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Communication in International Development

Summary and Keywords

The decades that immediately followed World War II witnessed the political independence of most of the so-called Third World from colonization and the birth of the United Nations, marking the formal beginning of development and directed social change to facilitate it. The role of communication in development (devcom) has evolved according to the overarching goals of the development programs and theories during each historical period since then. The process of modernization, in which devcom was initially nurtured, was influenced by quantitative and empirical social sciences theory, philosophy, and methodology; in particular, it had a strong economics orientation. It has been one of the most powerful paradigms in development study and practice to originate after World War II, with enormous economic, social, and cultural consequences. Concepts and theories that articulated the development of Western Europe and North America were used by sociologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and others to generate development models for countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Mass media were accorded a central position in the modernization paradigm. The use of media for transmission of information and for persuasion, derived from World War II–related psychological warfare research in the United States, were transferred to areas such as extension education, instruction, agricultural, and health extension in development. By the 1970s, the concept of development and change expanded to include many more types of social change guided by different theories, disciplinary influences, geographical considerations, and methodologies. Change now included a widely participatory process of social change in a society and included social and cultural aspects besides the economic. While the participatory mode of communication for development programs and activities was a welcome addition to the devcom toolbox, the definitions of participation reflected a wide variety of approaches. In many contexts, the level of participation required by the people was low and perfunctory.

Toward the end of the 1980s, the concept and practice of empowerment expanded upon the earlier objective of participation in development communication models and practice. Broadly, empowerment is a process by which individuals, organizations, and communities gain control and mastery over their social and economic conditions. The concept and practice of empowerment posed a challenge to the identity and practice of development communication. It changed the way communication was conceptualized earlier and used in development and change work. At present, social justice within the processes of development and social change has gained traction and urgency. In the last 40 years, there has been a steep increase in income inequality and individual opportunity globally. Millions of people are still exposed to life-threatening diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and other debilitating conditions, and have very limited access to basic resources, such as education and healthcare. What are the progressive alternatives to the neoliberal model of directed change? What should be the place and role of devcom in alternative approaches? These concerns are addressed by anchoring ideas within a critical theory of social change for social justice.

Keywords: development, development communication, modernization, empowerment, social change, social justice, participatory communication, Third World

Introduction

The place and roles of media and communication in development and directed change vary depending on how one views the concept of development. Therefore, the theory and practice of media and communication in development and directed change reflect varied underlying views about media and communication in the processes of development and social change. Development is usually described as directed change efforts and programs to improve the living conditions of people and communities in a society, though there is much debate and disagreement on just what constitutes improved living conditions and how they may be achieved. Other key concepts, which have more recently become prominent in social change theories and practices are empowerment and social justice. The notions of empowerment and social justice will be presented and discussed later in this article.

As mass communication spread in the early 20th century, the potential increased for terms such as development, underdevelopment, and Third World to be globally transmitted and legitimized. Meanwhile, research studies showed the influence and potential of media and communication technologies and processes to effect change—both in individuals and in society, but especially in the Third World. There is considerable literature about information communication technologies (ICTs) and data flows and their importance in development and change. But data exchanges alone do not constitute communication. Our understanding of development communication (devcom) emerges from our views of development, empowerment, and communication as shared meaning. An important objective in this article is examining the role and place of media and communication as culture-centric symbolization through media and communication processes, channels, and networks to influence and facilitate social, economic, and political change.

Discussion and analysis of the role and place of media and communication in development and directed change is set within the rubric of globalization, especially as it panned in the latter half of the 20th century. While the most extreme and widespread conditions of poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, sanitation, and refugee displacement are usually located in geographic regions conventionally labeled as the Third World, the ideas, processes, and arguments about development and change are not always specific to the Third World. Using countries as units of analysis could be limiting, since development, communication, empowerment, and social injustice occur everywhere, at local, “glocal,” and global levels.

This article begins with a brief chronological and conceptual review of devcom, then traces the diverse approaches employed in the field and critically examines development theory and practice as well as offering a heuristic model for devcom for achieving social justice in directed change efforts.

