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.

Public Diplomacy and Soft Power

I really enjoyed the articles for this week and found most of the arguments regarding the relationship between public diplomacy and soft power to be logical, intuitive, and very relevant to the current administration's agenda. Given the opportunity of having heard Glassman's speech a few weeks ago, I enjoyed reading his elaboration as to the current state of public diplomacy and the importance of creating an image of America as a country that wants to have tough conversations. I agree with what is said in his current speech, but it brings me back to a point he made while on campus. A primary goal, he said, was to improve the image of America by teaching people about their own culture. I think this attitude, as we discussed last week, is difficult to implement based on the world's lack of recognition of America having a personal culture in the first place. There need to be primary steps to establish our own credibility, and I appreciate his acknowledgment of that in this speech.

Glassman also pointed out the the US international broadcasting system is a "tried and true" element of US culture. Glassman's implication of success in this area is widely disputed (especially in our classroom) and also somewhat refuted by Joseph Nye in his publication on Public Diplomacy and Soft Power. Nye refers to the reactions of international broadcasting with regard to bin Laden and and our blocking of his videos being counter-productive. I agree with Nye on this case and it seems that Glassman would too. If we are concerned with having "tough conversations" then we should not be afraid to broadcast tough topics.

Nye also presents three keys to the development of public diplomacy: culture, political values, and foreign policy. This topic speaks directly to the current administration's charge with regard to the international community. Upon taking office, Obama immediately assessed Guantanamo and also declared his openness to have conversations with Iran. Both of these are critical public diplomacy accomplishments and I appreciate the administration's willingness to take a stand on these issues. From a PD 2.0 perspective, it is imperative to continue making decisions to communicate the idea of the US as a member of the global community- perhaps the rest of the world will begin thinking of us in this favorable light as well.

A New Form of Public Diplomacy

  This week I found Nye's piece on Soft Power and Diplomacy and the Powers and Gilboa's article on Al Jazeera to be the most enlightening. Nye clearly demonstrates the importance of soft power and how its effectiveness can be measured by changing minds, its ability to attract others, and moving opinion. He also mentions that Americans really didn’t recognize the importance in investing in soft power until after September 11th. He defines the three dimensions of PD being composed of daily communication, strategic communication, and the development of lasting relationships. He concludes the piece by stating that smart PD requires the understanding of the role of credibility, self-criticism, and the role of civil society in generating soft power.

  The Powers and Gilboa piece focuses on the emergence of Al Jazeera as an important player in international politics and as a new form of public diplomacy. They describe that the main reason for its reputation is due to the poor standing of other Arab media systems and the perception that it is a reliable and honest news source. Nevertheless, they mention that one must remember that they are a news source with a clear agenda and represent the views of Pan-Arab citizenry and serve as a counterbalance to the predominance of western media.

   Lastly, Glassman's speech touches upon the emergence of public diplomacy 2.0. He defines PD as a war of the ideas and describes PD 2.0 as being facilitated by the emergence of the web, social networking sites, and technology. He describes the main characteristics of PD 2.0 as one where indirection works best, the State Dept. convenes and facilitates, speed is essential, and expertise lies in the private sector.

   All of the readings this week touched upon the emergence of a new type of public diplomacy. They describe an environment where soft power is vital, technology is a crucial component, and civil society can become much more engaged and taken upon a much more active role than in the past.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Joe Nye: Soft Power Guy

I liked Nye's essay—not in the warm fuzzies sort of way I get when I read a particularly starry-eyed idealistic communications essay, but more of the appreciative academic sort of way when an essay just makes sense. (Wow, just read that sentence back and I'm starting to think I may have spent a bit too much time reading today….) It seems so logical that bringing people around to your way of thinking works so much better when your values and actions are in line and you're actually willing to listen as well as speak. And that your culture, values and politics are only going to attract others if they're (wait for it) attractive! Please stifle your gasps of shock. OK I'm getting sarcastic here because I spent twelve hours today reading academic essays and didn't get out of my pajamas until about 3 p.m. but I sincerely did enjoy it.

