Findings of the Literature Review
- The term ‘cultural relations’ refers to interventions in foreign cultural arenas with the aim of enhancing intercultural dialogue and bringing about mutual benefits connected to security, stability and prosperity. There is no universally agreed definition of cultural relations. The conceptual confusion can lead to differences in practice, though it can also enable flexibility.
Just as there is no common definition of cultural relations, there is no one correct approach to good cultural relations, or simple method of evaluating them
- Just as there is no common definition of cultural relations, there is no one correct approach to good cultural relations, or simple method of evaluating cultural relations. Practitioners face very different cultural and geopolitical contexts. Effective cultural relations necessarily involve flexibly adapting programmes in ways that resonate with these contexts.
- ‘Cultural relations’ is primarily a practitioners’ term and often regarded as synonymous with ‘cultural diplomacy’, ‘public diplomacy’ and - for some - as contributing to their country’s ‘soft power’. These terms belong within the same broad semantic field and share many common features, but it is important to distinguish them. Cultural relations practitioners aspire to genuine reciprocity and mutual understanding, while cultural and public diplomacy, and soft power, sometimes bear connotations of instrumentalism and self-interest.
- The emphasis on the intrinsic versus instrumental value of culture varies between different institutions and countries. Some tend to eschew overt instrumentalist ambitions and instead stress intrinsic value, while others are more comfortable with a balancing act between intrinsic and instrumental goals. The intrinsic value of cultural projects should remain paramount. But instrumental goals, when defined in ways that express mutual benefit, can and should be included for pragmatic purposes, and in response to changing funding regimes and requirements.
German cultural relations are founded on a ‘strong’ conception of culture (where culture is closely tied to national history, language and identity). In contrast, British cultural relations are based on a ‘weak’ conception of culture, emerging from a tradition of liberal individualism and British empiricism
- Assessing the value of cultural relations in different countries and for different actors requires a range of methodologies that take diverse perspectives into account. It is important to situate the strategies and practices of cultural relations organisations like the Goethe-Institut and British Council within the wider histories of their countries to understand their distinctive approaches. German cultural relations are founded on a ‘strong’ conception of culture (where culture is closely tied to national history, language and identity). In contrast, British cultural relations are based on a ‘weak’ conception of culture, emerging from a tradition of liberal individualism and British empiricism. Germany and the UK have very similar goals in deploying culture relations to assist societies in transition. But they have different modi operandi.
- The complex and nuanced nature of cultural relations suggests that attempts to evaluate them will themselves have to be sophisticated, nuanced, and sensitive to the different contexts in which they are taking place and different actors involved.
The Literature Review draws on a detailed investigation of the existing academic literature in German and English on cultural relations, soft power, and related concepts. The full Literature Review can be downloaded here:
CVP Literature Review