Development as Modernization

Development in its modern form dates back to the post-World War II era. The decades that immediately followed World War II witnessed the political independence of most of the so-called Third World from colonization, and the birth of the United Nations marking the formal beginning of development and directed social change to facilitate it. Concerned about the conditions of the people in the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa, US President Harry Truman proposed the Point Four Program in 1949. This closely mimicked the successful Marshall Plan that was used earlier to help the war-ravaged West European countries rebuild their economies (Truman, 1949). The goals of the Marshall Plan included providing humanitarian assistance, rebuilding European markets for US goods, and helping Western Europe resist Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. The Point Four Program was therefore a global extension of the Marshall Plan. The post–World War II years also witnessed a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, with an intense East-West struggle for influence over Latin America and the newly independent countries in Africa and Asia. Countries considered noncommunist or “freedom-loving” qualified as beneficiaries of US aid and expertise. Scholarship too was politically tinged. A dominant paradigm influenced research and practice. Alleviating suffering in the Third World consisted of inserting American and Western political ideologies as well as advances in agriculture, commerce, industry, and health. Therefore, the history of devcom goes back to the post–World War II years when western-style modernization was a preferred model for development. Devcom has evolved according to the overarching goals of the development programs and theories during each historical period since then. However, Western scholarship and practice in development and communication activities and programs had a pronounced influence on the field for several decades following World War II.

The enterprise of modernization, in which devcom was situated, was influenced by the theory, philosophy, and methodology of the quantitative and empirical social sciences; in particular, it had a strong economics orientation. It has been one of the most powerful paradigms in development study and practice to originate after World War II, with enormous economic, social, and cultural consequences. Concepts and theories that articulated the development of Western Europe and North America were used by sociologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and others to generate development models for countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In this model, a modern society was made to resemble Western industrialized countries in all facets, including political and economic institutions and behavior, attitudes toward science and technology, and cultural mores (Fjes, 1976).

Modernization theories were grounded in the neoclassical economic models which had served as the anchor for the Western economies. The emphasis was mainly on economic growth as measured by Gross National Product (GNP) rates and an overall encouragement of all factors and institutions that accelerated and maintained high growth in areas such as capital-intensive industrialization, modern technology, private ownership of factors of production, free trade, and the principle of laissez-faire (Rogers, 1976).

There was a close connection between the economic theories mentioned earlier and the concomitant social evolutionary theories that helped explain the development of Western societies. Darwin’s ideas on the development of species were retrofitted to the modernization of underdeveloped societies. Social evolution theories influenced and gave rise to important concepts in the sociology of development, such as the various bipolar models listed in Table 1. In these models, the many phases in the evolution of Western societies were reduced to ideal-typical extremes in which the developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean were relegated to the earliest stages and the industrialized Western countries were shown as the end stage (Portes, 1976). These theoretical models indicated that the Western countries had mastered the capacity to cope with a range of social, cultural, technological, and economic challenges encountered in the processes of development and social change (Eisenstadt, 1976). The developing countries, on the other hand, had very limited capacity to achieve and cope with modernization. The only viable path prescribed for the developing countries was to follow the lead of the Western countries if they wanted to modernize and mimic both the type of change and the process of change.

Table 1. Ideal-Typical Extremes of Modernization

Source

Theoretical Model

Durkheim (1933)

Mechanic vs. Organic solidarity

Toennies (1957)

Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft

Lerner (1958)

Traditional vs. Modern society

Redfield (1965)

Folk vs. Urban Societies

Source: Melkote and Steeves, 2015.

The modernization paradigm also suggested that a modern economy and polity could not be successfully grafted onto individuals who lacked certain essential characteristics. Leading scholars posited that attitudinal and value changes among individuals were prerequisites to the creation of a modern society. Therefore, certain value-normative complexes, which were considered as essential for the modernization of individuals in the Western societies, were thought as lacking among people in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean (Weiner, 1966). The underlying bias was that successful modernization was dependent on changing the character of individuals living in developing countries to resemble more closely the attitudinal and value characteristics of people in Western Europe and North America.

Media and Communication in the Modernization Paradigm

A few approaches have dominated in terms of their contributions to an understanding of the place and role of media and communication in the modernization paradigm.

Media and Communication Effects Approach

This constituted the earliest model of media effects in society. This approach conceptualized the impact of mass media as powerful and direct on individuals. The Bullet Theory and the Hypodermic Needle Theory were the earliest to describe the concept of powerful media effects. The main utility of the mass media lay in serving as important vehicles to bring about quick behavior change, particularly in favor of the modernizing objectives of the state (Lerner, 1958; Schramm, 1964).

Mass media were accorded a central position in the modernization paradigm. Research had indicated that modernization of industrial and agricultural sectors required the mobilization of human resources in developing countries. The use of media for transmission of information and for persuasion, derived from World War II–related psychological warfare research in the United States, were transferred to areas such as extension education, instruction, and agricultural and health extension in development. Therefore, education through mass media was vested with the crucial responsibility to accelerate the process of mobilization of human resources. In this approach, the mass media were considered as ideal vehicles for transferring new ideas and models from the developed countries to the rest and from urban areas to the rural countryside. They were thought to have powerful, uniform, and direct effects on individuals in the developing countries. In sum, the mass media were entrusted with the task of establishing a climate of modernization (Rogers & Svenning, 1969). At the micro level, research in this tradition focused on changing specific social-psychological characteristics of individuals, which were considered necessary for a successful transition from a traditional to a modern society. In short, the mass media were considered to have the potential to blow the winds of modernization into isolated traditional communities and replace structures of life, values, and behaviors there with ones seen in modern Western societies.

