The Synthetic Situation in Diplomacy: Scopic Media and the Digital Mediation of Estrangement

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What happens to the diplomatic encounter when it is digitally mediated? This article investigates how multilateral diplomats, who understand themselves as bringing people and polities together, cope with and resist the move to online settings, replacing handshakes with touchless greetings in videoconferences. Our starting point is the Covid-19 pandemic, but the article theorizes the effects of digital technological mediation already under way years before. Translating Knorr Cetina's notion of “synthetic situation” into the discipline of international relations (IR), we address how the very composition of diplomatic interaction is undergoing transformation. Building on immersive and remote fieldwork, among ambassadors, attachés, interpreters, and journalists constituting the field of European Union diplomacy, our argument speaks to IR debates on international practice, face-to-face interactions, digital technologies, and the political sociology of diplomacy. We show how practicing diplomacy online and with restrictions on in-person meetings involves (re)constructions of its dramaturgy, props, symbols, and authenticity as well as “heroic” fantasies of duty and exceptionalism; we analyze how diplomacy is practiced in “screen worlds” through scopic media enabling “response presence” or virtual co-presence across geographic and professional/private sites; and we trace how resistance to syntheticism emerges as screen fatigue spreads. Overall, we find that the pandemic has accelerated the ongoing transformation of diplomacy from “naked” face-to-face interactions to digitally mediated “synthetic situations,” producing new interpretations of who is “essential” in diplomacy. We conclude by questioning the term “digital diplomacy,” suggesting that virtual practices are in fact not simply “online” but embodied offline, and sometimes actively resisted. In the screen world, diplomats’ bodies (and home offices) become key sites of IR.
TidsskriftGlobal Studies Quarterly
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)1-14
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - 7 jun. 2021

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