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

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

January 2010

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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