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.

What exactly are cultural relations?

WipikediaSince the Centre for Cultural Relations started its work in 2012-13, we have discussed on numerous occasions what the Centre should be called and what the term cultural relations might mean.

We started by talking about cultural diplomacy. Early on, however, we abandoned the term, as it was too narrowly focussed on the activities of states and therefore unable to capture the vast range of transnational communications, exchanges and networks, or the vast range of both state and non-state actors involved. Similar thought processes led us also to abandon the term public diplomacy with its overtones of propaganda and a view of influence based on governments’ ability to shape the preferences and behaviours of the populations of other states. In other words, both cultural and public diplomacy were too instrumental and uni-directional to provide an adequate model for how the world was communicating and acting in the 21st century. Nor did they offer the potential to develop insights that would be useful to people who aspired to think about global citizenship and new forms of governance and civil society.

We therefore spent some time thinking about global citizenship and whether that was a better approach. We abandoned that as well, however, as it rapidly became clear that understanding cross-border relationships exceeded the scope of often normative propositions about how we should govern ourselves and participate as citizens – a great deal of cross-border activity was simply not concerned with that.

So, to cut a very long story short, we settled on the term cultural relations as the least bad term for describing our area of interest. As time went on, however, the term did seem to take root. It was sufficiently inclusive to accommodate the range of actors involved from diplomats to individuals, including public policy, global civil society, education, business, cultural and sporting bodies… It had an emphasis on two-way communication, often but not exclusively, enabled by digital communications technology, reflecting the tectonic shift in thinking and behaviour they have brought about, particularly, the potential to work collaboratively across borders, to share ideas and understandings.

In this spirit, the Centre for Cultural Relations proposes a simple experiment, which is to draft a definition of cultural relations, create a wiki, and invite both theorists and practitioners to edit it collaboratively. That wiki went live yesterday and can be found here.

The wiki was itself written collaboratively. Erik Vlaeminck, a PhD student of Russian acted as the principal author of the text, in discussion and with the assistance of myself. The purpose of the wiki is to invite readers of this blog, from academia and practice to participate in improving and refining the definition with a view to evolving our shared understanding of what exactly it is we mean by cultural relations.

We shall be monitoring the wiki and hope to see it develop over time. If this process starts a conversation that takes us in unexpected directions, so much the better!

Seminário de Cooperação Internacional, Instituto Camões, Lisbon

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Augusto Santos Silva (centre). Photo by author.

The Centre for Cultural Relations was very pleased and honoured to be invited by Prof.ª Doutora Ana Paula Laborinho, President of the Instituto Camões, to present its work on 7 January in Lisbon at the annual conference of ambassadors and heads of service involved in international development and cultural relations.

The conference, which takes place each year at this time, was the first since the elections of October 2015. The theme was international cooperation and the challenges Portugal faces in its international relations, development and cultural diplomacy at a time of fiscal restraint with much smaller budgets to support activity.

The main speakers were Augusto Santos Silva, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who stressed the importance of the Portuguese language as the key element in Portugal’s international public diplomacy, particularly in relation to the Lusophone countries, and Teresa Ribeiro, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, who spoke of the importance to Portugal of international development, and cooperation with the EU.

Portugal has always championed the policy of protecting the Portuguese language and culture and thus the identity of the Portuguese nation. In 1996 Portugal initiated the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). The CPLP Conference of Heads of State in the summer of 2008 decided to promote the Portuguese language as a global language, with the intention that the language policies promoted at the conference should be fully adopted by all Member States of the Lusophone world. Luis Amado, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in 2010: “We have one of the great languages of universal jurisdiction, and around it develops the whole dynamic for affirmation of our culture outside”. Portugal also has ambitions for its language to become a strategic tool of the EU’s external relations, using its linguistic and cultural proximity to the Lusophone countries as a distinctive contribution to the EU’s strategy for external relations.

There are some 200 million speakers of Portuguese as a first (L1) language in the world, making it one of the world’s major languages. Statistics on the numbers of speakers as a second or third language (L2, L3) are not available.[i] There are therefore good grounds for seeing the language as an effective promotional tool for Portugal.

