Track-change diplomacy: Technology, affordances and the practice of international negotiations

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How does technology influence international negotiations? This article explores ‘track-change diplomacy’ – how diplomats use information and communication technology (ICT) such as word processing software and mobile devices to collaboratively edit and negotiate documents. To analyze the widespread but understudied phenomenon of track-change diplomacy, the article adopts a practice-oriented approach to technology, developing the concept of affordance: the way a tool or technology simultaneously enables and constrains the tasks users can possibly perform with it. The article shows how digital ICT affords shareability, visualization and immediacy of information, thus shaping the temporality and power dynamics of international negotiations. These three affordances have significant consequences for how states construct and promote national interests; how diplomats reach compromises among a large number of states (as text edits in collective drafting exercises); and how power plays out in international negotiations. Drawing on ethnographic methods, including participant observation of negotiations between the EU’s member states as well as in-depth interviews, the analysis casts new light on these negotiations, where documents become the site of both semantic and political struggle. Rather than delivering on the technology’s promise of keeping track and reinforcing national oversight in negotiations, we argue that track-change diplomacy can in fact lead to a loss of control, challenging existing understandings of diplomacy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)531-545
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2019

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - Practice Theory, International Relations Theory, Diplomacy, Negotiations, Power, STS, ANT, Affordance, European Union, participant observation, Interviews, interpretive studies, Documents, International relations, Technology, ICT, Information and communication technologies (ICTs), Digital Data, social data science, Digital technologies, anthropological method, Ethnography, Qualitative case study, diplomats

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