Analyzing Public Diplomacy Through Portland’s Sister Cities
by Yancee Gordon BA ’21
Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Jennifer Hubbert has been awarded a two-year research fellowship through the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. She is one of three faculty members selected this year from a global pool of applicants. Her project, “Recalling Public Diplomacy: Sister Cities and the Shifting Landscapes of International Relations,” will analyze public diplomacy through the Sister Cities International program.
The Sister Cities International program was initiated during the Eisenhower era and remains one of the predominant programs for city-to-city diplomacy. Portland has nine sister city relationships, and Hubbert will begin her research by focusing on the histories of four: Suzhou, China; Bologna, Italy; Mutare, Zimbabwe; and Ashkelon, Israel. She will conduct research in both archival and ethnographic explorations of paradiplomacy, culminating in specific policy analysis of the interactions between these cities.
“At this juncture in history, we are witnessing the growing inward-leaning nationalism of many leaders of nation-states. These rejections of global accord contrast with the growing engagement of major cities where citizens’ daily lives occur,” explains Hubbert. “Cities, and their diplomatic urban partners, attend to many of the same dilemmas addressed by federal governments—to deliver better education, provide adequate infrastructure, ensure consistent health care, build personal relationships, maintain peace, and promote economic development.”
Hubbert will study numerous facets of the Sister Cities International program, including global youth leadership summits, trade missions, educational exchanges, and infrastructure development. She hopes to discover what these varied forms of international exchange reveal about broader trends at this level of diplomacy.
“Cities are the bridge between everyday experience and the locations through which policy is translated into practice. They offer the possibilities of more innovative improvement schemes and less politicized forms of engagement,” explains Hubbert on her choice of research topic. “Sister Cities, in its expansive reach and mission, provides a particularly productive space to explore and compare how paradiplomacy seeks to address these problems.”
Hubbert is excited about how her research can influence the current discourse about international diplomacy. Rather than look only to nation-states to solve problems, programs like Sister Cities International are successfully working to meet the needs of citizens.
“I currently teach a course where one of the student projects is an investigation into an urban issue in a Pacific Rim city, and a comparison of that city’s issue with the same issue in Portland,” continues Hubbert. “I imagine that this research will help me to engage students in the more theoretical aspects of paradiplomacy and the possibilities for addressing the problems of urban experience through engaging with alternative practices elsewhere.”