Chapter 16 Diplomacy in the Rearview Mirror: Implications of Face-to-Face Diplomacy Ritual Disruption for Ministries of Foreign Affairs

In: Ministries of Foreign Affairs in the World
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Marcus Holmes
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Abstract

As the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic came into focus in early 2020, diplomats in MFA s worldwide were faced with the prospect of a significant disruption to one of the more ubiquitous rituals of their jobs: the face-to-face meeting. This chapter critically analyses what is lost, and what is gained, when diplomats are deprived of a crucial habitualised practice that is, for many, the foundational activity that describes what it is to be a diplomat, and forced to conduct their interactions virtually through digital technology. Drawing upon anthropology, sociology and political science, this chapter situates face-to-face diplomacy as a ritualised behaviour that allows diplomats to build trust and, in the most successful cases, transform identities. It then turns to the prospects of replicating this process online and analyses the extent to which virtual interaction may serve as a sufficient proxy for physical co-present interaction. It concludes with reflections on the ramifications of the continued pervasiveness of digital technology in diplomacy, with recommendations for MFA s as they navigate the promises and drawbacks of these technologies.

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