One thing Nye emphasizes (and everyone else too, really) is the importance of multi-directional communication and establishing relationships. Actually, Glassman really expands on this point in a way that did give me the academic warm fuzzies, probably because he just seems so darn confident in PD 2.0. But he does have a point. New Internet trends are better suited to the Western culture of free discourse than to the rigidity of extremism, and they are particularly suited to interactive communication and idea sharing.

Price's essay, on the other hand, was a little too dry for me, although I did appreciate the whole Keystone Cop description of the US and Serbs duking it out in Kosovo for broadcasting control. As for Powers and Gilboa, the piece was interesting, but didn't really seem to fit in with the others quite as well.

But let's not beat around the bush here. I think we all know I'm just excited about these essays because they deal with my favorite topic (starts with a P, rhymes with Jack Bauer). Yeah, I know, I'm a sucker for the power essays. But I'm just fascinated by the idea of constructing reality and shaping relationships with actions and words. It's an English-major's dream come true: that words and ideas actually matter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Price is Right

Monroe Price’s Toward a Foreign Policy of Information Space has caused me to ponder the work of governments to further their dominance and democratic values and control media for human rights advocacy.

Throughout Price's essay, I had difficultly discerning the ways in which policy and governments justify international information intervention. Although my confusion may be due to Price’s complex sentence structures, I believe my misunderstanding is due to the general flexibility of foreign policy concerning media space. While set practices in foreign media policy may not be practical, the gray area that envelopes the relationship between public diplomacy and regulation is disconcerting. The Bush Administration’s efforts to “win hearts and minds” proceeding the attacks of September 11, 2001 reflect the powerful role government directed media structures can play in war time information control. Whether international or domestic policy establish information intervention, elements of media management are apparent in war, trade and intellectual capital practices and hence, can be increased or decreased without examination or consequence.

Due to the ambiguous nature of information intervention procedure, motivations for the practice must be evaluated. While preventative intervention for the diffusion of conflict is an invaluable tool for human rights advocacy, empirical or market dominance should not be the objectives behind “peace broadcasting” initiatives. I am hopeful, however, that increasing participation from civil society and NGOs will bring more stability to the process of foreign information intervention and challenge the previously unchallenged interests of the state.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fired Up about the Media and Globalization

The readings this week provide an intersection of media, news, and conflict and highlight the importance of how information (written, oral, film and photography) can shape how a story about war is told. To be fair this week in my tourism class, we read about the relationship between tourism and terrorism. There was one particular article by Michael Grosspietsch, entitled “Can Tourism Provoke Terrorism?” that was particularly thought provoking and correlates to the notion of spinning information to sensationalize information. Grosspietsch argues that tourism development is perceived as threatening Islamic culture and traditions and not offering any benefits to local people. My question is why is it that tourism development is assumed to only create an intense resentment within Islamic cultures? Similarly, Robin Brown’s article, “Spinning the War: Political Communications, Information Operations, and Public Diplomacy in the War on Terrorism” illuminates that the day after 9/11/2001 the type of diction used by the media already used language to conclude that there was an attack and could lead to the declaration of war against US enemies. Therein lie areas of contention. I dislike the way Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism are lumped together by the media. While Brown writes that the US immediately emphasized that ‘Islam is peace’, the media framed the story, so as to reflect a negative connotation to be associated with Islam as a whole. Not only does this affect international politics but it also affects people on a grassroots level, both in the US and in the Middle East, to create perceptions about the each other as the “other”.

In an ideal world, there would be objective news- straight facts and no spin. But that is not way it is, so consumers of media, particularly of media relating to international conflict, must holistically evaluate each news story for its strengths and weaknesses. Being careless with how a story is framed could have dynamic implications, not just for the US, but other entities in the international system. Globalization of information is powerful as we have read, but what is scarier about its power is if the information that is being globalized is massively biased. These days, the average person (with access to the global media system) holds truth to what is being reported to them with little hesitation particularly because more and more information is at the click of a button. This is exemplified through Hansen’s chapter when she argues that new ICTs are undermining traditional diplomacy. In conclusion, we must be vigilant in analyzing media critically because the globalization of flows of information is only going to exacerbate this problem.

Global Journalism as a "Victim?"

