Does Soft Power Matter? A Comparative Analysis of Student Exchange Programs 1980-2006

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Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 6, page(s): 1-22

January 2010

Atkinson Does Soft Power Matter

Democratic governance depends not only on the building of democratic institutions but also on citizens' knowledge about how these institutions should function in their everyday lives. I argue that US-hosted educational exchange programs are one mechanism whereby citizens of nondemocratic states might experience life firsthand in a democratic country. Their experiences may impact the political institutions and influence political behavior in their home countries. In order for this process to take place, I argue that at least three contextual conditions are important: (i) the depth and extent of social interactions that occur while abroad, (ii) the sharing of a sense of community or common identity between participants and their hosts, and (iii) the attainment of a politically influential position by the exchange participant when they return home. In this article, I test these hypotheses and find support for what advocates of soft power often contend: US-hosted exchange programs can play an important role in the diffusion of liberal values and practices across the borders of authoritarian states.

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