Sunday, December 6, 2009

E-E campaigns: Ulteriror motives

In this last week’s readings I found Mohan Dutta’s, “Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique”, the most interesting. He explains how the entertainment education (E-E) programs ideally contribute to the social change in developing countries by directing it in a way. Entertainment education is when educational content is incorporated to entertainment programs through radio, television, records, video and theatre. Dutta mentions that many E-E campaigns have been used for healthcare purposes, to promote family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and control, and gender equity.

Dutta’s main point is that these programs are not successful because they are not implemented to help the marginalized population of developing countries, in the end they contribute to maintaining the status quo and the power of the elites. For example, agencies like the USAID that has funded many E-E programs, have ulterior motives in doing so and do not have a clear transparent reason to actually help these countries. The way these programs are developed and implemented it only reaches the elite population of underdeveloped countries and not the people that actually have the need. This is why Dutta proposes a subaltern view to E-E programs, for as to let the grassroots population have an active participation and say in the programs that should be implemented and what needs it should fulfill.

Most of the current entertainment education campaigns do not meet the needs and basic necessities needed by the marginalized populations, the agencies who fund the programs just have their own goal in mind. This situation is sad, because they are not helping the development of these countries. The peripheral countries continue to be in the periphery while the core countries continue to exert their control.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Problem definition, definitely a problem

Professor Hayden definitely "saved the best for last" as this week’s readings were perhaps the most interesting of the entire semester. Dutta’s article, “Theoretical Approaches to E-E Campaigns,” focused on USAID’s E-E campaigns in developing countries and gave us a look at them from the critical lens of the subaltern perspective. While several of his arguments caused me to have an Oprah “Ah-Ha” moment, one point in particular stimulated my interest. Dutta states that the top-down flow of communication during project definition allows Western cultural values to dominate the campaign and fails to incorporate the subaltern perspective. Dutta makes us realize that when conducting an analysis of E-E campaigns, “communicative practices built into discursive space of E-E campaigns celebrate and privilege the dominant power structure,” which effectively marginalizes the subaltern perspective.

Dutta convinces us that we need to define the problem from a value-based perspective. While I agree with Dutta’s argument completely, the lingering question remains; if we do allow the subaltern view to define the problem, will sponsors be willing to fund these projects that may not coincide with their definition of the problem? Funding is always major issue in development and the pessimist in me wonders if agencies will continue to support projects they feel do not address the problems in a way that is pleasing to them. Dutta makes some attempt to address this by stating that the discussion of “agency in the Third World actor should be a starting point for interrogating E-E campaigns, locating such campaigns under the broader strategic goals of funding agencies.” I agree that this would be ideal, but Dutta leaves me wondering what it would take to shift the perspective of agencies to adopt this alternative way of defining the problem.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Entertainment Education and Soft Power

The last time I tuned into my favorite TV show or watched a movie, the farthest thing from my mind was the type of education I was receiving. I'm also making the assumption that when most Americans settle down on the couch for their favorite night on television; they aren't thinking "boy, what do these TV shows do to "disseminate ideas to bring about behavioral and social change"? As entertainment education is further studied and considered as a medium to spread messages to developing populations, I couldn't help but wonder...are we using TV shows as a new form of soft power?

In the readings about strategic communication, one point became very clear. If the United States wants to increase its credibility, maybe we should focus on our own faults - allowing critique from outside sources, being open to criticisms, and changing our communication style to accept these new ideas. Entertainment Education would certainly allow us to improve these attributes. Our society has become more open to change and diversity and this can be seen in the TV shows that consume our lives. One example is the new ABC sitcom, Modern Family. This popular show is one of the first to display the new version of the the family: "Modern Family is the first primetime sitcom that has embraced American society as a true melting pot. Homosexual and interracial couples, are now practically as common as traditional couples and the show is all about living and coinciding together" Perhaps shows like Modern Family are increasing our soft power so that populations that view the United States’ culture as unfavorable are now seeing through our entertainment style, us in a positive light.
Maybe, if we found a way to export the comedian Jeff Dunham (complete with his terrorist puppet, Achmed), The Daily Show, Modern Family, Family Guy, and a whole multitude of others….we could use soft power in a way never used before.

E-E, the dependency paradigm, and population control: The perfect storm?

I found this week's group of readings about communication in development very, very interesting. I especially liked Dutta's article, "Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique." Considering that I had never heard the term "subaltern," I had a lot to learn, but I quickly came to realize through my reading that national elites and governments should be treating these under-served, silenced communities with a greater degree of sensitivity than they are. The way to improve their treatment, Dutta argues, is not through the current modus operandi of entertainment education (E-E) campaigns.

