Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Importance of Unity in Approaching E-E Campaigns

The article by Dutta brings to mind many of the theories that we have covered in class regarding the flow of information and the tendency for western ideas to be promulgated to the developing world. I enjoy that Dutta takes offense to the current state of affairs regarding the EE campaigns but am surprised by the powerful and accusatory tone that he takes through the article.

I think that Dutta's assertion really comes down to the importance of E-E campaigners to be brought into the sub-altern world in order to gain a greater understanding and perspective of what they are charged with helping. By giving the sub-altern community an opportunity to participate (a word Dutta clearly emphasizes), they are then empowered to be part of a change and "buy-in" based on the notion that they created a stake in the result. The example of 35% of Indians not viewing overpopulation as a problem gives more credence to the seemingly obvious notion that the under-represented poor must have a stake in the solution.

While he provides many insightful comments and is generally on the right track in proposing a re-evaluation of value systems and objectives, Dutta paints an accusatory picture of USAID and other international aid organizations. While there may certainly be some issues with some past action, there have also been enormous successes that can be attributed to the work of such organizations. I do not think that blame can be based squarely on the shoulders of large international aid agencies but should be assumed by the community as a whole and set as a goal for working more closely together to accomplish a single, unifying objective.

Development Participation Anticipation

The writing of Mohan Jyoti Dutta offers a critical perspective on the aims and ideas that shape Entertainment Education campaigns (E-E). Although I agree that a dialogical process between underdeveloped communities and E-E planners is the most effective method for meeting the demands of subaltern voices, I find that Dutta underestimates the potential of the participatory approach in social change.

Dutta asserts that E-E, the primary form of health campaigns, has more greatly contributed to oppression of the ThirdWorld than its development. Often used to convey U.S. foreign policy, issues including international family planning reflect dominant western discourses to the contrary of subaltern voices. Rather than eliminating poverty by supporting local business production, Dutta claims that E-E only succeeds in securing viable socioeconomic environments for U.S. investment interests. Without participation from subaltern voices, E-E will continue to stress transnational capitalism.

Dutta, however, also recognizes the participatory approach to development communication as a false hope for subaltern voices. While Dutta states that the participatory approach fails to allow subaltern voices to set their own agenda for development, I believe that this method may promote grassroots participation. With the incorporation of different sectors of society in communication for development and social change, participatory ICTs are optimal for the encouragement of civil dialogue and bringing subaltern voices to the forefront of E-E campaigns.

Communication: Is it simple or complex?

Corman’s essay focuses on some of the constraints and deficiencies with the message influence model that is commonly used here in the U.S. He finds that a primary flaw with this model is that it is presumed that the receiver understands the message in the same manner as the sender and that communication will almost always be successful. Corman finds that this model fails to take into account the complexities of communication as a meaning making process. Meanings of messages cannot always be easily transferable and people often times interpret their own meaning to a message based on other non-related factors such as culture, history, education, and so forth. The author brings up a model he finds better suited to account for the true process of communication entitled the pragmatic complexity model. He encourages this model because it views communication as a relationship based on a simultaneous type of mutual interdependence where failure is to be expected and therefore viewed as the norm.

Dutta’s readings provided us with a negative stance towards entertainment education campaigns. He finds that they often times actually exclude the subaltern voice and promote transnational capitalism and western hegemony while causing even more poverty amongst subaltern populations by eradicating domestic forms of production. He argues that one of the constraints of the entertainment education campaigns is its focus on population control programs and states that by focusing in on only one single health issue entertainment education campaigns largely ignore other equally important health related issues. Although, I did find his piece to be a bit too harsh on USAID and its promotion of entertainment education campaigns, I agree that often times the subaltern voice can be ignored which I believe disregards the whole point of even having entertainment education campaigns in the first place.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Entertaining the Developing World For Social Change: Is it as effective as it was originally thought to be?

The readings this week pertain to communication for change. Srinivas R. Melkote, in his chapter titled “Theories of Development Communication” effectively outlines the overarching theoretical concepts pertaining to the practice of development. He discusses modernization, the critical perspectives, liberation or monastic perspectives, and empowerment, all under the presumption that communication theories in development are lumped under one of two umbrellas- the dominant modernization paradigm or the alternative paradigm. Melkote cites Daniel Lerner has exemplifying the early days of how mass media was thought to play out under the modernization paradigm. Lerner speculated that mass media help create a modern society or fostered urbanization and literacy. It was then that mass media exposure (radio and print in the 1960s) would lead to integration into modern participant society. Information, for modernization theorists, was thought to be the missing link in the development chain. While information is power, it’s also not everything. In order for change to come about there must be certain infrastructures in place that will ensure that the changes being made will be successfully received among the grassroots. Which is the reason why I believe the participatory approach to communication and development appears to actively incorporate the culture of the developing environment.

