A decade of attempts by the US and UK to “win hearts and minds” has thrown up a series of conceptual and practical difficulties for leaders seeking to wield strategic narratives, for analysts charged with demonstrating their effectiveness, and for scholars trying to explain how communication and international relations intersect. Strategic narratives are a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of international politics to shape the behaviour of domestic and international actors. They are critical to explaining change in the international system. This paper examines three challenges: (i) Changing information infrastructures alter how shared meanings are constructed; (ii) Many narratives seem to escape the intentions of their original authors; and (iii) Target audiences may ‘buy in’ to a major power’s narrative but still not experience international politics as that major power hoped. Does this mean that measurable effects are forever disappearing over the horizon?

Speaker: Ben O’Loughlin is Professor of International Relations and Co-Director of the New Political Communication Unit at Royal Holloway, University of London. He co-edits the Sage journal Media, War & Conflict. His books include Radicalisation and Media: Terrorism and Connectivity in the New Media Ecology (2011), War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War (2010) and Television and Terror: Conflicting Times and the Crisis of News Discourse (2007/09). His projects on media and security have been funded by the ESRC, CPNI and the Technology Strategy Board.

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