That strategic communication interventions can and must play a positive role in the production of social change is the central tenet of Development is understood here as “the organized intervention in collective affairs according to a standard of improvement” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2010: 3). What constitutes improvement -and appropriate intervention- is a matter of contestation and negotiation in pertinent international arenas. After two years of falling aid budgets in 2011 and 2012 in the context of tightening budgets after the 2007–2008 global financial crisis, levels rebounded in 2013. See
Development is understood here as “the organized intervention in collective affairs according to a standard of improvement” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2010: 3). What constitutes improvement -and appropriate intervention- is a matter of contestation and negotiation in pertinent international arenas.
After two years of falling aid budgets in 2011 and 2012 in the context of tightening budgets after the 2007–2008 global financial crisis, levels rebounded in 2013. See
While other terms are used to describe the field – This denomination is the one adopted by the International Encyclopedia of Communication in 2008 (listed in the references as Wilkins, 2008). For an earlier discussion of this problem see Servaes (1996).
This denomination is the one adopted by the International Encyclopedia of Communication in 2008 (listed in the references as Wilkins, 2008).
For an earlier discussion of this problem see Servaes (1996).
But development communication is not only a field of study. It is also a (more or less) professional practice, and an institutional project While development communication is not necessarily limited to institutionally driven top-down interventions, and participatory and citizen-led instances exist, in this article I focus on the latter rather than the former attentive to the fact that agency cannot be adequately analyzed in the absence of structures (Mosco, 2009).
While development communication is not necessarily limited to institutionally driven top-down interventions, and participatory and citizen-led instances exist, in this article I focus on the latter rather than the former attentive to the fact that agency cannot be adequately analyzed in the absence of structures (Mosco, 2009).
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the international economic organization that “brings around its Table 40 countries that account for 80% of world trade and investment” See See da Costa (2009) for the distinction between communication According to an unpublished study commissioned by the OECD (Zimmerman, 2007, quoted in da Costa, 2009), approximately one-third of OECD countries integrated communication in development programmes or projects by 2009, although half of those that had not yet moved in that direction spoke of planning to do so in the near future. What percentage of projects and programmes integrate communication is unclear. Only 10% of those donors integrating communication in development programmes or projects had a formal communication strategy.
See da Costa (2009) for the distinction between communication
According to an unpublished study commissioned by the OECD (Zimmerman, 2007, quoted in da Costa, 2009), approximately one-third of OECD countries integrated communication in development programmes or projects by 2009, although half of those that had not yet moved in that direction spoke of planning to do so in the near future. What percentage of projects and programmes integrate communication is unclear. Only 10% of those donors integrating communication in development programmes or projects had a formal communication strategy.
The lack of detail is not restricted to allocations or expenditures. A review of five studies of existing development communication research published in English between 2003 and 2013
One reason for conceptualizing
For the most part, in development communication scholarly work published between 2003 and 2013 (Enghel, 2014), communication and media initiatives are understood to support development intervention, in line with what appears to take place in practice. In correlation with the fact that development is understood as the driving factor and communication is considered subsidiary, more attention is given to development theory, and less to theorizing the role played by communication and media in the project of managing international development cooperation under neoliberal conditions. According to the above-mentioned studies of existing inquiries, empirical research within the field has been primarily quantitative, seeking to measure media effects and to provide evidence of success. In line with an orientation towards outcomes and a disregard of processes, minimal attention has been directed towards the contextual and institutional conditions that come into play in the concrete practice of intervention. Those conditions include, but are not limited to, procedures and rationales for budget allocations, rules for disbursement and reporting, and tensions and duplicity between doing good and communicating do-gooding (Enghel, 2014).
Across the three dimensions –study, practice and project- communication tends to be conceptualized both as a
The See See See
The practice of development communication, generally presumed to be democratizing in line with normative ideals, has traditionally been structured by bilateral and multilateral development agencies through what I call the See e.g. how the World Bank conceptualizes the role of ICTs as a driver of women's agency, voice and participation in Klugman et al (2014). Although a few examples of indigenous development communication initiatives exist at the national level, led by a government agency (such as e.g. the Secretary of Information and Communication for Development created by the government of Paraguay in 2008) or civil society organization (such as e.g. the association of social communicators Calandria, created in Perú in 1983), the number is so small that they must be considered the exception to the rule.