All the readings this week included text on entertainment-education strategies. Melkote articulates, “Entertainment-education programs represent a unique kind of social marketing where social pro-social ideas are marketed within media products” (Melkote, 112). Arivnd Singhal and Everrett M. Rogers, in their article entitled, “A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment-Education” seek to broaden the theoretical understanding behind the use of entertainment-education strategies. The theories originated within two sets of scholars- communication scholars at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and the scholars at the non-profit organization called Population Communications International (PCI). Singhal and Rogers propose that theoretical entertainment-education programs need to take the role emotions more seriously. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “Change occurs when deeply felt private experiences are given public legitimacy." Emotions can be extremely powerful and lead people to feel compelled to act based upon the emotion being felt. Like Singhal and Rogers, I believe entertainment education will go beyond the boundaries of its mainstay messages to produce social change on a myriad of other development concerns. The biggest challenge is creating an entertainment-education strategy that is culturally applicable to most people within the host population and one in which they will be engaged by whatever form of entertainment is offered to the community.

As I was reading I questioned whether or not entertainment-education strategies for development are a form of soft power (particularly if these programs are being created and produced by the West). While these development strategies are intended to benefit communities by informing them, for example, how to prevent HIV and AIDS, I would argue that these strategies are a form of soft power. Seemingly, if participants are entertained by something they will be less resistant to participating in entertainment-education interventions, especially if the education is coming across as being cool. I read Mohan Jyoti Dutta’s article, “Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique” last, but he arguably provides some of the most interesting points about entertainment-education campaigns. He offers a cynical perspective in which he contends that entertainment-education campaigns often push biased and problematic problem definitions and subsequent solutions that can undermine the very people they are supposed to help (Dutta, 229). As with most discussions of the extremely impoverished, Dutta presents a compelling argument that must not be overlooked within the theoretical framework of entertainment-education strategies. He effectively illuminates that research should be focused on locating the agency of the subaltern peoples who are resisting the dominant paradigm. The irony in entertainment-education programs is that they are presumably participatory. However, if they are being resisted, then like Dutta suggests, the resistant voices need to be heard by the dominant one. It is unfortunate and downright depressing that basic communication skills are not being utilized as effectively as they should under the definition of this approach. Finally, this development strategy is an intriguing one. It is my strongest hope that, in the future, development programs will be more holistic, proactive, and socially conscious about the populations they intend on helping by integrating local voices into education programs.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

USAID and the Gumdrop Forest

Evidently this is one of those situations where punctuality does more harm than good, since I spent a good chunk of time on reading/blogging material that we don't actually need for class. On the bright side, I liked the second assignment a lot more than the original, but I'm still kicking myself. *sigh*

I took some issue with Dutta's assessment of E-E programs, although I did agree with the bulk of his argument, which I'll summarize as follows: (1) E-E programs tend to reflect the values of the designers (usually from wealthier, more politically dominant nations than the E-E recipients). (2) Participatory E-E programs reflect some bottom-up input regarding solutions, but (3) to be truly participatory and beneficial, they ought to include bottom-up input on identifying problems as well as solutions. This all makes sense.

My contention was with his characterizing USAID as a tool for Big Commercial Monoliths. I have no doubt that it's possible to find evidence of people extolling USAID's value for commercial development. I'm sure it's even more likely when the extollers are addressing people with commercial interests. But I've known quite a few people who have worked for USAID and I can promise you none of them spend their weekends stroking their villainous goatees and dreaming up new schemes to benefit U.S. corporations at the expense of underprivileged foreigners. Most of them have a genuine commitment to development for the sake of the people it benefits, and it's naive to pretend that development efforts--whatever their intentions--have black or white outcomes. They don't. Progress has benefits and disadvantages, and those benefits and disadvantages are often unequal. It's unfortunate, but that's how it works.

So what if USAID does open up the Third World for foreign investment? Foreign investment is not an evil unto itself. And altruistic motives are no guarantee of perfect development solutions. I'm all for bottom-up participation in the development process. But let's not idealize it. Development is a messy business. Some people are going to get hurt. Some people are going to mess up. But ultimately, it's the path progress takes and it has many benefits. By all means, include the "subaltern" community in the process, but don't expect bottom-up development to lead straight to the Gumdrop Forest and don't assume that top-down processes will necessarily lead to the perpetuation of core-periphery dynamics.

Friday, November 20, 2009

IC and Development

Can't say any of this week's readings filled me with the Spirit. In fact, if the writers had been preaching at an IC revival, I'm reasonably confident I'd have stayed planted on the bench. Melkote's was the most interesting, although I was already familiar with a lot of what he covered. The section on participatory interventions I really liked, because I haven't read anything about them and didn't know much beyond what I picked up from TW's presentation on Tuesday. The idea of using communication strategies to challenge power relationships really resonated with me, as did the idea of people developing methods of consciousness, collectively forming knowledge, and transferring this into social action. It reminded me of our readings from a few weeks ago -- Bennett, Castells, Juris, etc. -- and, oddly, of some research I'd done as an undergraduate Spanish major.