Prior to reading articles by Kimmage, Hafez and Brown, I faultily focused on whether the media accurately report news as opposed to how power structures restrict media coverage. While I maintain optimism in the increasing globalization of participatory communication, I find global journalism to be the commercial driven victim of failed governmental transparency and limited pluralism.

It is difficult to brand journalism as a “victim” of circumstance in modern information society, but I refuse to believe that the media would rather continue to “follow” instead of “lead” in the market driven field of global agenda setting. Through examples of the news coverage proceeding September 11, 2001 and the framing of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is clear that the U.S. has devoted a lot of money to the shaping of global opinion in a manner reflective of national policy. By communicating messages of national interest the loudest and most immediately, power structures hinder journalism’s ability to follow news events as well as influence politics. Consumers demand up-to-the-minute reports that diminish journalistic integrity through the transfer of messages before multiple sources have been accessed and facts have been confirmed. In a media environment where every news event is framed as a crisis, nationalistic sentiments are more strongly conveyed, policy preferences serve as litmus tests for patriotism and the public discourse must be “suited for television” so as to even capture the attention of civil society.

This argument does not excuse the ignorance of global journalism, but instead, challenges them to “up the ante” if they desire market dominance in an increasingly participatory knowledge society. Unless journalism becomes more transparent, the global community will rely less on intermediaries and instead, convey news events to each other via mobile technology and source check by accessing their buddy lists.

The apparent flaws in International Reporting

   Similar to Nick, I found Hafez piece to be the most enlightening one of the readings chosen for this week. Hafez argues that international reporting often times tend to represent the interest of the reporting country (many times the U.S.) rather than the country that is being reported upon. Therefore, viewers are receiving biased information that really is being produced for a domestic rather than a truly international audience. Hafez finds that regionalism also is a more prominent feature of international reporting He states that international reporting focuses on elites rather than the overall general populace and rarely if ever presents any truly positive information. He concludes his piece by stating that in issues of foreign policy the media tends to follow rather than to truly lead.
    Brown's chapter was also interesting in that he depicts the war on terrorism as also being waged through the use of the media. He mentions how the United States has portrayed certain double standards since the beginning of the war by supporting press freedom in the Arab world until it was in their best interest to contain it. The U.S. has made several attempts to shape perceptions of conflict but he finds this has had a very small impact in the Middle East.
   From the readings this week we can conclude that the media definitely does play an important role when it comes to politics and disseminating information, but it can be limited to several constraints such as the presentation of biased information, a north-south information flow, and representation coming only from the elites.

Hey, Tessa! This one's for you.

International Reporting: Get Into It!

The readings all come to a central focus of media, its influence on foreign policy, and the current state of affairs in international reporting. It becomes clear, rather quickly, from both a public diplomacy perspective and an international reporting mindset that the "CNN Effect" is likely an unfounded myth. I find it interesting to see the differences in background ideologies between public diplomacy and international reporting as they are described in the different readings. I had all my thoughts outlined regarding the differences between the Hanson chapter and the Robin Brown article regarding diplomacy but, after reading it, I can't help but remark on the strength of emotion behind the Hafez article.

Hafez brings up some intuitive and heartfelt points regarding the shortcomings of international reporting that we have touched on in class. Namely, the failure of the media/international reporters to provide comprehensive, unbiased news to the public and, by the same token, the public's apparent desire for conflict-based and ego-centric news. Hafez notes that, within the same construct as the tendency for negative reporting, the relevancy of violence is a major factor in reporting. He introduces the DRC as an example of a war-torn country that is paid little attention by the German reporters. I think an example such as the ongoing war in Uganda or even, to an extent, the continuing atrocities in Sudan are other examples of violence that simply do not get the press that they should based on their lack of relevancy to the US public.

Hafez also notes the inherent problem with international reporting lies partly with the tendency to report "about" but not "with" the country being reported on. He goes on to say that the quality of the reporting is then in doubt based on the ego-centric character of the media system. The inclusion of journalists from the country being reported on would add a significant amount of credibility to the newscast and would enhance the public knowledge of what is actually occurring in the reported country. The current media representation does not give the public a globalized view and instead stays within the confines of established reporting habits and results in, as Hafez notes, the opposite of a multicultural world.

