Family Tree

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Silvio Waisbord, PhD

Prepared for The Rockefeller Foundation

INTRODUCTION This report presents a family tree of theories, concepts, methodologies and strategies for change in the field of development communication. It presents a chronological evolution and comparison of approaches and findings. The goal of this report is to clarify the understandings and the uses of the most influential theories, strategies, and techniques. Theory refers to sets of concepts and propositions that articulate relations among variables to explain and predict situations and results. Theories explain the nature and causes of a given problem and provide guidelines for practical interventions. Diagnoses of problems translate into strategies, that is, specific courses of action for programmatic interventions that use a variety of techniques. Since the 1950s, a diversity of theoretical and empirical traditions has converged in the field of development communication. Such convergence produced a rich analytical vocabulary but also conceptual confusion. The field has not experienced a unilinear evolution in which new approaches superseded and replaced previous ones. Instead, different theories and practices that originated in different disciplines have existed and have been used simultaneously. This report identifies the main theoretical approaches and their practical applications, traces their origins, draws comparisons, and indicates strengths and weaknesses. It also analyzes the main understandings of development communication that express the outlook of the main “trunks” and “branches” of the family tree. DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION Development communication has its origins in post-war international aid programs to countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa that were struggling with poverty, illiteracy, poor health and a lack of economic, political and social infrastructures. Development communication commonly refers to the application of communication strategies and principles in the developing world. It is derived from theories of development and social change that identified the main problems of the post-war world in terms of a lack of development or progress equivalent to Western countries. Development theories have their roots in mid-century optimism about the prospects that large parts of the post-colonial world could eventually “catch-up” and resemble Western countries. After the last remains of European empires in Africa and Asia crumbled in the 1950s and 1960s, a dominant question in policy and academic quarters was how to address the abysmal disparities between the developed and underdeveloped worlds. Development originally meant the process by which Third World societies could become more like Western developed societies as measured in terms of political system, economic growth, and educational levels (Inkeles & Smith 1974). Development was synonymous with political democracy, rising levels of productivity and industrialization, high literacy rates, longer life expectancy, and the like. The implicit assumption was that there was one form of development as expressed in developed countries that underdeveloped societies needed to replicate.


Since then, numerous studies have provided diverse definitions of development communication. Definitions reflect different scientific premises of researchers as well as interests and political agendas of a myriad of foundations and organizations in the development field. Recent definitions state that the ultimate goal of “development communication” is to raise the quality of life of populations, including increase income and well-being, eradicate social injustice, promote land reform and freedom of speech, and establish community centers for leisure and entertainment (Melkote 1991, 229). The current aim of development communication is to remove constraints for a more equal and participatory society....
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