Some of you may be familiar with the controversy surrounding Rigoberta Menchu Tum, but I'll summarize here: Essentially, she's a Quiche indígena from Guatemala, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy on behalf of native Indians (meaning indigenous Americans, not Indians). Part of her outreach included an autobiography, which contained a large chunk of information--much related to abuses by the Guatemalan military--that was later proved to be inaccurate or false. The controversy around this revelation relates to concepts of absolute truths and narrative development and the question of whether Menchu could still be considered trustworthy and whether the text was deliberately misleading and on and on. I won't bore you with the details, but there have been a lot of interesting texts written about it.

Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 -- before the Internet had become the interactive forum it has today, and it occurred to me that existing ICTs are much better adapted at (a) wide-scale disinformation and (b) advocacy, and I wondered how her story would have played out if the timeline had been shifted back a few years. Certainly her book would have been debunked much more quickly, and possibly before it had the opportunity to exert the positive influence with which it's been credited. Would it have mobilized a supportive online community? Or would the most passionate activists have been on the wrong side of a digital divide?

I think the real reason it stood out for me is that her story involves the all the aspects Melkote talks about when describing participatory action: In terms of consciousness, it's right there in the original title of her autobiography, which translates as My name is Rigoberta Menchu, and this is how my conscience was born. As for collective, democratic knowledge building, it's a main theme in the book, and relates to the controversy, as her supporters note that she empowers the community by creating a collective, public voice instead of simply reproducing her own personal story. And social action (also described in the text) is what she won the Nobel for. It's the story of an oppressed, and later empowered, community, which (as we all know by now) is an endless source of fascination for me.

As for the other writings, to some extent, the whole entertainment education field seems a little overly deterministic to me. I do believe that exposure to values and ideas can influence opinions and actions, but I don't think everybody who watches Fight Club starts stealing fat from liposuction clinics and bombing corporate buildings. Or that everybody that watches sexually responsible television actors will aspire to emulate them. But that's a fairly extreme oversimplification of EE research, and cranky as I am today, I still know it's an unfair description. Let's just say I think it's an interesting topic and I look forward to learning a little more about it, but none of this week's readings have got me singing in the choir just yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Little MORE Conversation, A Little more Action: Public Diplomacy in the Information Age

James Glassman’s speech, Joseph Nye’s article entitled “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power”, and Monroe Price’s article called “Toward A Foreign Policy of Information Space”, are all exemplary pieces of work that vividly illustrate the importance of cultural power within the realm of international politics. The Internet is a technological discontinuity that offers users opportunities to form networks locally, domestically, and internationally in which diplomatic conversations can take place. Glassman calls “PD is an approach, not a technology” and the international community will need to use it. Applying an approach is free (assuming users have access to a computer). My point is that the PD train is moving and the only way to get on the train is to begin to integrate interactive media to project soft power. If not, Glassman clearly states that those governments who resist the Internet will be outwardly ignored.

Today, more than ever (especially after 9/11), “all activities work best by conversation rather than dictation [or coercion]”. In undergrad, I took an Anthropology class called “Religions in Africa”, which was fascinating. At one point, we read an article about American Christian missionaries going over to spend time with other self-proclaimed African Christians. This particular group of American Christians preached that word of God is how good Christians should live. In a neocolonial style visit to work with the Africans, the Americans brought them what they know to be the word of the Lord through by providing everyone with a Bible. What they did not take into account is that this community practiced oral religion- through songs and chanting. So when the Bibles were introduced to the Africans, they accepted them but did not use them as they were originally intended. Instead, because the Bibles had no cultural significance to them, the Africans began tearing out pages from the Bible and used them as toilet paper. This is one rather amusing example of how a lack of communication and/or preaching at people does not foster sound public diplomacy. It may seem like common sense, but what Nye argues is true when he writes, “effective public diplomacy is a two-way street that involves listening as well as talking”. Cross-culturally, this could not be more true. Language barriers can cause a loss in translation. Just as Nye expounds, “all information goes through cultural filters and declamatory statements are rarely heard as intended”. This ‘war on ideas’ is greatly affected by what, when, where, how, and who communicates, listens, and the languages they speak.

In short, governments, the global civil society, and individuals must continue this multidimensional use of technology to strengthen relationships between actors. Not one kind of power can be underestimated or taken for granted. This approach will hopefully allow each nation-state (or maybe culture is more appropriate?) to become more reflexive of its soft power and how it affects its public diplomacy.