See e.g. how the World Bank conceptualizes the role of ICTs as a driver of women's agency, voice and participation in Klugman et al (2014).
Although a few examples of indigenous development communication initiatives exist at the national level, led by a government agency (such as e.g. the Secretary of Information and Communication for Development created by the government of Paraguay in 2008) or civil society organization (such as e.g. the association of social communicators Calandria, created in Perú in 1983), the number is so small that they must be considered the exception to the rule.
In recent years, media and information have become commodities crucial for the expansion of global capitalism (Schiller, 2007; Chakravartty & Schiller, 2010), while the shape and strengths of a much-predicated global citizenship presumably in the making remain unclear (Sassen, 2008; Fraser, 2008). Inequality is mounting (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2010; Ortiz and Cummins, 2011), and development is increasingly managed by national states as a service delivery business subcontracted to the private sector (Anderson et. al., 2012). The privatization of development arguably weakens civil society, forecloses independent and critical research, and pushes decision-makers at national level to serve private agendas (Barkan, 2013; Wilkins and Enghel, 2013). This new institutional order in formation, well problematized by sociologist Saskia Sassen (2008), has a normative authority that comes from the world of private power yet installs itself in the public realm, emerging as public policy or public objectives. Particular institutional components of national states begin to function as the institutional home for the operation of powerful dynamics constitutive of global capital and its markets (including the liberalization of the telecommunications and media sectors; see Chakravartty & Schiller, 2010), thus reorienting state agendas and policy work towards the requirements of the transnational economy. One of those dynamics is the fast digitization of a wide array of economic and political activities, accompanied by “purely technological readings of the technical capacities entailed by digitization” (Sassen, 2008: 329; see also Silverstone, 2007).
The adoption of selective business principles and practices among development providers in the context of a broad pro-privatization climate has had a number of negative cumulative effects (see Anderson et al., 2012 for a well-documented discussion). The number of development players has grown, leading to an increasingly “cluttered” landscape (Bellemare, 2014) and to a multiplicity of single-issue agendas, which compete with integrated approaches to justice (IDC, 2012). Moreover, the increasing visibility and influence of ‘big philanthropy’ subtracts attention from the persistence of the national as a material framing for citizenship (Sassen, 2008), as well as from the sustained, although changed, importance of national communicative spaces (Christensen, 2010). In parallel, strong discourses about the Internet's “built-in autonomy from state power and its capacity to enhance democracy from the bottom up via a strengthening of […] access by civil society” (Sassen, 2008: 330) continue to distract attention from the fact that digital democracy is an overstated promise rather than a reality (Chakravartty & Schiller, 2010; Fenton, 2011).
A problematic relationship between globalization (Sassen, 2008), informationalized capitalism (Schiller, 2007) and development communication is acknowledged by scholars in discussions of development communication published in recent years (see Enghel, 2014 for details). References are made e.g. to the role that social movements and citizens’ media may play in redressing the consequences of neoliberalism (White, 2004), to the unsolved social and geographical imbalances in ‘the rise of the networked society’ argued by sociologist Manuel Castells in the mid-nineties (Gumucio-Dagron and Tufte, 2006), to the advent of digital capitalism in the context of the neoliberal agenda and the globalization of poverty (Thomas, 2007), and to the potentially problematic consequences of favoring narrow visions of social change driven by commercial agendas and capitalist values (Wilkins, 2008; Wilkins and Enghel, 2013; Scott, 2014). Remarks are often times made from normative standpoints, i.e. derived from a concern with what the role of development communication is and should be, while in-depth attempts at
This blind spot in theory-building is in turn reflected in empirical research. To give an example, more than 80% of the peer-reviewed academic articles on development communication published from 1997 to 2007 “made no mention of globalization”, although more than 40% focused on ICTs (Ogan et al, 2009: 660). While the research studies reviewed by Ogan et. al. (ibid) followed the practice through empirical studies, thus giving increased attention to projects incorporating ICTs, the ensuing analyses remained theoretically grounded in outdated explanatory principles drawn from the field's history. Alert to this problem, Chakravartty (2009) calls for critical attention to the renaissance seen by development communication in the twenty-first century, signaled by “an astonishing acceleration both in the scale of development projects based on information and communication technologies and in its symbolic significance in promising a painless transition to modernity” (ibid: 37).
