Heard in Europe

What the EU can learn from China was under debate this week at a suitably high-minded seminar staged by Madariaga, the think tank set up by College of Europe alumni.

Damien Helly, deputy head of programme strengthening for European external action at “think and do tank” the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), praised the work of the unfortunately dubbed EUNIC (the European Union National Institutes for Culture) saying that more work needed to be done on translating concepts from Chinese to European languages and vice versa.

In this respect, Helly said he was a devotee of French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour – a professor at Sciences Po no less –and his theories of “re-composition of language”.

And what might all that mean?

Take the word ‘propaganda’, it sounds negative in Europe – especially in Germany – Helly observed accurately.

But in China, it has taken on a more neutral meaning in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, and nowadays is more associated with public relations.

Helly’s advice for Europe? “Don’t be shy of doing propaganda,” he recommends. “But do so in a listening, respectful and discreet mode.”

Another Helly tip: Senior EU officials could start interlacing their speeches with Chinese expressions, such as “A sea of documents; a mountain of conferences”, a favoured Beijing reference to bureaucracy.

Some might speculate – after checking the Pyongyangesque message banners that float from the Berlaymont building – that there is little the Chinese could teach the EU executive about propaganda.

“I am not saying this because I am actually a Marxist, but because I find Bruno Latour convincing,” Helly intoned.

A quick squint at Wikipedia suggests to Heard in Europe that not everyone is so taken by the French philosophe. “For Latour, there is no basic structure of reality,” it tells us, and: “Philosopher John Searle has argued that Latour’s extreme social constructivist stance has inadvertently comical results.”

 

Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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