New partnership with Germany: The Centre for Cultural Relations and IfA collaborate on online learning.

IfA office

IfA headquarters, Stuttgart

The Centre for Cultural Relations (CCR) has today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IfA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Germany’s Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, which is supported by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, the state of Baden-Württemberg, and the City of Stuttgart to provide a link between practical issues arising in the field of cultural relations, academia and the media.

The aim of the collaboration is to promote co-operation and align expertise in the study of international cultural relations, continuing professional development and research.

The signing is an exciting opportunity for the CCR which came about following two conferences in January and March this year which the CCR organised on the theme of Germany’s unique approach to international cultural relations as one of the three pillars of its foreign policy.

The Secretary General of IfA, Ronald Grätz, spoke at the first of these conferences, stressing the importance of IfA’s role in the creation and exchange of knowledge through culture, and the need to align international education and cultural policies with science, the media and business, in order to contribute to good relations in Europe, conflict resolution, peace, democracy and social dialogue.

He also spoke of IfA’s role as a hub for research in cultural relations and of the importance of IfA’s library as a crucial archive of Germany’s international cultural relations. Finally, he announced that IfA had a new Academy that will offer training on key issues in cultural relations. This collaboration will be with both the Academy and with IfA as a whole.

On 24 June, following the vote to leave the EU, the Principal of the University, Sir Tim O’Shea, reiterated the University’s commitment to international engagement:

“Edinburgh is and always will be a truly global university and I think it is very important to stress in times of uncertainty the stability and strength of the institution… Our priority will be to maintain our research and exchange partnerships across Europe.”

This collaboration therefore comes at an important time, and will be built on specific co-operation, initially to develop a MOOC on the subject of the migrant crisis. Germany played a key role in the crisis and remains at the heart of debate in Europe and beyond.

The MOOC should be seen in the context of the University of Edinburgh’s strong commitment to the development of online learning and the CCR is at the heart of that, as we develop a new online Masters course in Cultural Relations.

The University is also at the leading edge of developments in Informatics. On the 12th of July (last week), at a round table on flight and migration, Germany’s Foreign Minister Steinmeier announced that Germany would be funding development of a new global migration analysis tool, to be set up in Berlin with the IOM (International Organization for Migration).

While we are not involved with that development, we hope that, in time, as our partnership evolves, there will be wider opportunities for collaboration with IfA and with Germany. These will be in learning and research, but we hope to be able to work with colleagues in Germany in other areas where this University has specific expertise, perhaps in the development of digital platforms which help address complex transnational issues.

This partnership has only just begun. We look forward to strengthening and deepening it in the years ahead.

Digital Citizenship in Pakistan


Digital Citizenship in Pakistan, Centre for Cultural Relations for REMU, British Council, Pakistan

The report Digital Citizenship in Pakistan by the Centre for Cultural Relations (CCR), for the Research Evaluation and Monitoring Unit (REMU) of British Council Pakistan, provides a snapshot of the status of digital citizenship in Pakistan 2015-16.

Pakistan is a country with low levels of internet access, high levels of contestation in society in terms of attitudes to internet freedom, and high levels of inequality, all of which pose severe challenges to the practice of effective digital citizenship. “Effective” practice is defined by regular, skilled use of the internet to engage in society to access services, practice politics, get an education, conduct business and so on, i.e. to engage in civic life.

Our work on the report was made possible by the involvement and collaboration of academics from across the university. The Centre for South Asian Studies brought expertise in Pakistan, and, crucially in understanding the linguistic aspects of digital citizenship, and the Informatics Department was able to build on earlier research for the British Council on the UK’s digital connectivity to analyse the uses of social media (Twitter) in Pakistan.

The report presents survey data collected by Nielsen Pakistan, and qualitative interview material collected by University of Edinburgh researchers in Pakistan. The data was not only collected from internet users, but included household data from non-users. This was important is that data collection can be challenging in Pakistan and surveys of internet use there can tend to focus on existing users only, which inevitably distorts the picture.

Headline findings related to the need for a coherent strategy to redress regional imbalances in infrastructure, implement a regulatory regime which drives internet use without undue restrictions on internet freedom, and the need to focus on users’  needs for relevant content and services, made available in ways that overcome the digital divide.

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Workshop, Lahore, March 2016

REMU organised a series of events to discuss the preliminary research findings with Pakistani stakeholders and others with an interest. The first was held in Edinburgh in February, the second in Lahore in March, and the third in London in May. These workshops were invaluable in allowing us to get feedback from high level Pakistani officials and those active in digital media in Pakistan on the relevance and likely impact of the research.

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Workshop, London, May 2016

From the point of view of the CCR, this research has generated a wide range of questions directly relevant to the practice of cultural relations today. Firstly, it is important to understand specific contexts such as Pakistan in as much detail as possible if we are to understand the nature and impact of transnational flows of information, knowledge and influence. This is only possible through truly interdisciplinary collaborations between academic disciplines and practice organisations. Secondly, digital diplomacy needs to be viewed as more than communications strategies which aim to influence perceptions, events and behaviours. It is also about understanding the multi-level, complex nature of digital policy and strategy and how that works in different societies and cultures. Thirdly, research on digital citizenship raises questions about citizenship more generally and about the often troubled interface between global communications with all their potential for positive development and how people view the practice of citizenship, the exercise of cultural rights and cultural production in their own societies. Finally, the research shone a light on digital divides at a range of levels, both within and between societies.

