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.


  1. Zainabu, I wondered the same thing. Much like the Bazaar example in the Cathedral vs. Bazaar comparision, this idea of opening up a discussion but allowing the participants to come to their own conclusions could have messy consequences. What organizations would be willing to both pay for and facilitate these open-ended experiments? However, he also argues that earlier programs that did have specific goals in mind weren't always successful, either, so because of both this and the fact that this approach comes from a less "cultural imperialistic" viewpoint, perhaps it is worth encouraging agencies to try.

  2. I agree with you Zainabu, they wee the most interesting readings of the semester! And I think Dutta has stumbled upon a very important discovery, if these programs are supposed to be helping the development of developing countries it would be logical to actually visualize the problems from a subaltern point-of-view, which in the end are the people E-E campaigns should be helping. Instead, in creating and implementing the programs the campaign creators take a Western look at the problems to be solved, resulting in ineffective and useless programs.