Diplomacy: Mediating Estrangement

Samples have histories. Rappers have histories. Slang, flows, and dance moves and drum patterns all have histories. BARS and neighborhoods also have histories. In Hip Hop, various histories are proudly put on display and celebrated, and sometimes openly contested1. One can apply the same methodology to diplomacy. In this entry I do exactly that. 

History of Diplomacy ≠ Historicity of Diplomacy

First of all, we have to acknowledge that the history of diplomacy is not the same as the historicity of diplomacy; that it has developed through history or “how it actually evolves /…/ as opposed to how it portrays itself” (Wacquant, 2012, p. 76). This is something that can be said fruitfully about many things. For example, in my master’s thesis I studied the historicity of tourism, which required giving context to and examine how certain activities became what we today recognize as tourism. Just for reference, check out the Wikipedia page for diplomacy:

It describes a very common understanding of diplomacy and its origin. But as I was crate digging research a few weeks ago, I came across an article by Noé Carnago – an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Basque Country. The article was titled Diplomacy Decentralized: Latin American Substate Couples. The title caught my attention. ‘Diplomacy Decentralized’ clearly points to a realm that DIY Cultural Diplomacy is designed to explore. In the article, which I recommend in its totality, one passage in particular stood out to me:

For, in spite of its many ambivalences, it [Aymara alliance] entails an unexpected displacement of relevance from the diplomatic system – understood as a matter of states, regardless of its possible administrative reformulations – to a new, or perhaps a very old, understanding of diplomacy as heterology whereby its ultimate anthropological value is vindicated, not only as a way of mediating the estrangement between the self and the other (Der Derian, 1987), while simultaneously affirming its transformational value for all the involved political subjectivities (Constantinou, 2010).

Cornago, 2014, p. 140

In the context of this quote, Cornago is conveying the political nuance offered by the transnational indigenous diplomacy of the Aymara. In the quote, nonetheless, two things I found particularly useful for DIY Cultural Diplomacy: (1) diplomacy as ‘mediating estrangement’ and (2) diplomacy’s ‘transformational value’ in an older understanding of it. I followed up on the references; Der Derian and Constantinou respectively2. Cornago, Der Derian and Constantinou now metaphorically form A Tribe Called Quest, as far as diplomacy is concerned in DIY Cultural Diplomacy. And DIY Cultural Diplomacy is People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

What follows are samples from Der Derian’s, Costantinou’s and Cornago’s scholarship. After that, I briefly reflect on what this does to this project’s main motif.

James Der Derian

What knowledge we do have of the practice and principles of diplomacy is largely drawn from the works of former diplomats. /…/ Their histories of diplomacy tend to be sketchy and rather anecdotal, and their theories of diplomacy, when they do exist, usually consist of underdeveloped and implicit propositions.

Der Derian, 1987, p. 91

Der Derian considers diplomacy to not be exclusive to accredited representatives of the state. In fact, he goes even further and claims that those who insist on diplomacy being an exclusively state-centered program show their ‘conservative preference’ for the current international political order. This position clarifies as one gets closer to his main point: the history of diplomacy is the history of the mediation of estrangement. I’ll explain, very briefly.

We can consider the meaning of diplomacy to be mediation: to mediate between different positions, causes, opinions etc. And estrangement, also known as alienation, is arguably a very common feeling that can be attributed to living life in any society. Der Derian shows us this by reviewing theories of alienation in history. He revisits alienation theories by Kant, Hegel, Marx and Sartre to name a few. When we put these two concepts together – mediation + estrangement – diplomacy becomes as heterogenous and variable as one can imagine estrangement. To practice diplomacy, then, becomes an expanded and inclusive concept. This is very theoretical stuff, but as we move on to Constantinou it becomes more accessible what the implications are for thinking in this way.

Costas Constantinou

Throughout history, if we are not restricted to looking at it from a state-centric perspective, diplomacy has been practised by different actors and via different media over different issues.

Constantinou, 2016, p. 3

Like Der Derian, Constantinou turns to history in order to show the width and heterogeneity of diplomacy. He does this through discussing examples, with the help of precursory theoretical work. Basically, Constantinou expands the who, when and where of diplomacy and how it is practiced. His example of Saint Paul the Apostle communicates the following logic. l will paraphrase: 

Thee who comes in ‘good cause’ is an ambassador, not by accreditation of some formal entity. And thou shall be judged by the usefulness of your conduct and how well you mediate alienation and material needs of the other (Constantinou, 2016, pp. 12–13). (Excuse my bad and inconsistent old English). 

The point of this logic is to illustrate that diplomacy can be a way of life, and not only a profession. In fact, Constantinou, Cornago and McConnell have elsewhere discussed that diplomacy as a profession – as a particular skill or technique – is a gross reduction of what it was and what it can be. The professionalization of diplomacy has resulted in a significant loss of responsibility, they argue (Constantinou et al., 2016). Instead, diplomacy can be something located in the everyday; in our capacity to mediate between people, causes, needs, and various alienated things.

Noé Cornago

This makes me think of Hip Hop. What if we look at Hip Hop as a sub-lateral (trans)mediation of estrangement? Does that feel strange or perhaps pretentious? The following words by Cornago offers explanation to why this might be the case.