This research project was particularly timely. There is a turn towards international development in the practice of cultural relations. It is essential that we do what we can to understand the dynamics of development in relation to the economic and cultural drivers of globalisation such as the internet in specific places if we are to develop better theories of change and understandings of impact.




Humboldt Forum: a network for the world?


Aerial view of Museum Island with the Humboldt Forum to rear


Section through Humboldt Forum

On 1 March, the Centre for Cultural Relations hosted a conference with the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the National Museums Scotland, on the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The Humboldt Forum is Europe’s (if not the world’s) largest and most important museum project. It aims to have a global impact as well as transforming the cultural centre of Berlin. The Gründungsintendant (founding Artistic Director) is Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum and alumnus of the University of Edinburgh, who is leading the project as one of a troika with Professor Hermann Parzinger and Professor Horst Bredekamp.

The conference was introduced by Professor Chris Breward, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, and by Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Professor Breward’s blog about the event can be found here. It was a great pleasure for us to welcome Dr Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation as the keynote speaker.

The Humboldt Forum is now being constructed in the reconstructed Berliner Schloss (Berlin Palace). It is dedicated to the idea of establishing a dialogue of the world’s cultures. It will do so by bringing museum collections of Ancient, European and other cultures together in the one building, and by providing a platform for examining social developments worldwide and contributing to conveying an up-to-date understanding of our globalised world.

The project had its controversies and was the subject of media comment and intense debate both within Berlin and beyond as can be seen for instance in the columns of the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

These controversies are of course, particularly sharp in the current climate where the migrant crisis is challenging the German post-war political consensus and Germany’s view of itself as a country with a cosmopolitan world view, welcoming to other cultures. The Forum has been hailed as a “Network for the World” particularly as it partners with the Goethe Institut and its 160 institutes in 100 countries to co-produce programmes with the Humboldt Forum around the world. This partnership places the Humboldt Forum squarely at the heart of Germany’s international cultural relations strategy.

Then there is the question of the project’s relationship to the City of Berlin. Professor Parzinger was clear that the key measure of success for the project would be the levels of participation of the citizens of Berlin. The original design of the Berliner Schloss has been opened up to encourage access, internal streets, and to be a venue for events. The City of Berlin will be included in the Forum, in an initiative led by the new Director of the City’s Museums, Paul Spies.  It will be important that the Humboldt Forum is not just for tourists, but is owned by the City’s people in a way that, for example, the Kulturforum, near to Potsdamer Platz, is not.

This all led to a series of very lively discussions with Scottish institutions many of whom were involved in similar developments, whether it was the V&A in Dundee, or the Kelvinhall project in Glasgow. There was a keen recognition that there was much to learn from the German approach which enjoyed cross-party support from politicians, was adequately financed, and saw a cultural project as an integral part of its long-standing policy of international cultural relations as a pillar of foreign policy.

The Future of International Cultural Relations, Conference, 21 January 2016

The CCR held a conference on 21 January with partners from Scotland, the UK and Germany to discuss the future role of culture in international relations at a time of increasingly rapid change.

The conference brought together politicians, academics and practitioners in a day long event followed by a public lecture by Professor Hanns Maull titled: Germany, the last multilateralist?

The range of participants included representatives of the Federal Foreign Office, the Goethe Institut, IfA, academics, the Scottish Government, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council.


L-R: Professor Charlie Jeffery, Director of the CCR; Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Relations, Scottish Government; Jens-Peter Voss, Consul General of Germany.

The aim of the conference was to learn lessons from Germany’s long-term commitment to international cultural relations and from the way in which that commitment had helped shape its response to contemporary crises of migration, terrorism and the economic crisis.

It became clear, from the speeches and during the course of the discussion, that there were differences in how the UK and Germany approached the question of soft power. From the UK participants, from both the Scottish and UK Governments, there were similar emphases on Government-led promotional activities based on strategic communications around national “brands” – for example the “Great Britain” campaign although there were of course some notable differences.


L-R: Michael Reiffenstuel, Federal Foreign Office; Hugh Elliott, FCO; Ronald Gratz, Secretary General, IfA.

From German speakers, on the other hand, much greater importance was given to the idea of a “foreign policy of societies rather than governments”. The impetus should come from civil society. Cultural policy should be the basis of foreign policy as it builds bridges, fosters exchange and creates networks. Good cultural relations were a “safety net” especially in times of difficulty.

It was important, however, to define goals more clearly in relation to the social power of culture. A good example was the refugee crisis and attempts to find a way to create opportunities for refugees to stay in their region by giving “aid for humanity” i.e. access to culture and education. Post-conflict repair will be essential for the future of Syria. Germany had started to fund scholarships for Syrian refugees, to create opportunity for Syrians to gain skills.

