Socialized soft power: recasting analytical path and public diplomacy


Soft power debate has not analytically moved beyond the questions of whether soft power matters and of whether soft power can work independent of hard power since Nye’s initial formulation. Furthermore, the question of how a state selects the source(s) of its soft power remains silent in the literature. This neglect leads to the underspecification of the nature and content of a given state’s soft power policy. In this article, we fill in these gaps by recasting the conventional understanding of soft power conceptually and analytically. Conceptually, we make the case that soft power should be understood as a form of productive power for its conceptual and analytical distinction. On the basis of this reformulation, we specify an analytical framework that helps map out how a state determines the sources of its soft power. The crux of the framework is the notion of ‘dual process’ of international recognition and domestic self-identification mutually informing and reinforcing each other for the identification of a specific source of a given state’s soft power. We illustrate the analytical framework with an empirical example of South Korea’s launch and consolidation of its new ODA policy, Knowledge Sharing Program.

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  1. 1.

    In this regard, Nye’s (2004, 2009, 2011) recent coinage of ‘smart power’ casts doubt on soft power as an independent analytical category.

  2. 2.

    See Guzzini (2013, p. 94) for critiques of Barnett and Duvall’s taxonomy of power as non-explanatory.

  3. 3.

    The term ‘rational’ refers mainly to a range of analyses with the assumption of a fixed set of identity and interests, whose change would be derived only exogenously.

  4. 4.

    A standard definition of socialisation is ‘a process of inducting new actors into the norms and rules of a given community’ (Risse et al. 2013). As such, conceptually, this definition allows for both voluntary and coercive (so-called imposed socialisation) induction processes. See Checkel (2001) for the tension between voluntarism and imposition in the concept of socialisation.

  5. 5.

    Dowding (2006, p. 140). The question of whether or not an actor has real autonomy of choosing their action has long been debated in the community of power debate. Although important, addressing this question adequately is far beyond the scope of this article. See footnote 12 below for a short discussion of this issue.

  6. 6.

    Quoted in Lukes (2005a: pp. 477–493).

  7. 7.

    See also Risse (2000).

  8. 8.

    On this score, Checkel (2001, p. 577) observes that a change in a state’s policy as the result of pressure from protests and mobilisation logically presupposes that, for the state, the ‘norms are not internalized, they merely constrain behavior’.

  9. 9.

    See Reus-Smit (2004) for the importance of social constitution for power exercises.

  10. 10.

    See Barnett and Duvall (2005). For various strands of power analyses and theories, see also Lukes (2005b), and Guzzini (2013).

  11. 11.

    Lee (2011, p. 48, n. 27), however, also opens the door for the possibility of institutional and structural power to count as soft power when they shape a receiver’s conception of interests without coercion and manipulation. As such, what ‘soft power as productive form of power’ suggests is that soft power’s most distinctive causal efficacy—in the sense of escaping the trap of hard power contamination—can be observed when it is understood as a productive form of power.

  12. 12.

    As noted earlier, Duvall and Barnett’s notion of productive form of power is different from Foucault’s (1980). Unlike Duvall and Barnett’s productive power, Foucauldian power does not allow for the possibility of actors’ conscious, voluntary choice because power is ubiquitous and co-extensive in society. See Lukes’ (2005a, pp. 491–493) critique of this aspect of Foucault’s understanding of power. Lukes argues that there are cases where ‘the exercises of power render those subject to it to live according to the dictates of their nature and judgment’.

  13. 13.

    As detailed below, ‘soft power without persuasion’ resonates particularly with Morriss’ notion of ‘power-to’ rather than just ‘power-over.’ With ‘power-to’, Morriss (2002, pp. 32–35) defines power as ‘an ability to effect outcomes’ (not the ability to affect others).

  14. 14.

    For example, Lynch (2014).

  15. 15.

    Chun et al. (2010). Along with it, the size of Korea’s ODA financial contribution lagged behind the OECD average. See also Korea Development Institute (2007, pp. 36–37) for a critical evaluation of Korea’s ODA up until the 1990 s.

  16. 16.

    Manning (2006), cited in Chun et al. (2010, p. 798).

  17. 17.

    Interview with a section-chief-grade official at the United Nations Development Programmes on 14 November, 2013.

  18. 18.

    Deputy director at MOSF (personal interview by authors, 13 November, 2013).

  19. 19.

    Bureaucrat at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam (personal interview by authors, 26 January, 2016). The Vietnamese bureaucrat mentioned that his government conducted the detailed study of Japanese and Korean cases for emulation, yet, was more attracted to the Korean one due to similar colonial experience.

  20. 20.

    Deputy director at MOSF (personal interview by authors, 13 November, 2013); Private consultant (personal interview by authors, 22 February, 2014).

  21. 21.

    Vietnamese policy expert (personal interview by authors, 13 August, 2018).

  22. 22.

    Director at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam (personal interview by authors, 21 January, 2016).

  23. 23.

    E-government project consultant (personal interview by authors, 14 February, 2014); Bureaucrat at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam (personal interview by authors, 26 January, 2016).

  24. 24.

    Section-chief-grade official at the United Nations Development Programmes (personal interview by authors, 14 November, 2013).

  25. 25.

    Deputy director at MOSF (personal interview by authors, 13 November, 2013).

  26. 26.

    Gregory (2011, p. 353), cited in Hayden (2015, p. 3).


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  1. Deputy Director at the Ministry of Strategic Finance (telephone interview by authors, 13 November, 2013).

  2. Section-Chief-Grade Official at the United Nations Development Programme (email interview by authors, 14 November, 2013).

  3. E-government Project Consultant (email interview by authors, 14 February, 2014).

  4. Private consultant (email interview by authors, 22 February 2014).

  5. Bureaucrat at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam (email interview by authors, 26 January, 2016).

  6. Policy Expert (personal interview by authors, Ho Chi Minh City, 13 August, 2013).

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The earlier versions of the article were delivered at the Korean Studies Association Australia Conference, the Korean Association for Policy Studies International Conference, and the Institute of Korean Studies Conference. We would like to thank Sunhyuk Kim, Jin Park, Eduard Jordaan, Sangbae Kim, and Nicola Nymalm for their invaluable comments. Yong Wook Lee thanks Linus Hagström and Mikael Weissmann for their invitation to present an earlier draft of this article at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. We also thank anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms and helpful suggestions.

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Bae, Y., Lee, Y.W. Socialized soft power: recasting analytical path and public diplomacy. J Int Relat Dev 23, 871–898 (2020).

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  • Soft power
  • Productive power
  • Self–other identification
  • Public diplomacy
  • Development assistance
  • South Korea
  • Knowledge sharing