Diffusion of Innovations Approach

Diffusion of innovations research established the importance of communication in the modernization process at the local level. This model of the communication process and its effects had important theoretical links with both communication effects research and the mass media and modernization approach. The emphasis was again on communication effects, that is, the ability of media messages and opinion leaders to create knowledge of new ideas and practices among the target audiences and to persuade them to adopt exogenously conceived and introduced innovations (Katz, 1963; Rogers, 1962). The route to the development of an individual from a traditional to a modern person was the acceptance of new ideas from sources external to a social system. In the modernization paradigm, communication was visualized as the important link through which exogenous ideas entered local communities. Diffusion of innovations then emphasized the nature and role of communication in facilitating further dissemination within the local communities.

Deconstruction of the Modernization Discourse

The modernization discourse had a secular orientation, which viewed Asian and African religious values as obstacles to progressive change (Bellah, 1965; Rose, 1970). Its patriarchal and cultural biases were institutionalized through development institutions and practices. The bipolar theories of development in the sociology of development literature, as well as the linear nature of the trajectory of development, reduced the developing countries and their people into frozen states and into one homogenous category; their history and culture were ignored and thus they became pliable objects for change by development experts who prescribed a standard Western model for modernization and development. This universal model for development eroded viable alternatives to development and change and therefore may have crippled the capacity of developing countries to meet an increasingly different future with creative local responses.

An important thesis of the social evolutionary school in sociology was that history is not a progression of semi-random acts and events over time but a carefully scripted story line that moves in an orderly way, has an overall direction, is influenced by dynamic principles, and tells a story of orderly progression amidst the jumble of general change. Giddens (1990) termed this the Grand Narrative. According to these evolutionary theories, the development of societies follows a linear path, and the major stages of growth and change are universal. Besides this methodological nationalism bias, a teleology bias is also apparent, since the discourse is about social phenomena moving toward goals of fulfillment and maturity. Causality is implied, since the earlier stages are presumed to give rise to specific later stages in the social evolutionary process.

Development outcomes in the Third World did not fit the assumptions and prescriptions implicit in the modernization paradigm. The neoclassical economic model that suggested a trickle-down approach to development benefits started to lose its credibility as early as the 1970s with data indicating no such outcomes (Seers, 1977). The modernization paradigm, it turned out, worked better to describe change that had taken place in the development of Western Europe and North America than as a predictor of such change in developing countries, as was initially assumed. Further, Neo-Marxist scholars, particularly from Latin America, posited that underdevelopment was not a process distinctly different from development. In fact, they constituted two facets of the same process. They asserted that the development of underdevelopment in the Third World countries was and is related to the economic development of Western Europe and North America (Frank, 1969).

The term Third World was constructed in this discourse, and underdeveloped societies were identified with this signifier. In the decades that followed World War II, the knowledge systems and the existential reality (pertaining to development and change) of the people in the Third World were gradually replaced by the concepts of progress and development imported from the West. The new developmentalism facilitated institutional interventions in the developing economies, giving rise to greater and greater mechanisms of control. In exchange for developing these societies and their economies, the everyday realities of the people were transacted and translated into objects of scientific pursuit. Soon, individuals in the so-called underdeveloped countries started imagining their “underdevelopment”; their physical and social realities were produced and reproduced in the dialectic of development and underdevelopment, marginalizing local cultures, narratives, and knowledge structures (Escobar, 1995).

Critique of the Role of Mass Media in the Modernization Paradigm

Mass media such as the radio were used in top-down models of communication to diffuse modernizing and Westernized innovations to the people. Communication was considered the missing link in the development chain, and it was the task of the media and devcom to inform and educate the masses and thus bridge that link. The communication models tended to be linear, one-way, top-down, and prescriptive from the change agency to the people.