Both international reporting and the media in general have an obligation to report news to the public at-large. However, it is also essential that the consumers demand comprehensive, unbiased news instead of accepting the status quo. As all of the readings point out, the American media at the start of the Iraq war failed miserably at providing unbiased news and, instead, promoted the US government interests and followed the government agenda directly. This type of reporting is detrimental not only to the US public but also to the notion of global media in general. Hopefully, as we become more economically global, we are equally stout in our desire for true globalized media and can go beyond our relevant borders to view the world as one.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The drums of war

Hanson's description of how new ICTs are undermining traditional diplomacy caught my attention this week, possibly because I just attended a conference on cultural diplomacy. While I agree that ICTs have definitely challenged traditional diplomatic practices, I'm not entirely convinced that diplomats can't take advantage of ICTs to further their objectives--either by helping them to transmit their reports faster or to communicate more effectively with their networks at home and abroad.

The other aspect of this week's readings that I really responded to was the focus on war coverage. So exactly how much influence do the media have in determining the course of a war? After finishing this week's readings, I'm a bit muddled. It seems as though the media can't deter a war-bent country, nor can they persuade a government to intervene in foreign affairs if that government is not already so inclined (the one exception, noted by Kai Hafez, being occasional humanitarian crises). And yet, the media do play an important role in broadcasting, framing and legitimizing policy decisions. But what if the media were to fiercely oppose a government's intention to go to war? Hafez suggests that this is unlikely, as citizens of war-bound nations (journalists included) tend to rally around patriotic symbols and ideas, which is a little disheartening, as it suggests that such decisions are generally made before they are introduced to the public sphere.

As citizens, how much room do we have to hold our government accountable? The CNN effect has been widely debunked. And even Manuel Castells, who acknowledges how ICTs have been used by oppositional bodies notes that the people in power are equally adept at using them to perpetuate the status quo and further their own aims. I'd like to believe that war in Iraq wasn't inevitable, but it seems that once a government has decided on a foreign policy plan, it's difficult (and unlikely) for the press to sway them. As citizens, that increases our responsibility to stay informed--not just through the mainstream media, but through alternate sources--to question information and decisions and use what resources are available to promote the common good, both at home and abroad. Of course, there are many people who would agree with Sir Humphrey Appleby that the citizens of a democracy not to be informed, but rather "to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Global Social Movements: Does the collective activist exist?

Globalization and glocalization have created and continue to foster decentralized networks around the world. The readings this week exemplify this phenomenon. There were a few points that I found to be exceptionally interesting. Manuel Castells, in his article, “The Mobile Civil Society: Social Movements, Political Power, and Communication Networks”, states, “new avenues are open for autonomous processes of social and political mobilization that do not rely on formal politics and do no depend on their framing in the mass media”. These new avenues come in the form of ICTs- the Internet, SMS text messaging, instant messaging, social networking (in the form of Facebook and Twitter), and blogging. Castells uses examples from different countries to illuminate the differences of the impact of ICTs on social and political activism. As I was reading this, I noticed the vast differences in the case studies he selected. My only quam with this article is that each one of these places has vast social and political histories that greatly influence the success or failure of ICT diffusion for activism. These examples bring to light the varying levels of development internationally and depict the multiplexity and complexity of networks at the local, national, and global levels.

Jeffery Juris in his article, “Network social movements: global movements for global justice” argues that activists think of themselves as belonging to global movements, linking local protests to a greater global struggle. This raises questions of the collective global experience in pursuit of justice. Superficially, grassroots activists could be cognizant of their impact globally, but I think that local cultural values, and economic and political histories complicate the notion of the collective global activist given the examples sited in Castells’ article. Furthermore, Bennett also postulates about the collective identity that emerges from movement networks. He articulates, “individual activists are more able to identify with the experiences of the “other” classes, causes, cultures, and places.” If this is true, can ht idea of the global activist exist? Won’t there always have to be an “other” to compare against.

