Communities of Practice: what they are and how they contribute to participation and learning in EU-China Relations

Andreas Fulda

At the heart of this paper is the conviction that citizen diplomacy can make essential contributions to generate intercultural trust and develop a deeper mutual understanding in EU-China relations, including shared but differentiated narratives of global and bilateral issues. This research paper focuses on highly committed European citizens who have a long track-record of engaging with mainland Chinese partners. Following a discussion of conceptual caveats in current research on EU-China relations the author discusses the motivations and value-orientations of European citizens who have decided to participate in China-based communities of practice (CoP). The author explains what CoP are, where they are situated in the EU-China relationship, how participants in CoP have overcome challenges in intercultural communication and collaboration, and how CoP have contributed to participation and learning on the European side. This research article is informed by 12 in-depth interviews conducted with European China practitioners working in the field of animal welfare, environmental protection, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, inclusive performing arts, social justice, public participation andhuman rights. The interviews inform three in-depth case studies of successful EU-China citizen diplomacy. Research findings show that the ability among European citizens to suspend judgment in inter-cultural encounters should be considered one of the most important success factors. In the conclusion the author discusses to what extent CoP can or should be leveraged by policy makers or whether any kind of instrumentalisation of CoP would undermine their ability to facilitate emergent impacts.

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