Alister Miskimmon (RHUL), Ben O'Loughlin (RHUL) and Laura Roselle (Elon/Duke) have published a new working paper on strategic narratives.
This working paper presents a new research agenda for a major problem in both the praxis and study of international relations: how states seek to influence the international system. We argue that this can best be understood through a focus on strategic narratives. Strategic narratives are a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of international politics, and to shape the perceptions, beliefs, and behaviour of domestic and international actors. Specifically, by tracing the formation, project and reception of strategic narratives, we can explain how states seek to shape the international order, pursue policy outcomes, and enhance policy and political legitimacy. Conceptually, narratives offer a particular structure through which shared sense is achieved, representing a past, present and future, an obstacle and a desired end-point. States use narratives strategically, though they face various constraints in their capacities to do so. International relations scholars have struggled to trace these processes; conceptual innovation around ideas, norms and socialisation has not been matched by methodological precision or imagination. The study of communication offers several research traditions upon which these processes can be more adequately addressed. These traditions help us map the gates, channels and platforms through which states attempt to project their narratives in international relations, offer rich understandings of multi-national audience behaviour, and help us trace the oscillating temporalities and patterns of communication with which IR practitioners must grapple. Here we first set out how a research agenda on strategic narratives informs international relations theory and foreign policy in important conceptual areas. Second, we discuss how a new media ecology further necessitates a shift to a strategic narrative focus. Finally, we briefly examine instances of research designs employed by US and UK public diplomacy teams to bring such insights to bear. The framework advanced in this working paper will underpin a volume to be published in 2012 examining the role and impact of strategic narratives in critical processes in international relations, including Great Power identity, international organisations and integration, and social networks and international community.