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.


  1. I agree Laura, modernization theorists focus on the information diffusion and that that will solve all the problems. Having access to information is very important, but it does not solve everything. For example, having the knowledge of food distribution will not actually provide you with food unless you have access to it, which is one of the basic needs developing countries lack. It is true changes need to come with the creation and implementation of certain infrastructures for as to be successful.

  2. I think that the important thing is to take the initial steps to make access to information a priority. Once it becomes part of the larger agenda, it can then be assessed from different perspectives and action steps can be taken. The important thing that I have gathered is the necessity of making the argument known and appealing to the international community. Sympathetic states and organizations can then weigh in with the hopeful result of inducing change.