By the 1970s, it became increasingly clear in Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America that socioeconomic structural constraints greatly diminished the power of mass media in overcoming problems of underdevelopment. The process of development was not as straightforward and clear-cut as conceptualized earlier. Mass media, far from being an independent variable in the change process, were themselves affected by many structural factors. Much of the earlier communication research, with its exaggerated emphasis on the individual-blame causal hypothesis regarding underdevelopment, obfuscated the social-structural, political, and institutional constraints acting in concert against an individual’s efforts to change. Scholars contended that there was a benign neglect of social-structural and political constraints on development because “alien premises, objects, and methods” influenced the field of communication research (Beltran, 1976). The mass media were criticized for their trivial and irrelevant content, for giving rise to a revolution of rising frustrations in developing nations, and for increasing the knowledge gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged sectors of the population.

Diffusion of innovations research and campaigns were criticized for an overemphasis on individuals’ exposure to mass media with less attention to message content, a pro-technology bias, a pro-source bias, a pro-persuasion bias, a one-way message flow bias, and a pro-progressive farmer bias, among other things. Diffusion actually served to exacerbate socioeconomic and communication gaps between the progressive and subsistence farmers. Poor women were most neglected in diffusion projects and campaigns.

Social Marketing and Entertainment Education Approaches

Social Marketing and Entertainment Education approaches attempted to address the weaknesses of the Dominant Paradigm and the Diffusion of Innovations approaches by addressing many issues raised by the critiques of the Modernization Paradigm, but to a great extent reproduced dominant Western capitalist frameworks in development and communication.

Over time, diffusion theory proved inadequate as a guide for communication in development. It was largely replaced by another approach, the strategic marketing of pro-social objectives, also called as social marketing (Kotler & Zaltman, 1971). This approach provides a model for the strategic and scientific determination of message and media strategies to disseminate ideas to promote social causes. Major themes have included family planning (to limit the size of families), equal status for women and girls, safe sex behaviors, adult literacy, and much more. Entertainment Education (EE) programs have become increasingly popular in the last three decades, often as part of social marketing campaigns. These programs present a unique kind of social marketing where pro-social ideas are marketed as media products in a variety of media, which include radio, television, records, videos, and folk theater. Advocates of EE posit that either directly or indirectly, they facilitate progressive social change. At the individual level, they influence awareness, attention, and behavior toward a socially desired objective, and at the larger community level, they serve as an agenda-setter, or influence public and policy initiatives in a socially desirable direction. EE strategies have been used to disseminate persuasive messages such as family planning, high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, vaccine promotion, and HIV/AIDS prevention messages. More recently, EE strategies have found use in areas such as the environment, conflict and peace issues, rural development, social mobilization, and empowerment of marginalized groups (Tufte, 2005, 2012).

As in many of the diffusion of innovations campaigns, social marketing campaigns too have tended to focus on the individual as the unit of analysis. The power to frame social problems typically comes from those with authority to identify the causes and suggest solutions. In societies with sharp inequities, this power to identify problems and suggest solutions has led to social engineering by the government or the elites. Although social marketing theoretically begins with a thorough analysis of local needs, campaigns often have been largely top-down, with receivers treated as targets for persuasion and change.

Participatory Communication Paradigm

Participatory development and communication approaches, which included a critique of top-down models and advocacy of bottom-up and horizontal communication links between the sources of aid and expertise and their beneficiaries, constituted a major conceptual change in devcom literature and practice even before social marketing and entertainment education approaches became prominent.

By the 1970s, the concept of development and change expanded to include many more types of social change guided by different theories, disciplinary influences, geographical considerations, and methodologies. Change now included a widely participatory process of social change in a society and involved social and cultural aspects besides the economic. The ethic behind this approach is based on participation as a basic human right. The need to have some say in crucial decisions affecting one’s life is essential to the development of an individual, and participation in meaningful activities is a prime vehicle through which this need is facilitated. Today, grassroots participation (bottom-up communication) and two-way communication (horizontal communication models) have been incorporated in many devcom strategies in development by organizations such as the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and others in their devcom-related work (Mefalopulos, 2008; Anyaegbunam, Mefalopulos, & Moetsabi, 2004).

Another area that shares the participatory model of development and change but constitutes a third area of scholarship and practice in development and social change is the Liberation Perspective. Paulo Freire is the best-known proponent of this critical pedagogy. Freire’s assumptions about devcom were radically different from the assumptions of development projects under modernization, which emphasize the top-down transmission and spread of messages to support persuasive goals that are believed to be in the best interests of target audiences. The emancipatory dialogue generated in critical pedagogy, resulting from horizontal and bottom-up communication flows in a community, rejects the diagnoses and prescriptions from outsiders and involves a process of community and decision-making consistent with the community’s spiritual and cultural values.

