Founder’s Blog: Toward Localizing Int’l Relations

This article is part of a series helping to envision what a metro regional democracy learning community could look like.  For the full list of articles, please visit Learning Life’s DMV Democracy Learning Community page

Why localize international relations (IR), and what might that specifically look like?  This article succinctly answers these two questions in list form.

Why localize international relations?

1. Foster connection and comprehension: Globalization intertwines, yet distance disconnects. Localizing IR can help individuals connect to and understand a world that intertwines and affects us all, for better and worse.

2. Nurture empathy: Authoritarians often thrive on fear and resentment of immigrants and foreigners. Localizing IR can foster engagement and collaboration with immigrants and foreigners, thus increasing empathy (see contact theory).

3. Get help: More challenges we face are international: unemployment, inflation/deflation, energy, pandemics, climate change, cybercrime, disinformation, terrorism, nuclear security, immigration, refugees, human trafficking, etc. Localizing IR can mobilize more people to address these issues.

4. Prevent war and abuse: The more engaged publics are in IR, the less easy it is for government elites to rush to war, demonize foreigners, abuse immigrants, self-deal/engage in corruption, human rights abuses and other illegalities, etc. On war and democracy, see democratic peace theory.

5. Improve policies: Wider participation makes for policy-making and implementation more accountable to publics, less serving of elite interests.

6. Develop citizens and workers: Localizing IR can have “spillover effects,” nurturing more caring citizens, and knowledgeable, skilled workers, expanding equality of opportunity and human development.

Seven Principles for Localizing IR

1. Make IR a way of life, not just a topic, to adapt the argument American philosopher John Dewey made about democracy. Embed IR in people’s routines, stages, rituals and celebrations.

2. Bring IR to people, don’t expect people to come to IR, to adapt the insight of political sociologist Herbert Gans.  Bring IR to where people go: homes, restaurants, markets, parks, churches, etc.

3. Make IR fun using games, puzzles, festivals, markets, parades, simulations, competitions, etc.

4. Meet needs and desires of individuals and organizations: students for internships and jobs, employers to find employees, professionals to network and learn, journalists to get data and analysis, scholars to share research, teachers to find student learning opportunities, etc.

5. Create more positions, be these volunteer, stipended or paid, that give people specific roles and status in IR (e.g., cultural ambassadors, guides, observers, researchers, writers, mentors, speakers, evaluators, etc.).

6. Foster collaborations involving journalists, educators, artists, philanthropists, government, religious and business leaders and staff.

7. Connect discussion to policy-making: Shift from directionless discussion, not connected to policy-making, to directed discussion, connected to policy-making. Federated organizations linking local, state, country, region and world can help.

Nine Local IR Stakeholders

1. Governments, especially city, state and national agencies engaged in IR

2. Professionals and retirees of governments, militaries, businesses, and nonprofits, with foreign affairs knowledge and experience (including local residents currently studying, working, or living abroad).

3. International businesses: finance, trade, airlines, intelligence, media, education, tourism, entertainment, food, etc.

4. International NGOs: peace, security, health, refugee, immigrant, environment, cultural exchange, etc.

5. Education: teachers, professors, students, staff in IR, history, political science, languages, anthropology, cultural/social studies, communications, intl biz, etc.

6. Media: local to int’l news outlets, local TV, radio, magazines, etc interested in culture, business and other topics that connect to IR.

7. Immigrant and ethnic associations

8. Travel and language companies and enthusiasts

9. Foreign culture fans (Japanese anime, Kpop, European art, African music, etc.)

What might localizing IR look like?

1. Annual IR festival: Engage local business, nonprofits and governments to develop a profitable event – with cultural exhibits and performances, digital and analog IR game rooms, escape rooms, virtual travel and exchanges, contests, issue simulations, dialogues and debates, films, food tastings, etc. – that supports local businesses, and attracts families, youth and tourists.

2. Seasonal IR markets: Spring, summer, fall and/or winter markets featuring local businesses and nonprofits offering IR services, products and jobs: foreign restaurants, language, culture and travel companies, college IR-related programs, IR employers, etc.

3. IR center: A public place, funded via multiple sources, that routinely features local and visiting IR speakers, issue debates and deliberations, exhibits, performances, and inexpensively houses local IR businesses and nonprofits to foster collaboration, and draw residents and tourists alike.     

4. Grants: Funded by city, regional/state and/or national govts, to encourage for-profit and nonprofit, financially sustainable IR pilot and regular programs.

5. Other elements: Connect with IR associations (Sister Cities, UNESCO, Int’l Union of Local Authorities, etc.). Local tours of IR businesses, nonprofits, ethnic communities, university depts, historic sites, etc led by local IR ambassadors.  Public language and culture trainings. Local radio or TV IR issue debates. Exchanges: Int’l visitors, home swaps, sister cities, virtual dialogues, skill swaps, language exchanges. School extracurriculars: student SDG clubs, internships, volunteering, Model UN. Etc.

Five Initial Steps for Localizing IR

1.Identify and recruit stakeholders: Who wants to take part?

2.Asset map: What IR people, organizations, events, places, etc. already exist locally? Partner with local IR faculty and students to asset map.

3.Develop a strategic plan, setting SMART goals and priority activities that follow some or all the preceding principles. Partner with local int’l biz faculty and students to plan.

4.Set up an online community calendar and/or email list of local IR events.

5.Use the asset map to write a printed and/or online guide to building a local IR infrastructure, including a list of local IR experts, businesses, nonprofits, and others who can help.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life


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