Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Candace L. White

Committee Members

Maureen Taylor, L. Amber Roessner, Liem T. Tran

Abstract

This dissertation investigates country identity and citizen diplomacy by examining cultural mediators’ perceptions of and communication about their own country during people-to-people exchanges. A cultural mediator is a non-state citizen diplomat who communicates with foreigners in business, educational, or social environments to reconcile cultural differences. The country identity constructs examined herein are physical appeal, economic appeal, culture and heritage, political appeal, human capital, social appeal, and emotional appeal.

A non-Western, one-party, postwar, developing country, Vietnam provides a rich context for exploring this dissertation’s phenomena. To many Americans, Vietnam is a war. Vietnam, however, is a country undergoing economic, technological, and social change. With its progressing role in Southeast Asia and geographic proximity to China, Vietnam is critical to U.S. interests, and Vietnam’s leaders favor improved trade initiatives and military-to-military ties. However, a divisive wartime history and disparate cultural values and political systems complicate U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations.

This dissertation employs a survey (N = 368) and interviews (N = 27) with Vietnamese cultural mediators and participation observation hours (N = 27) of citizen diplomacy activities between Vietnamese and foreigners in Vietnam. While supporting the influence of heritage and culture, human capital, social appeal, and physical appeal on cultural mediators’ positive feelings toward their own country, the results expand the country identity theoretical framework by adding a family variable to the heritage and culture scale and a work ethic variable to the human capital scale.

The results reveal economic appeal as a positive significant predictor of citizen diplomats’ amount of communication with foreigners about country identity. Cultural mediators perceive mutuality in citizen diplomacy: Foreigners learn to navigate a new cultural system, while cultural mediators develop intercultural communication skills and expand their international network as a step toward integration into the global economy. This dissertation offers evidence that relational communication during citizen diplomacy acknowledges cultural differences to highlight favorable aspects of country identity.

This dissertation provides strategies for promoting the nation brand to domestic publics and stimulating collaboration with foreign publics. The theoretical implications extend beyond Vietnam with insight into how citizen-directed grassroots diplomacy networks advance cultural alliances through communication structure and synergy.

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