Dutta's central criticism of E-E ventures today is that they are of a top-down nature: governments and elites, and the developed nations, disseminate their views on less-developed populations and nations under the assumption that what worked for one population will work for another. As he explains, "...E-E campaigns operate in an uneven field with information and communication flowing from the core nations to the periphery nations, often imposing the worldview of the core nations on the actors in the periphery." This statement echoes perfectly Amin and Cardoso's dependency paradigm that we discussed in Professor Levinson's class early this semester. According to the paradigm, exploitative processes (in this case ignoring the opinions of subaltern populations, thus taking advantage of their lack of power) originate in the core and then impact the periphery.

In Dutta's view, E-E programs, under the guise of reducing poverty and bringing about social change, actually aim to use subaltern populations for the core nation's hegemonic, transnational commercial interests: "...E-E becomes the machinery for oppression of the poor in the Third World by pushing transnational capitalism." He cites USAID as his main example in this view. I am not an international development expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I knew next to nothing about their E-E programs and their influence on developing economies and populations. While I would want to read more about its policies before forming a conclusive opinion, I do think that these programs need to shift to a more bottom-up model in order to be more successful and to truly bring about social and economic change.

I do, though, have to take issue with one point of Dutta's. His section on population control as an objective of USAID's E-E campaigns argues that "population control programs embody other ideological biases that underlie their conceptualization" of being a means toward economic growth in developing countries. These ideological biases are against subaltern groups as E-E message receivers, argues Dutta, and focusing on population control as a solution only perpetuates the idea of the subaltern as undesirable, at the bottom of the class system heap. While his arguments in this context are valid, he then seems to dismiss population control entirely as a solution to anything. He doesn't acknowledge its merits in any context. To me this felt somewhat irresponsible. Okay, so in the context of his argument against current E-E campaigns, population control doesn't work. But I think he should have at least provided an example of a context in which population control does work. It's common knowledge that in many developing countries, women are more likely to have large families, which can lead to more poverty (more mouths to feed and as a result less money to do it with) and health problems, even premature death, for the mother. Population control in and of itself is not a bad thing. It can lead to better family planning and maternal health education and help stop the vicious cycle of too many children and not enough food. It's just the context of it in this case that is bad. Dutta just seemed too quick to entirely dismiss it for me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Old Wine in a New Bottle

Melkote’s article takes us deep into a serious analysis of development theories – somewhat drowning in academic, intellectual terms. His to-the-point punchline, however, was saved until the conclusion. Here, Melkote concludes that “it is usually futile and may be unethical for communication and human service professionals to help solve minor and/or immediate problems while ignoring the systemic barriers erected by societies that permit or perpetuate inequalities among citizens.” He goes on to say the work of many in the development world can be chalked up as “ineffective” and “superficial” when not taking this into account. Melkote seems to be taking the “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever” line a step further by removing the option of even giving the fish.

The question still remains, however, that we don’t agree on how to solve these systemic barriers. (Also, Melkote makes it clear that to even assume we should be the one’s solving others problems is part of the problem itself.) Yikes. So many problems, and no straight-forward solutions. This makes IC seem a lot less scary than ID.

Fisher’s descriptions of Raymond’s concept of the Cathedral and the Bazaar resonated with me. Raymond’s frank assertion that the open-sourced, Bazaar approach is “anarchic, messy, rude, and vastly more powerful than the doomed bullshit that conventionally passes for wisdom.” This is very true – and exactly what makes it so scary. As part of a large volunteer chorus, we are often called upon to help promote our concerts. With the advent of online networks, this has markedly changed the tools with which we can promote our work. When our administrative office sends out a concert image, a special offer, or new information on a performance, a quick stream of choristers add the information to their Facebook pages – with their own thoughts tacked on. This is the risk organizations take: by allowing (and encouraging) promotion by their extended communities, they remove their (often perceived) control of the spin. The net result, however, can be more effective than any slick, controlled message they would distribute on their own. Fisher further confirms this example by noting that charitable and volunteer organizations are smart to use enthusiasts to promote them, as their efforts are based on interests rather than financial reward. This, too, has been evidenced by my chorus. When asked to promote concerts that we haven’t been particularly excited about, our status updates remain blank, our images static. When we are inspired, though, our interest is evident in our promotion.

Finally, Corman’s article on the success and failures of media systems provided some interesting insight. By assuming that communication is the transfer of meanings from person to person, communicators are neglecting the fact that message received is the one that counts – not the one that was sent. In his description of Karen Hughes’ “listening tour” of the Middle East it is clear that she neglected this fact. Perhaps she should have focused a little bit more on the “listening” part of the tour?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Public Diplomacy

This weeks readings proved to be quite interesting and I particularly enjoyed Joseph Nye’s article entitled, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power.” There are two points in particular that I found to be quite interesting.

