Thursday, December 3, 2009

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.


  1. Christina, I agree with you. I think population control to some extent has merit. Dutta does not provide us with any viable solutions as to how to use communication to address the issue in an unbiased manner. Maybe the point of his article was just to highlight the problem... Maybe he is leaving the job of solutions up to the health communication scholars and practitioners.

  2. I also agree with you Christina, on the point of population control. The author does take a very negative and maybe even hostile approach when speaking of the USAID's plans for population control. Dutta probably just concentrated on the fact that this option does not help the effectiveness of E-E campaigns and that it is not the only way to achieve development, as we have seen it is not at all successful in this context. They should probably also focus on strategies to provide the marginalized populations they are trying to help, with the basic necessities that lack in their lives right now, such as food, clothing, and shelter.