Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt, 'IO Public Communication Going Digital? Understanding Social Media Adoption and Use in Times of Politicization', in Bjola, Corneliu and Zaiotti, Ruben (eds.), Digital Diplomacy and International Organizations. Autonomy, Legitimacy, and Contestation, London and New York: Routledge 2021, 21–51.

Growing interest in the use of digital media by International Organizations (IOs) reflects recent development in those organizations: centralized public communication and organizations’ mandates calling for direct implementation of policies on the ground, as a growing number of private users and groups are engaging virtually with IOs. Social media discourse provides IOs with new output legitimation strategies. Those platforms directly or indirectly enable feedback from public sentiment. Platforms are also used to engage with stakeholders, thus circumventing official channels, especially when states are involved, by signalling their intentions, and by coordinating actions during campaigns, but also in crisis management.

The recently published volume on 'Digital Diplomacy and International Organizations', edited by Bjola and Zaiotti directly speaks to these issues. In their introduction the editors point towards a research bias in digital diplomacy studies, a field that has focused predominantly on the role social media has had in shaping national images and brands. They identify a 'state-centrism of research on digital diplomacy'. International Relations-inspired literature on digital diplomacy started to develop an interest in IOs, as did organizational communication literature, wherein IOs can be conceived as semi-autonomous entities created to address specific global problems, operating in a setting (the international system) characterized by a lack of central authority.  

Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt takes the newly developed role of IOs in international public discourse as a starting point for his contribution to the volume: 'IO Public Communication Going Digital? Understanding Social Media Adoption and Use in Times of Politicization'. 'Politicization'  is a result of external contestation, organizational mandates, and a new degree of organisational control over public communication. The author adds that 'the opening up of IOs towards civil society has fostered wide-reaching expectations regarding citizens’ direct participation in global governance'.

Ecker-Ehrhardt’s chapter is based on a large-N comparative analysis of social media presences on Facebook and Twitter. The sample of his analysis consists of 49 IOs' social media activities between 2008 and 2018, subdivided into 290 constitutive units 'to understand variation in their use of social media'. This resulted in 385 Facebook pages and 861 Twitter accounts. Rising levels of public awareness and contestation drives IOs to engage in strategic communication in order to manage legitimacy. In a global sphere of advocacy organizations, IOs find themselves in the new role of what Jens Steffek has called a 'transmission belt' for societal demands. Ecker-Ehrhardt looks at protest activities and scandals and the data show a positive correlation between protest activities (but not scandals) with the setup of social media channels in the following year. With regard to internal conditions of social media activities, more ambitious mandates positively correlate with social media activities. The expected number of social media presences increased almost fivefold if IO bodies are tasked with the local implementation of programmes. A general impression of communications' efficiency also proved valuable in this field. Central communication departments with established codified public communication correlate strongly with an intense use of social media channels. The author, however, did not find support for the idea that smaller organizations would make up ground by using social media: 'According to this research, social media was most easily accommodated by the stronger and more professional actors, which falsify earlier hopes that social media may compensate for a lack of resources and contribute for bringing about a level playing field in global governance.' (44)

This insightful analysis, in a highly interesting volume on the general topic of 'Digital Diplomacy and International Organizations' succeeds in establishing a thoughtful relationship between nine  hypotheses derived from recent literature on the subject, and quantitative findings supporting those to a different degree. Ecker-Ehrhardt ends his contribution with a plea for process-tracing internal workflows, going beyond single case studies: 'Complementary evidence of comparative studies would help to come up with sound general conclusions about the role of digital communication in the current (and future) trajectories of global governance.' (45)

Maria Koinova, Diaspora Entrepreneurs and Contested States, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2021

Maria Koinova’s recently published monograph Diaspora Entrepreneurs and Contested States develops a novel understanding of diaspora entrepreneurs based on their linkages to de facto states and various global contexts.

Koinova is interested in conflict-generated diasporas and how the affected people mobilize towards their countries of origin during experiences of contested sovereignty. Socio-spatial linkages, as they emerge in the process, can be understood as resulting from the pursuit of homeland-oriented goals through channels of interest. Koinova’s empirical results come after years of research and close contact with diaspora entrepreneurs in the UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. She distinguishes four types of entrepreneurs: The Broker (strong linkages: host-land, original homeland, global locations), the Local (strong linkage: host-land, weaker: original homeland, global locations), the Distant (strong linkage: original homeland, weaker: host-land, global locations), the Reserved (weaker linkages: host-land, original homeland, global locations).

In 2012–2017, she conducted more than 300 interviews in the UK, Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Armenia, Belgium, Kosovo, and Switzerland (ERC Project ‘Diasporas and Contested Sovereignty’). Her study looks closely into conflict-generated diasporas linked to the de facto states (original homelands of) Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Palestine at different stages of recognition. In passing, this work also integrates the study of fragile statehood with that of migrants’ incorporation and transnationalism.

The approach aims at a closer look into the interweaving of political environment and individual motivation under the condition of trans-locality. 'While the configurations of socio-spatial linkages are endogenous to the diaspora entrepreneurs, the PRE [politically relevant environment] factors are exogenous to them.' Koinova sees her typological theory as advancing both structural and dynamic elements.

Reviewing the literature, she points towards the need to overcome a dichotomous view of diasporas as either ‘peace-makers’ or ‘peace-wreckers’ by highlighting the hitherto neglected affiliations of actors to trans-national, global contexts.

Recent criticism has made it apparent that diasporas 'mobilize not simply in host-lands, but online, and in cities, refugee camps, supranational organizations, sites of global visibility, and spaces contiguous to or distant from the homeland'. But even in this new scholarly trend, 'a deep immersion in the individual dimension of diaspora entrepreneurs is missing' (10). Koinova’s excellent study digs deeply in these fabrics. Her approach, theorizing diaspora individual agency from a socio-spatial perspective by prioritizing linkages to global contexts over personal characteristics, yields a surprising result: It is this individual dimension that finally unveils global inclinations.

Maria Koinova has written a very insightful book that provides a novel theorizing of agency in diasporas. By emphasizing linkages to global context over personal characteristics, the volume offers an innovative socio-spatial perspective that will be of interest to many readers in the field of global migration governance and diaspora studies.

Reviews: Martin Wolf

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