The British Council together with ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) invited 25 leading cultural relations institutions from all over the world to London to talk about the most important topics for research and opportunities for collaboration.
The sphere of culture is notoriously problematic in its definition and can be an evasive object for research. Yet the subtle workings of cultural mechanisms tend to influence international political matters to a larger extent than is commonly noticed.
Recent years have seen the emergence of new lines of conflict on the international scene that have put the concept of ‘culture’ at the centre of heated debates; this is most notably the case in what can be called the dispute between globalism and identity politics.
“We need to go beyond definitions and learn what works when and under what conditions, because what is at stake is peaceful cooperation.”
In the field of international cultural relations a wide array of theoretical terminology and denominations has developed, some referring to the actions of the state, some also to non-state actors, including concepts such as ‘cultural diplomacy’, ‘public diplomacy’, ‘foreign’ or ‘international cultural policy’, ‘soft power’, ’ trans’-, ‘inter’-, or ‘post-national’ or simply ‘global cultural relations’. While most states actively pursue some sort of cultural foreign policy, the understanding of both its ends and its means varies considerably on an international scale. All while the number of non-state actors in the field is growing constantly. “We need to go beyond definitions and learn what works when and under what conditions,” said Ronald Graetz, Secretary General of ifa, “because what is at stake is peaceful cooperation.”
The International Cultural Relations Research Alliance is a network initiated by ifa and now realised on a global scale in cooperation with the British Council. It seeks to further the understanding and international discourse on matters of international cultural relations and foreign cultural policy by gathering research and connecting institutions that are practically or theoretically concerned with the subject. The initiative answers to the fact that, while research and international fora for exchange about international security, economic, or climate policies abound, there remains a scarcity of such in the realm of international cultural relations and international cultural policy.
Not only does research on the subject remain relatively scarce, but interconnections between researchers as well as between theory and practice have also been tentative at best. And while there are some structures in place that provide international fora for discussion on the subject, the global South often still remains underrepresented.
The Research Alliance aims to remedy these deficiencies by connecting institutions from all parts of the world that either conduct research themselves or otherwise contribute to the theoretical exploration of the field. It intends to facilitate an evidence-based global debate on what role international cultural relations should play on the global political stage in the future. Regular meetings are planned as well as an online platform. This digital space, linked to ifa’s world-leading research library for international cultural relations, intends to share research results and provide a source for debate between researchers, practitioners and policymakers. All participants agreed to encourage and support research relevant to international cultural relations.
British Council CEO Sir Ciarán Devane said: “If we want to demonstrate the value of what we do and put cultural relations at the heart of international cooperation then we need to really understand it. To do this we must collaborate globally, drawing on perspectives and knowledge from around the world.
He added: “I’m delighted that this meeting brought together expertise from across the globe. It shows that there is worldwide demand for cultural relations research, and appetite to exchange knowledge and to learn from each other. I’m confident that the new alliance forged here will help build a truly international approach to the role cultural relations research plays in addressing global challenges.”
Dr Odila Triebel, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) and Dan Shah, Director of Research and Policy Insight, British Council