There are some interesting parallels between the Portuguese and UK experiences as countries whose languages have become globally important, but which both have competition for cultural influence. Portugal is not the main Portuguese speaking country, and the UK is not the main English speaking country. Although they both undoubtedly have status as points of linguistic origins and standards – claims often asserted by reference to literature – both face stiff competition from Brazil on the one hand and the USA on the other.

The conference recognised however, that when it comes to branding the nation, Portugal’s undoubted contemporary cultural and sporting achievements in eg architecture and design, or football, were also effective ways to achieve international recognition. The challenge will be to develop a strategy that maximises the impact of all of Portugal’s soft power assets.

[i] List of languages by total number of speakers (2016, 10 January). Retrieved from


Digitalisation and Scotland’s international engagement

Image from digital-colony-blog.

In March 2015, the Scottish Government published (online) its International Policy Statement. The Statement, quite rightly, referenced digital connectivity as an important element of its approach to internationalisation, in terms of attracting investment and helping businesses engage with global markets. The Statement cited the Government’s vision of Scotland’s digital future: Digital Scotland 2020: Achieving World Class Digital Infrastructure (2012).

On 10 December 2015, the Deloittes report The Economic and Social Impacts of Enhanced Digitalisation in Scotland, was welcomed by the Deputy First Minister. The report confirms the view of the economic benefits of digitalisation, identifying a virtuous cycle: increased digitalisation reduces costs, makes business more competitive internationally, encourages innovation and increases GDP and exports.

So, how do the policies for internationalisation and digitalisation relate to each other?

The International Policy Statement identifies a range of goals where digitalisation might be expected to make a difference, including economic development, but also wider goals of internationalisation such as building Scotland’s capacity to understand the international environment; supporting the development of (international) relationships and partnerships; support for foreign language teaching; diaspora engagement and enhanced EU partnerships.

The case for digitalisation playing a positive role in economic growth seems to be made in the Deloittes report, but it could be argued that now is the time to make a robust case for the benefits of developing a strategy for digitalisation as a core driver of the wider internationalisation agenda.

The Scotland’s Digital Future web page on the Scottish Government website seeks views on connectivity, the digital economy, digital participation and digital public services. The focus is, however, almost exclusively on infrastructure and domestic public service delivery.

The time may be right for a fifth consultation, on how increased digitalisation can support vital internationalisation initiatives in education, building understanding, supporting key partnerships and networks, and engaging with the vast range of international actors Scotland needs to have constructive relationships with. These include international organisations such as the EU, governments, civic society bodies, businesses, media, digital content providers, educators, cultural organisations and individuals for whom digital communications media are the only means they have of staying in touch across international borders.

Such a consultation could seek views on how we best understand the global world of the digital. The digital is not only about local services and efficiency savings. We are each of us living hybrid lives, accessing global culture over our devices while living in specific places. It is how we can learn to negotiate this new digital world that generates uncertainties as well as opportunities, which will define the quality of our lives in the 21st century.




CCR at the Chevening Orientation Conference 2015


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Audience: Media and culture panel.

On Saturday 17 October, I participated as a panel member at the Chevening Orientation Conference 2015 at the Excel Conference Centre in London Docklands. The Excel Centre is vast and has 2 stops on the Docklands Light Railway – one each for the East and West entrances. The scale of the event required such an enormous venue, with over 1,800 participants from over 150 countries coming to the UK on Chevening scholarships and fellowships.

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Audience: Media and culture panel

Chevening is the UK government’s international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders. It offers a unique opportunity for future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers from all over the world to develop professionally and academically, network, experience UK culture, and build lasting positive relationships with the UK. As such it is a key component of the UK’s global engagement.

Scholarships are awarded to outstanding scholars with leadership potential. Awards are typically for a one-year Master’s degree at universities across the UK. There are over 43,000 Chevening alumni around the world who together comprise an influential and highly regarded global network. The University of Edinburgh is already a very enthusiastic supporter of the Chevening programme, and we are looking forward to expanding our involvement in the years to come.

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Media and culture panel. Speaker: David Rossington, DCMS.

From the point of view of the Centre for Cultural Relations, it was a pleasure to be able to talk about our work, on the media and culture panel, at such a significant event. Over 200 people more than filled a large room, and asked searching questions about a wide range of subjects, but most interest was in social media on the one hand and restitution of cultural heritage on the other.

I am looking forward to continuing the relationship with Chevening – the energy was incredible!
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The Netherlands International Visitor Programme

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Presenting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Den Haag.

