International Relations, Music, and Diplomacy. Sounds and Voices on the International Stage

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A new volume of Sciences Po’s series with Palgrave Macmillan, International Relation, Music and Diplomacy. Sounds and Voices on the International Stage, has just been published. Its two editors, Frédéric Ramel and Cécile Prévost-Thomas have accepted to answer our questions about a project that transcends disciplines in order to question the role of music in international relations, with a particular reference to the concept of “scene”. 


The volume offers a discussion between scholars of disciplines as various as history, musicology, sociology and political science, on what you call musical diplomacy. You have chosen to examine the issue of music in international relation using the concept of “scene”. Can you briefly tell us what it means and why you have chosen this “entry”? 

The concept of scene allows to consider several levels of meanings of musical diplomacy. First, following Ervin Goffman, there is a stage setting of musical life and a distribution of roles and interactions between the actors concerned by diplomatic relations. Then, to follow Will Straw, the scene reveals forms of sociability that are inherent to the dynamic of activities and pluralist forms of musical expression, cultural relations and exchanges that develop and circulate, be it in a visible or invisible manner, locally or internationally.


This edited volume gathers contributions that examine music as an objective of diplomacy, as a vector, or as an object. How do you manage to have a study on the diplomatic issues at stake with the Eurovision Song Contest echo a study of festes in 18th century Rome? Can the notion of scene serve as a bridge and how and in what does it bring a global look to the question of music and international relations?

The empirical illustrations from different historical periods contribute to proving the strength of the phenomena of musical diplomacy, whatever the expressions and the forms it uses throughout history. The concept of scene offers a transversal journey through these diplomacies: diplomats shape the musical scenes, the way music is conceived or practiced influence diplomatic conduct and the musical scenes are sometimes imported into the diplomatic scenes. Jessica Gienow-Hecht’s final chapter offers a concept that gives a global understanding of the various cases examined in the volume: “musical branding”—each actor seeks, on the scene, to have his voice heard…


Your work could be considered as a complementary reading to the volume Music and Diplomacy from the Early Modern Era to the Present, edited by Rebeka Ahrendt, Marc Ferraguto, and Damien Mahiet, who all three contributed to Music and International Relations. Sounds and Voices on the International Stage. How do these two volumes complement each other and why would you recommend reading one in light of the other?

The volume you refer to is also the result of an international conference organized at Harvard and Tufts in 2013. Ours is the result of a conference organized at Sciences Po, in Paris, three years later. The structure of the two books differ. The editors of the first volume have chosen to apprehend music in light of the main functions of diplomacy: representation, negotiation, mediation. Each function is illustrated by cases the presentation of which follows a chronological line. Yet our edited volume follows the same line in the first three parts, we have chosen to bring in a sociological concept in order to consider the link between music and diplomacy, i.e. the concept of scene. Additionally, our volume seeks to explore other dimensions beyond statehood (formal diplomacy so to say). In the end, the two volumes echo or offer counterpoints, to use a musical reference. 


Let’s hope this fascinating and stimulating subject be the beginning of a new research agenda that would consider international relations from the perspective of other disciplines, and of subjects that are generally reserved to other disciplines… What’s next?

As we develop in the introduction to our edited volume, the acoustic turn results from the convergence of works coming from disciplines as musicology, history, and IR. As it is, the two books published by Palgrave show this phenomenon. Among the directions that have been identified, it is worth mentioning the role of music and musicians in the history of human rights or even in post-conflict periods (which would allow for a link with studies on memories and commemoration). Another aspect concerns the use of music by contemporary intergovernmental organizations in their public policy, and why not in their internal. This final aspect should fit into the “Groupe d’Intérêt Scientifique” on multilateral action that CERI could create beyond Sciences Po. A good occasion to strengthen the links with CERLIS.