Where Do Major Countries Project Their Soft Power?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 6/08/2014 02:00:00 AM
Today's up-and-coming soft power enthusiasts need no introduction.
While doing some current research on soft power, broadly characterized as influencing others through persuasion rather than coercion, I returned to an earlier post I made on the topic. (There's  lots of good stuff in the archives, but of course I'm biased ;-) Repeating a theme of that post, it is difficult to quantitatively measure "soft power." On the tangible end, you can measure exports of cultural products such as books, motion pictures, music, telenovelas, cartoons, comics and so on. However, just because people buy a certain country's creative output doesn't mean they favor that country. Think of Oliver Stone's movies with anti-American themes, or Bruce Springsteen's parody of USA#1 flag-waving moronicity. On the intangible end, you could probably just ask folks worldwide of their opinions of certain nations. But again, this is another imperfect measure due to the usual considerations associated with survey-based methods compounded by cross-cultural variations.

At any rate, the point I wish to make here is that even if "soft power" is difficult to measure, that hasn't stopped any number of major countries from attempting to project better images of themselves worldwide by establishing cultural centers. The current heavyweight favorites in this respect are the Koreans, who have unleashed a Gangnam Style-torrent of entertainment products on an unsuspecting world post-Asian financial crisis. Throughout the world there are now any number of well-funded, often architecturally stunning buildings that show off the best Korean culture has to offer, from Taekwondo to, er, T-ara.

Anyway, the British Council compiled a rudimentary list on soft power deployment by indicating which regions different countries have established cultural centers in. Some of the results are surprising, while the rest are obvious...

Some observations both weighty and quirky:
  1. That the PRC's Confucius Institutes are concentrated in Asia is no surprise, but that there are comparatively few in Africa relative to other soft power projectors is since sub-Saharan Africa is the largest regional destination for Chinese foreign aid.
  2. China's outsized push in the Americas is also remarkable. Is it trying to bring countries that have grown wary of US pushiness into its fold with the usual non-intervention jazz?
  3. Aside from the British Council, it is remarkable that no other Anglophone countries are establishing cultural centers globally. Either they think their reputation is good enough elsewhere, or they do not think establishing these centers will do much to improve their image. I cannot help but wonder how amusingly different our world would be if there were, say, US Seinfeld Institutes and Canadian Beiber Foundations to impress upon the world the desirability of their cultures. (Dear American and Canadian readers, I'm just kidding. I'm sure there are better examples.)
  4. While the large number of Institut Francais in sub-Saharan Africa is understandable given its colonial history in the region, the even larger number in the Middle East is unexpected and is certainly an investigable phenomenon. 
Interesting stuff I hope you'll agree, and I'll be performing more research soon on this subject matter.