The modernization and participatory models brought together the positivist and the interpretive paradigms, respectively. Many development communication activities that were influenced by modernization, diffusion of innovations research, social marketing, or even entertainment education approaches to development and change used a behavior change communication model based on the positivist philosophy and methodology. The rules and methods of the empirical social sciences were applied, and the outcomes of development and change were mostly quantitative, such as economic indicators of development. On the other hand, more participatory approaches, such as the participatory rural communication approach, participatory action research, or the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, were influenced by the social change communication model based on interpretive/critical theory and methodology. Here, the rules and conventions of interpretive and critical studies were considered more important, and the outcomes of change included many non-quantitative dimensions, such as independence, cultural growth, participation, and emancipation.

The different disciplinary and methodological imperatives of the positivist and interpretive disciplines posed a challenge to the identity of development communication theory and practice. Many observers contend that it changed the way communication was conceptualized and used in development and change work. Behavior change communication models of the past were now complemented with newer communication for social change models. In these newer models, a participatory approach between the sender and receiver communication structure was used, and the bias was toward horizontal participation (subject to subject), critical awareness and dialogic communication processes (Ascroft & Masilela, 1989; Mefalopulos, 2008).

In sum, both the behavior change model and the social change model are useful for different development contexts and objectives. For example, media information campaigns or strategic communication programs would be best served by the behavior change communication framework, while directed social change activities that involve participation, collaboration, capacity building, and empowerment are informed by the communication for social change model (Melkote & Steeves, 2015).

From Participation to Empowerment

While the participatory mode of communication for development programs and activities were a welcome addition to the devcom toolbox, the definitions of participation reflected a wide variety of approaches. In many contexts, the level of participation required by the people were low and perfunctory. On the surface, the participatory approaches signaled a positive departure from the earlier top-down and prescriptive approaches in the modernization paradigm. However, critics contend that the structure of elite domination has not been disturbed, as the participation expected is often directed by the sources and change agents. Although local people and organizations are induced to participate, the basic solutions to local problems have already been selected by the external agencies. The design and control of messages and development agendas have usually remained with the experts (Diaz-Bordenave, 1980). This deconstruction of the participatory development paradigm puts the focus squarely on the inequitable power relations in society and the structures of inequity that they create and strengthen. For effective social change for individuals and groups trapped in the margins, the search has been for devcom models and analytical tools that could address and overcome these systemic barriers.

Toward the end of the 1980s, the concept and practice of empowerment expanded upon the earlier objective of participation in development communication models and practice. This was the second major interdisciplinary thrust in devcom research and practice. The construct of empowerment identifies the underlying constraints in directed social change such as, for example, the lack of power among the people at the receiving end of development programs. Disciplines such as community organization, critical education, women’s and gender studies, and community psychology now offered concepts and practices that could be readily incorporated in development communication models and programs. The concept of empowerment is frequently referenced in the disciplines noted above but was missing or inadequately explicated in development communication. Broadly, empowerment is a process by which individuals, organizations, and communities gain control and mastery over their social and economic conditions.

In Table 2, the essential elements constituting the conceptual framework of empowerment are presented by comparing and contrasting development support communication informed by the goals of empowerment with the development communication model used in the modernization paradigm. The concept and practice of empowerment posed a challenge to the identity and practice of development communication. It changed the way communication was conceptualized earlier and used in development and change work. Development communication in an empowerment paradigm has the goal of empowerment of the people and the building of local capacity. The objectives of development communication activities under the empowerment paradigm are expanded to include the activation and the sustainability of social support systems, local social networks, empowerment of local narratives, facilitation of critical awareness among all community members and other stakeholders, and facilitation of local community power. The role of the devcom worker under empowerment has moved from being just a communication expert to also being a collaborator, a facilitator, a participant, an advocate for individuals and local communities, a risk-taker, and even an activist on behalf of the people who tend to be marginalized (Melkote & Steeves, 2015). A close reading of Table 1 will show the profound challenges to development communication with the extension of participation to include empowered participation. Also, the differences between the modernization approach and the empowerment approach are stark. Modernization utilizes the transmission model in which communication involves sending a message through some channel; the process is usually linear and top-down, while the messages are prescriptive and technical in nature. The transmission approach or the delivery of information in the modernization approach is insufficient to the task of development and change. Empowerment objectives also require building understanding, empathy, and partnerships with the people. The emphasis of devcom work has now expanded from using media and communication merely as vehicles to move messages from point A to B to valuing communication for its organizing value. It is true to the etymological root of communication, which is to build commonness and solidarity among the people (Melkote & Steeves, 2015).

Table 2. Communication for Change Within Empowerment and Modernization Paradigms

Development Support Communication in an Empowerment Paradigm

Phenomenon of Interest/Goal: Empowerment of people, social justice, building local capacity and equity.