Castells mentions the March 11, 2004 Al Qaeda attacks on three suburban trains in Madrid, Spain. He discusses the political and social implications of the government’s control of information. The attacks were orchestrated with the use of low-cost prepaid phones. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain in the spring of 2007. Everyone from my program was instructed to buy one of these prepaid phones to be able to keep in touch with one another since we were sprawled across the city. I just recently went back to Spain this past summer to spend sometime with my grandparents who live in Valencia. When I got there, I found that I was unable to use my prepaid phone because the government had passed a law stating that all cell phones (regardless of the plan type) must be registered through their mobile carrier. My understanding of this law is that it would allow carriers and the government greater access to monitor cell phone use, particularly for maintaining national security. I, of course, registered my phone. This, too, also raises questions like if the government of Spain was willing to withhold information for the sake of a political party, what kind of Big Brother tactics are they employing? How much power is too much? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for national security but where is the line and is the line moving with the pace of globalization?

I found the readings to be enlightening containing fun IC jargon such as culture jamming, memes, and netwars, but also filled with compelling examples to illustrate the impacts of ICT diffusion to spark social and political change. These readings show that ICT use can do great things for having dissonant voices heard, but in the process, it also raise many compelling questions.

Transnational Activism

I personally found Castell's piece to be the most interesting and truly enjoyed the manner in which he formulated his argument demonstrating how ICT is being used to mobilize people in various manners from discontent in the government, to voting, to even mentioning political scandal. Another thing I truly appreciated about the piece was that he also mentioned cases where mobile communication has had less of a significant impact such as in the 2004 Republican National Convention, the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, and lastly in Japan. He also brings up an interesting point how mobile communication seems to have more of an influence when it is coming from person to person (horizontal communication )as opposed to a top down approach which he greatly demonstrated with Berlusconi's last attempt by sending a SMS the night before the election.

Juris piece was also important because he describes the emergence of movements for global justice as involving broad bands of networks opposing growing corporate influence in our lives. He defines them as being global in scope, informational, and organized around flexible networks. All of the readings this week seemed to touch upon the concept that due to the emergence of ICTs and new information a new form of transnational activism has flourished coming from the people, which I believe is definitely a positive thing.

Social Movements and the Ability to Enact Political Change

The readings for this week built upon some of the topics that we have already analyzed in this class regarding the international communication technologies and their ability to enact change. I enjoyed the use of concrete examples, mainly in the Castells piece, in analyzing the impact that ICT's have had within the last decade on high profile political movements. All of the readings point to the notion that these technologies have a strong impact and have given an unprecedented amount of power to people to enact change using autonomous modes of communication.

Castells utilizes a diverse set of examples to illustrate the power of mobilization through wireless means. While it is clear that the SMS technology certainly played a part, I think that Castells may overplay the wireless factor in some of the examples. He does come back to the audience and point out some other factors, especially within the case of Estrada in the Philippines, but I do think it is important to be realistic in all cases regarding the true role of mobile technology in these movements. All of the examples have extremely different contextual implications and to draw too strong of a correlation between the outcome and one level of the movement could be dangerous.

Hanson's article reaffirmed many of the previous assertions that we have discussed regarding the importance of international communication technologies in the realm of migration and transnational ethnic networks. I am particularly interested in the discrepancies between similar causes for ethnonationalist movements for the Tamil ethnic group and the ethnic Tibetans. Both groups have experienced unjust treatment and lack of recognition at the hands of the governments yet the worldwide audience is generally much more aware of Tibet's cause than that of the Tamils. Along with Bennett's "global activism," does the branding of an ethnonationalist cause have a strong effect on the global response? Hanson alludes to the "smiling Dalai Lama" as an image of Tibet's struggle for freedom yet most of the world has no reference point for the Tamil struggle. Perhaps the answer lies in the international NGO's ability to pick up the Tamil cause and run with it into mainstream media outlets in order to raise awareness.

The articles point to the importance of wireless technologies in the process of social change and it is important to realize that there will continue to be a shifting balance in the power structure as a result of the public opinion. The new modes of communication and proliferation of already established ICTs will undoubtedly continue to have a strong impact on political movements and work in conjunction with one another. The lasting impact will be in the level of power these technologies afford to all levels of the population in order to enact real change on an inclusive scale.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

People Power

The writings of Bennett, Castelles and Hanson make me optimistic of the increasing influence of popular risings prompted by communication technology (I know what you're thinking, Laura M, and yes, I did manage to become even more optimistic about ICTs and development from this week's readings!). In a mass media environment of less diverse political content, individually controlled, multifaceted and mobile communication tools allow for interactive networks of global activism.

