Studying the symbolic and cultural practices of city diplomacy: the case of Seattle

  • Craig SIMON

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


This thesis uses the case of Seattle’s city diplomacy to identify, describe, and evaluate aspects of this phenomenon that have hitherto been ignored or given little priority in extant research. This case study’s theoretical framing applies insight from social constructivism and practice theory. With this theoretical pluralistic framing, city diplomacy is conceived as a constellation of practices that implicitly and explicitly socially construct cities as global actors in global society. This approach provides nuance to scholarship and practitioner viewpoints in which a city’s identity as a global actor is taken for granted. The thesis conceives four heuristic categories of city diplomacy practice. These are documenting, networking, gifting, and gardening. Global surveys presented at the beginning of each empirical chapter show that these practices occur across geographic and political contexts. Furthermore, using insight from social constructivism and practice theory, these city diplomacy practices are understood as sayings and doings with narrative and discursive implications on social reality. Together, these symbolic and cultural practices contribute to local and global narratives and discourses in which cities are identified, either by themselves or by other actors, as capable and critical global actors in various areas of global governance.

The case of Seattle emphasises examples from the last few decades to build on and fill in the gaps in existing research about Seattle’s global engagement. However, examples also show that Seattle has implicitly and explicitly socially constructed itself as a global actor for over a century. Documents like city council resolutions, participation in international city networks like C40, gifting of objects like totem poles, and the creation of gardens like sister city parks, are some of the empirics analysed in this case study of Seattle’s city diplomacy. Moreover, the thesis emphasises that future city diplomacy should further consider the constitutive effect of practices and should further research the specific hitherto unidentified practices of gifting and gardening. In sum, this thesis provides strategies to study city diplomacy and makes theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions to the role of cities in world politics.
Date of AwardJul 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorMaria Julia Trombetta (Supervisor) & JeongWon Bourdais Park (Supervisor)


  • city diplomacy
  • Seattle
  • practice theory
  • social constructivism
  • twin town
  • sister city
  • paradiplomacy
  • subnational diplomacy
  • global city

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