about relationality in the context of the recent so-called “turns” in international studies literature that bring previously marginalized approaches to the study of the international and the political to the forefront.

However, in the context of diplomacy, the assumptions of relationality have always been there. Throughout history, diplomacy dealt with humans’ relations with “animals, land, and waterways, relations of value and care, and social relations of power and subjectification such as capital, race, religion, sexuality, and gender”.

A major reason these relations have been fundamental to diplomacy is because they often served as identity boundaries that separated groups. So, the separateness assumption of diplomacy comes hand-in-hand with relationality.

The ISA’s call for proposals also asks us to pay attention to the resonation of “care and community” with diplomacy. The state of nature emphasis in some IR theories is not necessarily there in diplomatic studies. Because, diplomacy is one of the starkest differences between humans and primates. While, for example, chimpanzees’ intergroup encounters, in the absence of strong social ties, are limited to violence, humans (and by extension, states as members of international society) learned to manage their relations through communication. And through communication, humans (again, by extension, states and other human groups) manage their relations not only based on short-term material interests, but also based long-term material interests addressing the issues of collective action problem, and also based on norms, values, communicative action, or practice that may go beyond the logic of consequence (e.g., logic of appropriateness, logic of arguing, logic of practicality).

Diplomacy, including its public dimension, is at the forefront of creating caring or carelessness practices that become established norms of diplomacy (as a primary institution) in a given international society. For example, it was the diplomats who came up with the concept of terra nullius, meaning the territories that didn’t have European empire flags were up for grab — but also with the norm of sovereignty that protects very small countries’ right to self-determination. It was the diplomats who justified genocidal acts in wartime, and still, it is the diplomats who shape practices and narratives about refugees.

Diplomats’ main role is representing their group vis-a-vis other groups through communication-based activities to achieve their group’s goals. Here, I mainly rely on the English School of IR, which sees diplomacy as a primary institution of international society. When we zoom out and only look at the international system today, we see diplomats representing their states’ interests both for national responsibilities, for example, to maximize security, and also international responsibilities, for example, to ensure that international order remains steady. However, when we zoom in, we see that the transnational and political, is actually more vivid and cannot be limited to state-centric actors. There are many other non-state actors that engage in diplomacy for responsibilities transcending the national and the international, for example, responsibilities for the environment and humanitarian responsibilities.

So, coming back to the original question, “How might assumptions of relationality challenge or enhance state-centric perspectives of public diplomacy?”

The assumptions of relationality remind us to zoom in when we analyze diplomacy to see what is happening and who is taking political action to represent a given group — and by zooming in, we would certainly see that state-centric perspectives of diplomacy are not enough to understand more complex nature of diplomacy, including its public dimension.

Public Diplomacy Through the Lens of Relationality round table


This review of my experiences and insights from the ISA 2024 congress offers a glimpse of what I have been up to recently. ISA’s annual congress is my favorite conference because I learn a lot through insightful conversations with colleagues, from the most up-to-date research, and constructive feedback on my own research. Consistent participation, including in leadership roles, at ISA has also helped me establish myself as a scholar in public diplomacy and Korean Studies. I look forward to #ISA2025, which will convene in Chicago.