I was very pleased to be invited to participate, last week, in the International Visitor Programme run by Dutch Culture, which aims to provide an opportunity to engage with policy makers, academics and cultural figures in the Netherlands.

The visit highlighted for me the value of a systematic approach to the development of contacts and networks through such a tailored programme which allowed fact-finding and exchange of information and views. It also introduced multiple perspectives and facilitated the development of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue with colleagues in the Netherlands.

The timing of this particular visit was good, in that it coincided both with a formal evaluation of Dutch cultural diplomacy by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), for the Parliament, and with preparation for the next 4 year planning cycle. This made discussions with the MFA (and with representatives from the Ministry of Culture) particularly interesting at the levels both of high level policy and of practical questions related to budgetary pressures, responses to fast-changing world events and the intersection of foreign and domestic policy agendas.

The range of meetings organised by Dutch Culture excellently reflected the range of people involved in both the theory and practice of cultural relations. In addition to a fascinating meeting with those from the MFA who were involved in the evaluation of Dutch cultural diplomacy, Renilde Steeghs, the Ambassador of Cultural Cooperation at the MFA kindly hosted a workshop with around 15 of her colleagues where there was a real opportunity to exchange views (see photo above).

The Netherlands is characterised by its range of specialist organisations, all with fascinating expertise and insight. These highlighted a number of common interests:

  • The need for knowledge, evidence and relevant statistics to inform policy development at every level (Boekman Foundation), and the potential of data science to contribute to this process;
  • Responses to events and challenges to culture in conflict zones (Prince Claus Fund) – the understanding that while cultural relations are a long-term endeavour, there was also a need for short-term responses to crises, whether in the form of threats to heritage or the need to cope with large-scale challenges to social systems due, for example, to migration;
  • The need for “cultural fluency” (intercultural skills) at every level for those engaged in international activity (KIT);
  • The value of public debate and a focal point for the expression of free speech (De Balie);
  • Nation branding in terms of values and recognition (MFA);
  • Challenges facing perceptions of Europe and the EU (European Cultural Foundation and elsewhere); and
  • Relationships between the theory and practice of cultural diplomacy – how universities can contribute to the policy process through research and the provision of learning opportunities (everywhere).

It was also valuable to hear more about Dutch Culture itself, and how a relatively new organisation was developing a positive role for itself.

One impression of the visit which has remained with me is that of the combination of specialist expertise with openness which seems to be a feature of the Netherlands. This seems to apply between organisations who operate at a similar level, but it also appears to work at all 3 levels of governance: national; regional and local. This makes for a complex policy environment, but one which is resilient and responsive to change. There are many lessons to be learned.


Scotland and Germany: The Future for Sport, Cultural Relations and International Development


Image provided by the Scottish Football Museum.

The Centre for Cultural Relations and the Academy of Sport presented a discussion on the role of sport in cultural relations and international development on 8 September 2015.
The event was hosted by the Scottish Football Museum, Hampden Park, the day after the Scotland-Germany football match, and it kicked off a series of events the Centre is planning for 2015-16 which will explore the unique contribution Germany makes to the theory and practice of international cultural relations. Continue reading

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Dr Anthony Downey presented a talk at Edinburgh College of Art yesterday, entitled “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion”. Dr Downey is the Programme Director, for the MA in Contemporary Art programme at Sotheby’s. He has a particular interest in contemporary art’s potential to engage with and expand upon social and political issues. He is the author of Art and Politics Now (2014), and later this year he will publish Archival Dissonance: Contemporary Art and Contested Narratives in the Middle East. The Centre for Cultural Relations was proud to welcome Dr Downey to present his talk the day before he was due to talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival Continue reading

Art in EU-Middle East cultural relations

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Lebanese artist Tania El Khoury presenting her work Gardens Speak.

Yesterday, the Centre for Cultural Relations (CCR) took part in a workshop to explore a new approach to how EU countries can collaborate with each other to develop a channel of artistic exchange with countries in the Middle East. The approach was developed by Arts Cabinet, a small, independent arts organisation from Edinburgh, whose Artistic Director, Svetlana Sequeira Costa, has built what all present saw as a completely new form of partnership, involving artists, art organisations, higher education institutions and EU National Institutes of Culture. Continue reading