Belief: Unequal development due to a lack of access to economic, political, and cultural resources; unequal development due to lack of local power and control; unequal standards.

Bias: Toward cultural proximity, diversity, and environmental sustainability.

Context: Local, community, national, global settings.

Level of Analysis: Individual, group or organization, community.

Role of Change Agent: Collaborator, facilitator, participant, advocate for individuals and communities, risk-taker, and activist.

Communication Model: Non-linear, participatory, reflexive, used to convey information as well as build understanding, empathy, and partnerships; used to empower communities and organizations.

Type of Research: Quantitative and qualitative, longitudinal studies, labor-intensive participatory action research, communication for empowerment.

Exemplars: Activate and sustain social support systems, social networks, mutual help and self-help activities; encourage participation of all actors; empower community narratives; facilitate critical awareness; facilitate community and organizational power; communicate to strengthen interpersonal relationships.

Outcomes Desired: Increased access of all people to material, psychological, cultural, and informational resources; honing of individual and group competence, leadership skills, life and communication skills; honing of critical awareness skills; empowered local organizations and communities; a vibrant public sphere; active public discussion and debate; building of social capital.

Development Communication in the Modernization Paradigm

Phenomenon of Interest/Goal: National and regional development, people development, community improvement.

Belief: Underdevelopment due to economic, political, cultural, geographic, and individual inadequacies; existence of a single standard (as articulated by experts).

Bias: Cultural insensitivity, environmentally unsustainable, standardization.

Context: Macro and micro settings.

Level of Analysis: Nation, region, individual.

Role of Change Agent: Expert, benefactor, nonparticipant.

Communication Model: Linear, top-down, transmission of information.

Type of Research: Usually quantitative (surveys), some use of focus groups, contextual or evaluation research.

Exemplars: Remedy through/by experts; blame the victim; individual adjustment to a dominant norm; use of the mass media to spread standardized messages and entertainment; media messages that are preachy, prescriptive and/or persuasive.

Outcomes Desired: Economic growth, political development, infrastructural development.

Source: Melkote and Steeves, 2015.

Devcom for Empowerment and Social Justice

Today, we face many global risks, such as the threats of nuclear annihilation, ecological crises brought on by global warming, the pollution and mismanagement of our common resources, and a global economic collapse. While these global dangers need to be confronted, we wish to focus on risks and dangers that are differentially distributed around the globe between privileged and marginalized individuals and communities. A cursory glance at the Millennium Development Goals (UNDP, 2010) and the Sustainable Development Goals (UNDP, 2017) will show that millions of people are still exposed to life-threatening diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and other debilitating conditions, and have no access to basic resources, such as education and healthcare, or are otherwise denied opportunities to live full lives as expressive beings. As many observers have noted, it is imperative that we recognize this injustice and act to address the unevenness of development effects of most directed change efforts (Sen & Dreze, 2013). Many scholars agree that of immediate relevance is the impact of neoliberalism, a variant of neoclassical economics, which is the dominant political philosophy in many countries around the globe., Neoliberal political-economic regimes have distributed their rewards and penalties along entrenched lines of social, political, economic, and geographic divisions, creating distinct classes of winners and losers (Tomlinson, 1999). In the last 40 years, there has been a steep increase in income inequality and individual opportunity globally (Milanovic, 2011; Stiglitz, 2012; Rajan, 2010; Beddoes, 2012; Sen & Dreze, 2013; Piketty, 2014). Economic inequality (Gini) curves that measure inequality in a country have showed a sharp upward trend since 1980 (Beddoes, 2012).

What are the progressive alternatives to the neoliberal model of directed change? What should be the place and role of devcom in alternative approaches? These concerns should be addressed by anchoring ideas in a critical theory of social change. Anthony Giddens (1990, p. 153) asked, “What should a critical theory without guarantees look like in the late twentieth century?” He answered by elaborating a model of a society beyond the national space and stretching from the local to the global, and also by recognizing that emancipatory politics should be paired with politics of life or self-actualization. He describes emancipatory politics as freedom from inequality and servitude, while life politics describes freedom to explore one’s individual (or group) potential and live an effective and meaningful life as an expressive human being. Thus, social justice involves not only freedom from the effects of unequal development but also freedom to enhance the capacity of each person to live a meaningful life. This concept of social justice is important at all levels, ranging from the local to the global.

The main reason why unequal and discriminatory development prevails around the world is that the definitions and practices of development have not captured important facets of social justice. What is social justice in directed social change, and what are the ways in which it may be operationalized? It is suggested here that achieving social justice would constitute the elimination of persistent and endemic deprivation of individuals and communities in areas basic to survival, and enhancing the capacity and capability of individuals and communities to live effective and meaningful lives.