Although I don’t think Rhengold’s “smart mobs,” Hunter’s “network army” or Arquilla and Ronfeldt’s “netwar” appropriately describe contemporary grassroots political organization, the concept of a wireless public space for the formation of counter-power is unquestionable. Whether analyzing the case of the Philippines’ President Estrada or the Korean presidential election of Rohn Moo-Hyun, I found that conjoined use of mobile phones and other new ICTs can be effective for decentralizing media monopolies and dominant institutions. Tools for autonomous communication reflect modern social dynamics of globalization, resulting in “collective individualization.” Activists, motivated by their discontent with existing powers, the universal production of content and interactive international networks, mobilize around shared ideologies and challenge the control of governments and the mainstream.

Bennett, Castelles and Hanson claim that if the digital divide closes, mobile technology gains credibility and varied mediums are employed, civic involvement will continue to be amplified. If current social, political and economic globalized dynamics continue, these obstacles will be overcome and speedy, political organization via wireless ICTs will become an increasingly real threat to more authoritarian institutions.

OK, I know I'm a nerd, but ...

... this amused me. It's a Washington Post article (in response to the recent Ethics security breach) on security breaches through the years, showing how various breakdowns occurred in a variety of communication technologies.

Once more into the breach: The latest in a long line of mea culprits

By Monica Hesse and Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009

Shocking news just broke that more than 30 lawmakers are under investigation by the House ethics committee. Who was blamed for releasing the confidential sleuthing report? A low-level staffer, natch, the Official Scapegoat of Washington. ¶ The staffer had apparently stored the file on a home computer with file-sharing software used for downloading free music and movies. Ruh-roh! ¶ Accidents happen . . . and happen. . . . and happen -- and not just with computers. In fact, "Oops, my bad!" has long been the mantra of the government drone -- and the phrase translates in any means of communication.


A Confederate soldier accidentally drops Robert E. Lee's battle plans, wrapped around cigars, in a Maryland field. The plans are discovered by a Union soldier. Just in time for Antietam. 1862


Foreign Secretary of the German Empire Arthur Zimmerman telegraphs his ambassador in Mexico, instructing him to promise support for a Mexican invasion of the United States. Unfortunately, the telegram was sent on British cables (the German cables were wrecked). The Brits intercept it. The Americans declare war on Germany. 1917


CIA agent Bernard Barker leaves his address book in a hotel room with a little notation reading "WH HH." As in White House. And a White House consultant named Howard Hunt. Watergate ensues. 1972


The Treasury Department, in an effort to collect -- and thereby prevent -- computer viruses, instead makes the viruses available to the public on its Automated Information System bulletin board. 1993


New Jersey politician Mike Mostovlyan means to send a book to a Pennsylvania mayor who is convalescing in a hospital but mislabels the package; instead sends her the parcel meant for a friend. It contains dead fish. 1993


An IRS worker makes a typo when releasing the phone number for a free helpline. Confused callers to the IRS hear "Hi, sexy" and are encouraged to express their "phone fantasies" for up to $3.99 a minute. 1995


At a social gathering, Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau is photographed groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pics appear on his Facebook wall . . . then on everybody's Facebook wall. 2008


The Pentagon fesses up to accidentally sending four fuses for intercontinental ballistic missiles to Taiwan. 2008


Soldier Stephen Phillips accidentally phones home during a pitched battle in Afghanistan, leaving a three-minute voice mail filled with the sound of gunfire and cussing. "I hope someone gives him more ammo," his stepfather tells ABC. 2008


Plans of Marine One, the presidential helicopter, are accidentally made available to the public when, it was speculated, a defense contractor downloaded a file-sharing service -- yes -- to share music. 2009


Maps showing precise locations of enriched-uranium stockpiles for nuclear weapons went public when the Government Printing Office accidentally posted them on its Web site. 2009


Dozens of medical providers in Tennessee send confidential patient records to a business in Indiana after being given the wrong fax number by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. 2009