2022-23 Lloyd & Susanne Rudolph Field Research Fellow



Project Title: Do Words Matter in International Relations? Diplomatic Rhetoric and Credible Signaling




In March 2009, in the runup to the first summit meeting between UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House made a seemingly crucial mistake. Speaking from the podium, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dared to say that the two countries had a “special partnership,” a deviation from the traditional moniker of “special relationship.” Immediately, British diplomats and the press scrambled to find meaning in this switch and to lodge protests about the perceived insult. Why did the British care so much about such a small change? Despite being overlooked in much of the international relations literature, it is clear from diplomatic incidents like this that in the daily practice of foreign policy, words really do matter. In my dissertation, I show that this is because even small wording choices are signals of state intentions. Introducing the concept of bureaucratic costliness, I argue that far from being cheap talk, the process of crafting and shifting state rhetoric actually involves significant investments of time, energy, and political will. Using a broad, multimethod approach, including interviews with State Department officials, computational text analysis, and archival work, I investigate how and why states use rhetoric to send and receive credible signals about their foreign policy intentions. 



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Jenna Gibson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago in the subfield of International Relations. Her research interests include: foreign policy rhetoric, public and cultural diplomacy, South Korean politics and social issues, and U.S.-Korea relations. Jenna was a regular contributor to the Korea column for The Diplomat for three years, and has also written about Korean politics and social issues for media outlets like Foreign Policy and NPR, and for think tanks like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She also speaks regularly about these issues, including for outlets such as The New Yorker, the BBC, and for organizations such as the Center for American Progress and The Korea Society. Before pursuing her doctorate, Jenna was Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). She previously lived for two years in Cheonan, South Korea as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Jenna earned a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University in 2015, and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2011. 


Read more at their department profile: https://political-science.uchicago.edu/directory/jenna-gibson