Inasmuch as the media arguably play an increasingly pervasive role in the everyday life of citizens, and in the politics, the economies and the governance of most societies, the role of communication systems, industries and rationales in the neoliberal project merits critical scrutiny (Wilkins and Enghel, 2013; Scott, 2014). Given this complex scenario, what can a political economy approach to communication in development bring into an agenda for the field's future?
In 2003, diffusion and participation were considered the field's two dominant conceptual models (Morris, 2003) and the way forward for development communication was deemed to lie in establishing a new relationship between the two models by “theorizing across” (ibid: 243) and incorporating the best of both approaches (see also Roman, 2005 and Inagaki, 2007 for similar calls for coherence). Since then, suggestions for advancing the field of development communication have varied (see e.g. Shah, 2008 for his ‘regions in protest’ model; Greiner and Singhal, 2009 for ‘invitational social change’; and Kim, 2005 for cross-fertilization between intercultural and development communication). Certain calls have insisted on the democratizing value of participatory approaches from a normative perspective (see e.g. Gumucio-Dagron and Tufte, 2006 and Dutta, 2011).
While in recent years scholars have raised calls for adopting a political economy approach in order to examine a variety of factors affecting the project and practice of development communication (Waisbord, 2008) and critically interrogate the status of the field under global and neoliberal conditions (Thomas, 2007; Wilkins, 2008; Chakravartty, 2009), these remain unheeded in empirical research. Singularly preoccupied with the subsidiary status of communication within the international aid system, and attentive to the materiality of politics, Waisbord (2008: 519) calls for “embracing an analytical perspective that examines organizational dynamics and professional micropolitics to assess how alternatives to the informational paradigm might be effectively institutionalized in development agencies” if communication is ever going to lead, rather than support, development programs. In pointing out the weak influence of theorization on the institutionalization of participatory development communication within the international aid system and arguing for empirical attention to the unstable conditions under which development communication is put into practice across organizations, Waisbord's suggested approach (ibid) pays due attention to processes as they unfold over time, and to ensuing issues of power, in line with my argument for a political economy of communication in development.
A concern with how to link development communication with globalization and informationalized capitalism is expressed by Chakravartty (2009), who calls for studies that “critically assess the new lexicon around technology and governance” and for ethnographies that pay attention not only to the possibilities of participatory approaches but also “offer meaningful critiques” of their limits. In what in my view may be seen as a productive contradiction among agendas that goes beyond a theoretical dilemma, Chakravartty (ibid: 38–39) argues for critical attention to the hyping up of social entrepreneurship as “the panacea to inequality in the global age”, while from a more pragmatic and less critical perspective McAnany (2012) suggests that social entrepreneurship has lessons to offer.
It is not possible to provide an overview of the political economy of communication – its characteristics, schools of thought, growth in recent years and current trends in research – here (see e.g. Mosco, 2009 and chapter 3 of Flew, 2007 for introductions; see also Chakravartty and Zhao, 2007 and Fuchs, 2014 for additional discussions). I must proceed to discuss how a political economy of communication in development would look like, and what its uses may be.
To begin with, a political economy approach to the study of development communication could be productive in four distinct ways (Mosco, 2009; Flew, 2007). See e.g. See
But there is one other way in which a political economy approach to the study of development communication would be analytically productive. Such an approach could of course involve mapping and analyzing the relevant structures in which development communication takes place – roughly, the bilateral and multilateral agencies that decide on priorities and fund it (but also the private philanthropic enterprises that do so), the intermediary organizations that implement it (be them non-governmental, business service, or free-lance endeavors), and the spaces that gather the target beneficiaries of choice in recipient countries (e.g. ordinary citizens in specific political jurisdictions or media workers in journalist unions or state broadcasters). Maps, however, should be considered temporary and therefore monitored regularly, since, as exemplified earlier in this article (see also Enghel, 2013; Waisbord, 2008), the international development cooperation structures in which priorities are decided, funding is allocated and the implementation of development communication initiatives is managed are constantly changing.
