Thinking about the role of popular culture in international conflicts

Galia Press-Barnathan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The goal of this paper is to present a broad yet systematic framework for thinking about the role of popular culture (PC) in international conflict management and resolution, from an International Relations perspective. Protracted conflicts often involve a non-material dimension, as they become central elements in the rival states’ sense of identity, and as societies develop over time strong beliefs about the conflict, which help sustain it over time. Popular culture can play an important role in shaping and changing this non-material dimension of international conflicts. This is largely due to the unique characteristics of PC products that can reach a large number of people, and can convey both information and emotions. Despite this potential, the role of PC in international conflicts has not been systematically analyzed, due to internal divides within the field of IR between positivist and critical understandings of what PC is and how it should be studied, and due to the very interdisciplinary nature of PC and its operation, which leads to many discussions of PC within different disciplines that do not engage each other. The paper examines the multiple roles that PC can play in the context of protracted conflicts. It examines its role domestically within states-societies that live under conflict; the role of PC as a foreign policy tool used by governments vis-á-vis the publics of their rival; the role and limits of PC in challenging conflicts and facilitating transitions to peace; and finally the impact of the joint consumption of global PC by citizens of states in conflict. These different roles of PC are illustrated throughout with examples from different protracted conflict around the world. The goal of this framework is to serve as a focal point for research that transcends the disciplinary divides and allows for fruitful engagement.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)166-184
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Studies Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author (2016).


  • International conflicts
  • Ontological security
  • Popular culture
  • Public diplomacy
  • Transitions to peace


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