American University
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Agency, Emotion, and Imagination: Theorizing Connection in Public Diplomacy

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:11 authored by Samantha Dols

The imminent contact between people from different ideologies, cultures, and political perspectives brings the need for innovative strategies of connection, or ways for individuals and groups to build and sustain meaningful connections with each other. Accordingly, this research explores the concept of “connection” through a grounded theory methodology, which includes an instrumental case study on Shared_Studios’ Portals. “Portals” refers to a network of media that connect people from different parts of the world through live digital interaction. Through the repurposing of old shipping containers, which are painted gold and outfitted with specialized audiovisual equipment, each “Portal site” contributes to a global network of interconnected environments that feel spatially continuous, offering life-size engagement between individuals who otherwise would likely not meet – individuals from Mexico, Afghanistan, the United States, Iran, Rwanda, Sweden, and so forth. This research situates the exploration of connection in the field of public diplomacy and provides scaffolding with concepts from two bodies of scholarship. From public diplomacy, issues of nonstate actors, relationship-centric paradigms, and new media and technology are emphasized. From 21st century media, affordances of involvement, immersion, and presence are elucidated, and relevant trends of Impact Storytelling and PeaceTech are highlighted. These concepts lead to a case study on Portals, an emblematic example of new media that could be positioned as a vehicle for fostering intergroup and intercultural connections. The major finding of this research – a working theory, or more appropriately, a framework for connection – suggests that connection is malleable, determined by an alchemy of agency, emotion, and imagination. Awareness of this idea can aid in diagnosing the strength, or quality, of a connection between actors, and serve as a map for improving the quality of a connection between actors. While the framework itself emerges from the study and observation of one case, and is therefore in need of further experimentation, the overall research findings reveal 1) the value of Portals itself as a potential tool for public diplomacy, and 2) concrete lessons that can be applied to the general practice of public diplomacy.





Degree Awarded: Ph.D. School of Communication. American University


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American University. School of Communication

Degree level

  • Doctoral

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