Diplomacy as Impression Management: Strategic Face-Work and Post-Colonial Embarrassment

Research output: Working paperResearchpeer-review

This paper proposes to understand diplomacy as a form of impression management. Drawing on Erving Goffman’s dramaturgy, I show how diplomats seek to repair sudden cracks in the fragile international order. I analyse Greenland’s and the Faroes’ puzzling ability to continue controversial seal and whale hunting despite massive international regulation and criticism. In diplomatic negotiations, the two former Danish colonies use post-colonial embarrassment and irony to push Denmark into negotiating an exemption to the EU’s ban on seal products in 2009 and defend pilot whale hunting in the Faroes. Analysing diplomacy as impression management implies, first, that diplomacy cannot be seen as a one-to-one reflection of the relative capabilities or identities of the involved states. Rather, diplomacy should be understood as a social world of its own, abiding to its own rules, norms and codes of conduct. Its inhabitants may represent national interests but they also defend particular views of cosmos and they are saving face. Second, a focus on face-work and social order may help explain both the “conformist” bias of diplomacy and the way it may enable contestation of hierarchies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages39
Publication statusPublished - 2012

ID: 38296441