The centrality of culture to Germany’s external relations became very clear. One (German) speaker remarked that cultural categories were fundamental to political action, as culture shapes social discourse and includes all forms of social co-existence. Culture can cause conflict and help resolve conflict. Germany therefore involves cultural figures in political activity.

This approach was reflected within the frame of the German 2014 foreign policy review process, which maintained the view of the state as a social, rather than a political construct – the state does not have an interest of its own, but a responsibility to society.

Lessons for Scotland? The Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Relations observed that cultural relations complement hard power and are becoming more important, as it becomes more difficult for hard power to resolve disputes and conflicts. We need a wider connective view of culture. This is important to Scotland where key issues are national identity and trust. In addition to this, there are instrumental benefits, both economic and promotional from the use of culture in external relations.

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L-R: James Boyle, Chair, National Library of Scotland; Professor Helmut Anheier, President and Dean of the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin.

The conference discussions did not come to firm conclusions, rather they identified questions.

Does foreign policy need to change to respond to challenges to Western values from radical Islam? Was there a need for a new kind of political leadership, which went beyond the national? What would be the implications for traditional ideas of national identity? How can we think beyond short-term metric-driven activities?

Cultural relations offered a range of pre- and post-crisis cultural relations interventions. How should we engage with civil society when a state was resilient and opposed to its own civil society? Cultural relations activity was needed to monitor the health of state/civil society relations as a focus for crisis prevention and post-crisis reconciliation. Transient populations had neither state nor civil society, but were composed of individuals or networks eg in camps in Jordan. Key questions for cultural relations were how to turn humanitarian aid into “humanity” i.e. helping people beyond satisfying immediate needs, and cultural protection including digital protection.

Modern social media has a role to play in times of crisis. They are news media, but not reliable, which raised issues about the uses of social media around the official communication of information. Social media are good for local relevance and for engagement, but not to exert influence. What do we need to do to equip diplomats and practitioners of cultural relations to use social media effectively and positively?

Universities are a force for cultural engagement, but not if they’re complacent. They are good at being international and reaching out to people who share our values. They are also good at following the money. It was important they focused on shared problems not on their comfort zone. A key question for universities was how to be creative and work with people with whom they are not comfortable?

 Specific cultural images of countries were resilient, and corporations used this to their advantage. In the VW scandal, behind the corporate scandals was a stable picture of Germany. In relation to nation branding, it was interesting to ask to what extent can politics’ use of culture be linked to the economy? There was a division of opinion as to the economic benefits of branding. Were they in country (investment) or abroad (exports)?

 The key question in cultural relations was definition of outcomes. These could include social wealth and the common good, but under accountability pressures, we tended to end up with economic measures. There was, however, general agreement (even if it couldn’t easily be proved) about what worked: mutuality; cooperation; face to face encounters; independent or at least arms’ length institutions; a plurality of domestic voices; transparency; patience – cultural relations is a long-term practice; transnational strategies – eg to be a good global citizen. It was easy to agree all this but more analysis was needed – the question was how to incorporate this institutional experience into accepted policy and operational frameworks.

Following the conference, Professor Hanns Maull’s lecture started from Thomas Bagger’s nightmare dilemma for German foreign policy – that Germany could be forced to choose between its global competitiveness and its European vocation.

L-R: Professor Hanns Maull giving his lecture; Professors Maull and Professor Charlie Jeffery

Professor Maull then discussed his alternative nightmare dilemma: What does a committed multilateralist do when she does not find partners? This German foreign policy nightmare was now about to materialise around the issue of migration, which, in turn was part of a “mega-crisis” – that of the European project itself. What does it imply to be in the European Union, and in its inner circle, the Eurozone? What does solidarity mean? There is a lot of cheap talk about a “community of values”, and it is not clear what those shared values really are. Not only the UK, but all member countries will have to clarify their position towards membership in the EU. The mega-crisis of Europe is not just a mega-crisis of the old continent, it is a worldwide phenomenon. That phenomenon is the gap between expectations addressed towards political leaders and what they are able to deliver. The lecture, ended the day by stimulating a very lively and engaged discussion with an informed audience.

Digital Life

AdobePhotoshopExpress_2a42ebb29d5e4bbbb6c73bb5e7e98aaaDoctoral students from across the University participated yesterday in a “Rapid Reflection Construction Event” organised by the Centre for Cultural Relations for the Scottish Government. The purpose of the event was to develop big picture thinking on digital life which would be used by Ministers and others to inform policy development.

The discussion touched on a huge range of topics. The focus was on (in)security, personal, societal and cultural in the digital space. It went much wider, however, including insights from economics and business; law; sociology and informatics. Continue reading

Creating Sustainable Cultural Networks: a Workshop

Image supplied by GivRum

Image supplied by GivRum

The Centre for Cultural Relations (University of Edinburgh) and GivRum (Copenhagen) are presenting a workshop on how cities develop international cultural networks.

The workshop is part of the City Link Festival The Festival which runs from 24th-27th September 2015, fosters transnational and interdisciplinary relationships across cities. In 2015, City Link will connect the cultural communities of Edinburgh and Copenhagen. This year’s theme is ‘Democratic Renewal’, which will be explored through a diverse programme of symposia, workshops, exhibitions and performances.

Continue reading