Cultural diplomacy in the contemporary United Kingdom: the case of the British Council

Ichijo, Atsuko (2012) Cultural diplomacy in the contemporary United Kingdom: the case of the British Council. In: Topic, Martina and Rodin, Sinisa, (eds.) Cultural Diplomacy and Cultural Imperialism: European Perspective(s). Frankfrut au Main, Germany : Peter Lang. pp. 79-93. ISBN 9783631621622


The chapter investigates the theme of the volume, cultural diplomacy, in the contemporary United Kingdom. It does so by examining the discourses on Britishness produced by the British Council, a body which operates at the arm’s length from the government whose activities are nonetheless incorporated in ‘public diplomacy’ pursued by the UK government. Public diplomacy is commonly associated with the idea of ‘soft’ power which emphasises persuasion through peaceful means such as cultural appeal. The British Council’s stated aim is ‘to build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries and to increase appreciation of the UK’s creative ideas and achievements’ and while it does not ‘carry out its functions on behalf of the Crown’ it is fully engaged with the enterprise of projecting ‘Britishness’ abroad. It is carrying out language programmes on behalf of the British government while pursuing its universalistic aim of promoting mutual understanding on a global scale. Because of its position, between the state and civil society, an analysis of the British Council’s policy documents provides interesting insights into the relationship between the state and civil society in maintaining national identity. If the state and civil society are trying to project different image of Britain to outside world because of their different positioning and agenda, it would shown in the discourse produced by a body such as the British Council where the discrepancy between the two would emerge most strongly. In the context of cultural diplomacy in general, the case of British Council is interesting because of the British colonial history; the British Council is in a sense a legacy of British imperialism which is trying to adjust the post-colonial, increasingly global world. In this regard, the chapter provides an analysis of the politics of identity maintenance in a former colonial power in Europe.

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