The territorialization of diplomatic relations was largely achieved at the price of silencing the diversity of voices and practices that constituted a wider understanding of diplomacy as the experience of encountering and dealing with otherness. The result of these developments has been that the conventional meaning of diplomacy was emptied of any relevant social or non-technical content, treated as if it were nothing more than a formalized and rigid element of sovereign state’s machineries of foreign policy. Thus it became isolated from the everyday experience of a variety of social actors and individuals, and deprived of any conceptual relevance in understanding their relations.

Cornago, 2010, pp. 89–90

Cornago mentions nation-state diplomacy’s adaptation to global capitalism and its diversification thereof, but also gives examples of the diversity of diplomatic types that exists in tandem today, outside the exclusive diplomatic system of nation-states. Para-diplomacy and indigenous diplomacy for example. This is an age of pluralization, he argues, and of a diversified political agency that brings disagreement and agonism to the diplomatic field.  Sooner than later, then, maybe we’ll recognize DIY Cultural Diplomacy and it’s conceptual relevance. It may look something like this:

Major shout out to Maria Fernanda Jaraba Molt for putting me on to Drillminister

Or like this: Bars Finns

Another great example of DIY Cultural Diplomacy is Bars Finns, by Swedish rapper, rhetorician and secondary school teacher Roine “Sexfemman” Borgstrand. 

Bars Finns is a passion project in the form of a website for both students and teachers in secondary school, where one can develop reading and writing abilities. The website compiles bars and a variety of multimedia about rap as pedagogical source material.

Using rap for educational purposes, is not new. It is a growing trend in Sweden, prone to caricature. In my conversations with Borgstrand, however, he shared his reflections: Are these practices done with respect for the contents of rap? Who selects and curate Hip Hop in the school system? Do these practices challenge and/or expand our ideas about pedagogy and the curriculum? In the process of giving grades or evaluating student’s efforts, how can this be done without reducing the value of Hip Hop. This way, he brings his experiences and knowledges from Hip Hop into his role as a teacher, and relate and consider these questions in practice, every day. 

Borgstrand is treading a wary path and it is challenging because he cares. This is a remarkable distinction and makes all the difference. I call that DIY Cultural Diplomacy. 

If I Ruled the World, Imagine That… 

Let’s back up a little bit. In two previous blog posts I referred to Hip Hop Intellectual Resistance and a postcolonial translocal mandate. I left some things unelaborated. But I was on my way to a wider argument about the framework of Swedish cultural policy that Hip Hop ought to have a stake in3, in order to cultivate its emancipatory and transcending faculty4. Does this align with the understanding of diplomacy as the mediation of estrangement? Yes and no. It depends on how it is done. 

Basically, Hip Hop already represents and performs a form of diplomacy. But I believe we can diversify and specialize the conditions even further. This could be perceived as institutionalization, or perhaps inclusion. But it is not. It is first and foremost an appreciation of the validity of the experiences and the knowledges that exists in estrangement. And the capacity to live that estrangement fully. This is how diplomacy and Hip Hop can be in conversation5.

Essentially, the question here rests on our capacity to imagine a desirable future and how we can reach that future. In the end of the day, that capacity builds on knowledge, ideas and activities considered legitimate; no matter who or what you are6.


  • Constantinou, C., 2016. Everyday Diplomacy: Mission, Spectacle and the Remaking of Diplomatic Culture. pp. 23–40.
  • Constantinou, C.M., Cornago, N., McConnell, F., 2016. Transprofessional Diplomacy, Transprofessional Diplomacy. Brill.
  • Cornago, N., 2014. Diplomacy Decentralized: Latin American Substate Couples. pp. 125–145. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137273543_7
  • Cornago, N., 2010. Perforated Sovereignties, Agonistic Pluralism and the Durability of (Para)diplomacy, in: Constantinou, C.M., Der Derian, J. (Eds.), Sustainable Diplomacies, Studies in Diplomacy and International Relations. Palgrave Macmillan UK, London, pp. 89–108. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230297159_5
  • Derian, J.D., 1987. Mediating Estrangement: A Theory for Diplomacy. Rev. Int. Stud. 13, 91–110.
  • Wacquant, L., 2012. Three steps to a historical anthropology of actually existing neoliberalism. Social Anthropology 20, 66–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8676.2011.00189.x
  1. To me, historicity in Hip Hop relates to practices like sampling, or precisely the pursuit of samples and sounds. These are ways of knowing that I, today, after much effort, can appreciate fully and see mirrored in the scientific literature that I have read in the past four years. For example David Turnbull’s Mason, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge. But an excellent starting point for the Hip hop intellectual is J. Griffith Rollefson’s book Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality (2017). A tip is also to monitor the output from the research project CIPHER – a study of Global Hip Hop knowledge flows. []
  2. What is it about these two things that caught my interest? – you might wonder. The short answer is that these two points align with a general decolonizing sensibility which is very much a part of Hip Hop tradition. For a deeper appreciation of the kind of gravity that is at play here I recommend J. Griffith Rollefson’s book Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality (2017). Or Dead Prez’ debut album Let’s Get Free (2002) []
  3. This should be understood broadly; from policy formation to the resources thereof. []
  4. Why is this important? – you might ask. Because the questions and challenges posed by cultural life inspires (and use) the knowledge that gets produced, legitimized and eventually institutionalized []
  5. It has nothing to do with the way the US deploys its “Hip Hop Diplomacy” program []
  6. No one today is purely one thing…” – Edward Said []

2 thoughts on “Diplomacy: Mediating Estrangement”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.