POD Model of Devcom for Social Justice

This article offers a conceptual model to guide devcom theory and practice toward social change with justice (see Figure 1). It could serve not only as an analytical tool for analyzing the tasks and outcomes of devcom in directed change processes but also as a normative theory for development and change. The POD model lists several actions for devcom under “principal communicative actions” (phase P) by which the “outcomes of communicative actions” (phase O) may be realized. These outcomes constitute the means or processes by which “directed change goals for social justice” (phase D) may be achieved, strengthened, or sustained. Phase D presents goals expected in directed change efforts that facilitate social justice.

Communication in International DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 1. Devcom for social justice in directed change: The POD framework.

Source: Melkote and Steeves, 2015.

Principal Communicative Actions (P). A new or expanded avatar for devcom is described in phase P of the POD framework. It brings together the traditional as well as radical communicative actions from areas such as participatory action research, community organization, action research, and other related models. These include social mobilization, media mobilization, community mobilization, advocacy communication, information politics, empowerment-related communication, networking for social and political action, and resistance communication (see Figure 1). The devcom outcomes desired by principal communicative actions (P) should be to create, expand, and sustain the agency of communities, organizations, and individuals in directed change as outlined in Phase O. This indicates a move from a passive patient to an active agent of change.

Outcomes from communicative actions (O). Individuals and communities must have the capacity and opportunity to play an active role in articulating and shaping the kind of change they desire. This could be aided by communicative actions at the larger societal level by creating or strengthening a vibrant public sphere; active public discussion and debate; empowered communities, groups and coalitions; and a supportive public/mass media. At the community level, communicative actions should strengthen social norms that are compatible with the notion of equity in the distribution of resources and rights, including health and gender equity; democratic participation of all local stakeholders; building of social capital, and the countervailing power of the community and its constituents.1

Directed Change Outcomes for Social Justice (D). Social justice outcomes are described under the broad categories of freedom from inequality and freedom to explore one’s individual or group potential to live a meaningful and satisfying life (see Figure 1).2 These outcomes invoke both emancipatory politics and the politics of self-actualization.

The POD model is conceptualized broadly and is useful as a tool for analysis as well as a normative theory. It represents a dynamic process. Therefore, throughout the model, the interactivity between the different phases (P, O, and D) and the overlap between macro and micro contexts are implied and stressed. The macro level would constitute the national or a global context comprising other nation-states, supranational bodies, multinational businesses, global civil society groups, and coalitions. The micro context would include spatial and interest-based communities. The overlapping, reinforcing, and cyclical nature of the actions and outcomes between the various phases of the model and between the macro and micro contexts indicate that the process is neither linear nor teleological. The process is open-ended, multi-contextual, dynamic, and ongoing.

The model rejects the methodological nationalism bias of the earlier development programs and discourses. This bias in the social sciences in general, and development theory in particular, valorizes the national space at the expense of the cosmopolitan or global (Beck, 2002). The process of directed change as shown in the POD framework assumes cosmopolitan politics that posits global, national, and local connectivity, thus setting up a platform for the interaction of varied communicative ideas and strategies in multiple sites that include offline and online contexts and circumstances (Robins & Aksoy, 2005). The POD framework also avoids the teleology bias which is frequently encountered in earlier models of development and change. Teleology is a causal process where phenomena move naturally and inexorably toward certain goals of self-realization, and eventually reach an apex. The POD model does not suggest that the process is causal or even predictable, given the differential contexts and power positions of the actors and the contested nature of the process of directed change. While the ultimate objective is the achievement of social justice, the indicators of social justice are not universally defined; they will vary across time and contexts, because the outcome of directed change is never a universal end state of everlasting development, but is actually a protracted, sustained, and contested engagement and struggle between varied actors for achieving specific goals in overlapping local, national, and global settings.

The goal of the model is to articulate a vision of what should be, that is, alternate futures that ensure equity in claims and access to rights and resources, especially the commons, as well as providing credible choices and opportunities for individuals and communities to live expressive and meaningful lives. Stakeholders of change will exhibit different value positions, have different visions of alternative futures, and hold differential power positions. Since there are no permanently privileged agents or constituencies in the process of directed change, the struggle to articulate and establish social justice is an ongoing process. The specific meanings and scope of social justice articulated by the stakeholders will vary in each instance according to historical contexts, opportunities, and potentialities. Thus, structures, policies, rules, arrangements, conventions, and practices will need to be constantly monitored and tweaked by stakeholders to meet social justice goals in multiple settings during different epochs in history. The process is never-ending.