Given the changing quality of structures, analytical work should also focus on the study of processes (Mosco, 2009; Enghel, 2014). This could be done by e.g. adapting the conceptual framework put forward by Mosco (2009) for the political economy of communication at large, which foregrounds
There are two significant dimensions in the relationship of
Adapting the framework to development communication scholarship,
A political economy approach to development communication moreover brings back into view the role of national states in the deployment of interventions. Attention to national states and their respective structures of governance is important in order to establish whether interstate coordination among funders and recipients is present or absent, and thus clarify which avenues for raising claims and for seeking accountability may be available (or lacking) for the citizens tackled through specific development communication interventions (Enghel, 2014). Moreover, attention to national states as one of the three relevant macro-scale actors in the ‘game’ of development communication –together with the private sector, be it the market or its philanthropic arm, and citizens- makes it possible to begin to identify how the processes of commercialization, liberalization, privatization and transnationalization of communication systems and networks that continue to take place under neoliberal conditions (Schiller, 2007; Sassen, 2008; Mosco, 2009;) manifest in the specifics of the practice and project.
I have exemplified earlier in the article a number of questions that could be productively addressed through a political economy approach to communication in development. If we were to focus primarily on the academic dimension, additional enquiries could look into e.g. unpacking the vicious circle of decision-makers asking academics for proof that development communication works (see e.g. Lennie & Tacchi, 2013) or identifying the reasons for the absence of sustained, substantial dialogue among researchers, practitioners and decision-makers (see Servaes, 2007; Waisbord, 2010). Moreover, the presence or absence of a correlation between the specialized graduate education and training on offer and the professional placements at the level of the practice and institutional project could be explored. The absence of open-access searchable knowledge repositories based at universities or other public institutions committed to promoting the productive use of scholarship could also be investigated in connection with the existence of web-based online networks that have grown to play a significant role in the dissemination of information relevant to the field (such as The Communication Initiative or The C4D Network See
If we were to focus primarily on the practice dimension, additional enquiries could look into e.g. the reasons for (and consequences of) the scarcity of codes of practice, ethical guidelines and accountability mechanisms for practitioners at varying scales, including individual free-lancers, NGOs and international civil servants. More widely, studies that investigate the workplaces and working conditions of the field's ‘human resources’ would illuminate structural conditions and their impact.
If we were to focus primarily on the institutional project dimension, additional enquiries could look into e.g. the actual ways in which bilateral, multilateral and Northern-based non-governmental organizations resort to development communication in order to fulfil their agendas beyond normative ideals, thus illuminating a number of important aspects of the project, including (but not limited to) change and continuity in the matrix of core institutional players influential in the field, rationales for decision-making, overlap between ‘doing good’ and ‘looking good’, and tensions and contradictions derived from understanding communication as a right or as a commodity.
In standard approaches to development communication, citizens on both ends of the funder-recipient equation tend to be disregarded. In so called ‘developed countries’, they are prompted to consume as a way to show compassion (see e.g. Richey and Ponte, 2011), and in the process offered simplistic accounts of the complex causes of poverty and inequality under global conditions. In so called ‘developing countries’, they are treated as the end that justifies the means, while the distance between them and donors becomes increasingly intermediated by profit-making private actors and keeps growing (see e.g. Anderson et. al., 2012; Enghel, 2014).
A ‘politics of the possible’ requires that scholars take responsibility for critically understanding the present of the development communication field not merely in normative or instrumental terms, but also as regards material conditions and power inequalities. It also requires empirical and theory-building work that seeks to deepen and strengthen our understanding of the relationship between communication, media, citizenship and social change in the context of neoliberal globalization. A political economy approach to communication in development would allow a productive engagement with the challenge.