First, I found Nye’s discussion of the “paradox of plenty” to be interesting. “Paradox of plenty” means that “when people are overwhelmed with the volume of information confronting them, it is hard for them to know what to focus on.” He then states that those who can distinguish what is valuable from the massive amount of information will gain power. This reminds me of a previous discussion we had in class about teaching people media literacy. In order to develop informed opinions, people should learn how to critically analyze the information they receive. Similarly, I believe that having “plenty” of information is not necessarily the issue, but rather, educating the public on how to extract what is relevant is.

Secondly, Nye makes the argument that a dimension of public diplomacy should include the “development of lasting relationships.” In particular, he uses the example of exchange programs to highlight his point. As an alumna of the Japanese exchange program to which he refers, I can personally attest to the benefits of these programs. While incorporating these programs into a country’s public diplomacy efforts is important, the key to their success lies in having an alumni association, or some way for participants to keep in touch after they complete the program. Without this type of connection, a government will not be able to harness the goodwill that was experienced during the program into something that is beneficial for them in the long-term. Additionally, I think that more exchange programs should require the participants to educate their home community upon returning. These community education programs should focus on building a greater cross-culture appreciation, which is currently lacking in our nation. While some programs do this, unfortunately, many of them do not. Only when the citizens of the “sending country” are educated about other cultures can the mutual understanding process that is crucial for the success of public diplomacy begin to take place.

Public Diplomacy vs. Placido Domingo

I had a bit of an identity crisis when taking notes on these readings. In creating my own shorthand for the repeating IC terms in these essays, I turned “public diplomacy” into “PD” – and realized that since I’ve lived in DC, this was an abbreviation I’ve always used for Placido Domingo. When I first moved here it was to work at Washington National Opera; we all had arts backgrounds and we shuffled back and forth between our office in the Watergate and performances in the Kennedy Center. We didn’t talk much about politics and considered Placido Domingo more of a celebrity than any politician we encountered. In changing my field to work in international communication/education, I’ve worried about neglecting this part of my background. Reading Joseph Nye and others talk about the various forms of soft power, however, I was happily reminded that there is room for a meaningful coexistence of these interests. In reading about cultural exchanges, I even remembered that while I worked at the Opera our artists spent weeks performing as part of the “Great American Voices Military Base Tour”. While I didn’t think much of it at the time (besides wondering how entertaining these performances would be for our troops), it is interesting to note this unique collaboration between state and non-state actors – between the Department of Defense and OPERA America with funding from Boeing.

Glassman’s speech provided a number of concrete examples of State Department efforts in public diplomacy. While impressed with the modern use of technology, it was refreshing to hear him clarify that “Public Diplomacy 2.0 is a new approach, not a new technology”. I clearly favor what Nye describes as the “slow media of cultural diplomacy” – found through arts, books, and exchanges and resulting in a “trickle-down effect”, while much of what we learn about relates to the “fast information media”, promising “more immediate and visible bang for bucks.” Technology certainly provides the means, but it doesn’t replace the need for effective communication.

I really got into the Powers and Gilboa article on Al-Jazeera. I was largely unfamiliar with Al-Jazeera until I befriended a number of Yemenese students in a language class. During every class break, they would gather round the shared computers to catch up on the news. They explained the approach of the station to me, which was re-iterated in this article. There was an honesty in the approach of the “opinion and the other opinion” reporting that I could appreciate. While the article highlights many of the criticisms of their methods and their negative outcomes, I was struck by the Al-Jazeera reporter’s quote that he “is adamantly against the notion of neutrality. There is no such thing as a neutral journalist or a neutral media for that matter.” By providing two opposing opinions, this seemingly makes an attempt to balance out two non-neutral opinions and leave the viewer faced with choosing what is correct. (Problems arise, of course, when one “opinion” is not just an opinion – it is a factual representation of something that is happening. Or if there happen to be more than two viable opinions on an issue.)

The article closes by intimating that Al-Jazeera is providing a communications strategy that reflects the new public diplomacy, one that “blurs traditional distinctions between…public and traditional diplomacy, and between cultural diplomacy, marketing and news management.” The authors tip their hats to Nye’s concept of soft power, and close with a mention of our favorite concept: glocalization. (And speaking of Nye, it was great to finally read his Soft Power article after seeing so many references to it.) Finally, Price’s article provided a number of surprises: among them the first academic citation of a Washington Times article that I’ve ever seen, but also a number of welcome Midwest shout-outs, including an extended description of the Dayton Peace Accords and a re-cap of Sen. Carl Levin’s Bosnian efforts.