Reflections of a Soft Power Agnostic

Gary D. Rawnsley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingBook Chapterpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


As the title suggests, I am a self-confessed soft power agnostic, and I write this chapter from the intersection of international relations and international communications where I am progressively convinced that the term “soft power” is fast becoming a redundant and empty catch-all term that means everything and therefore nothing. The pace and scale of its adoption by governments and by colleagues within the academy has obscured our sensitivity to the concept’s utility. Moreover, it enjoys such a level of almost unquestioned credibility and prominence that we are now pressed to engage with the meaning, exercise, and value of soft power as a way of understanding modern international relations and statecraft from a far more critical perspective. A more satisfying and precise approach requires us to unpack the term so that its core components, including public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, international exchanges, and international broadcasting are used in the way they were designed to be used: as labels for distinct communicative practices, each with its own methods, objectives, audiences, and architectures. When used as an umbrella term, a mere convenience, the simple descriptor “soft power” fails to capture the nuances of each type of international engagement and their possible consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPalgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NamePalgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies
ISSN (Print)2662-7922
ISSN (Electronic)2662-7930


  • Confucius Institute
  • Democracy Promotion
  • International Relation
  • Public Diplomacy
  • Soft Power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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