Conclusion

This article has examined the field of development communication from its earliest years, when the main outcome desired was to bring development to Third World countries. The model was basically westernization through a process of modernization. Ideas and experts were mostly exogenous and the models top-down and prescriptive. The field expanded in the 1970s by incorporating a pluralistic outlook and included two-way participatory models as well as recognizing the authenticity of local settings and actors and their role in development and change. The newer approaches have argued for more local involvement in development initiatives. Grassroots activists have argued for a regeneration of local people’s space and local cultures in the developing countries of the Third World.

Many scholars and practitioners today would prefer to reconstruct the challenge of directed social change. Today, the increasing inequality in the risks and dangers that are differentially distributed around the globe between privileged and marginalized individuals and communities is a major concern. It is unconscionable to justify the present inequality between people on issues so crucial as food security, safe drinking water, basic education, and healthcare. The foci of development communication should not be just to facilitate development but also to look at the present state of unequal development among global communities, document its negative consequences on people and communities, and identify reasons for such an unequal spread of development benefits. Out of this exercise in deconstruction, the scholarship in development communication should be better able to re-conceptualize and re-operationalize the real meaning and goal of development as has been done here by articulating a heuristic model. This in turn would provide a better understanding of the real constraints to achieving development thus providing scholars with opportunities to incorporate models and theories that are most relevant and germane to the task of achieving equitable development.

Further Reading

Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Find this resource:

    Fals Borda, O. (2006). Participatory action research in social theory: Origins and challenges. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of action research (pp. 27–37). London, UK: SAGE.Find this resource:

      Frank, A. G. (1969). Latin America: Underdevelopment or revolution. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.Find this resource:

        Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: The Seabury Press.Find this resource:

          Giddens, A. (1990). The consequences of modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Find this resource:

            Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

              ITU (International Telecommunication Union)

              Lerner, D. (1958). The passing of traditional society: Modernizing the Middle East. New York, NY: The Free Press.Find this resource:

                Mefalopulos, P. (2008). Development communication sourcebook. Washington, DC: World Bank.Find this resource:

                  Melkote, S., & Steeves, H. L. (2015). Communication for development: Theory and practice for empowerment and social justice (3rd ed.). New Delhi, India: SAGE.Find this resource:

                    Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

                      Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.Find this resource:

                        Rostow, W. W. (1960). The stages of economic growth: A non-communist manifesto. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                          Sachs, W. (Ed.). (1992). Development dictionary. London, UK: Zed Books.Find this resource:

                            Schramm, W. (1964). Mass media and national development. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Find this resource:

                              Sen, A. (2000). Development as freedom. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                Servaes, J. (1999). Communication for development: One world, multiple cultures. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.Find this resource:

                                  Singhal, A., Cody, M., Rogers, E., & Sabido, M. (Eds.). (2004). Entertainment-education and social change. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Find this resource:

                                    Sparks, C. (2007). Globalization, development and the mass media. London, UK: SAGE.Find this resource:

                                      Stiglitz, J. (2012). The price of inequality. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.Find this resource:

                                        The Communication Initiative Network.

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                                          UNDP (United Nations Development Program).

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                                          USAID (US Agency for International Development)

                                          Wilkins, K. (2008). Development communication. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of communication (pp. 1229–1238). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Find this resource:

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                                                                                                                                                Notes:

                                                                                                                                                (1.) Individuals and the groups they belong to or the communities of which they are members should have the active task of making the social/political/economic structures and policies in a society more appropriate and effective in establishing social justice through directed social change. The new avatar of development communication should be one that encourages and pursues an agent-oriented view for individuals and communities engaged in directed social change.

                                                                                                                                                (2.) What are the facets of social justice that all people in a society must be guaranteed? At the most elementary level, all females and males should have access to basic education, basic healthcare, and land or sustainable and gainful employment opportunities. Individuals must have claims to social safety nets such as social security and unemployment benefits during times of distress and guarantees of individual safety at all times; there should be opportunities for people to participate in a market system that is monitored by the state to provide avenues for production, exchange, and consumption. All citizens should have claims and access to civil rights, which include free expression of speech, autonomous mass media, and a guarantee of transparency in all public transactions that are open to the public and media scrutiny. In addition, especially in the present global epoch, social justice would also include encouraging diversity in values, choices, and opportunities and enhancing the capacity and capability of all stakeholders of change. The task of creating active agency at the larger societal, community, or individual levels will not be successful unless the lack of economic, political, and social power among individuals or communities in contemporary societies is addressed. Any meaningful discussion of unequal development must address issues of the inequitable spread of power in a society.