MAZI Articles

CFSC Analysis and Opinion: Developing a Unique Proposal for Communication for Development in Latin America by Luis Peirano

Describing the history and philosophy underlying the methods he and his colleagues use in training communication practitioners, Luis Peirano, dean of the School of Communication Arts and Sciences of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, explains their deep conviction that development is feasible in their country. Peirano's co-author here, Hugo Aguirre, is coordinator of the communication for development department of the School of Communication Arts and Sciences. The following was presented at the Consortium's global university network meeting at the University of Philippines-Los Baños, in September 2005.

Communication for Social Change and Development: The Peruvian Experience

Studies on communication processes in Latin America have historically demonstrated, firstly, a creative confluence between several approaches originating in schools of social science developed in the United States and Europe.

However, the main characteristic of communication for development studies and praxis is marked by the effort to develop a unique proposal to respond to the particular demands of this difficult area of social work.

The region's own historical conditions, and the fact that the attempts to apply such theories and models met with a series of setbacks and failures, made it necessary to adapt or reformulate established models and techniques.

Actual practice of communication for development during the course of the past 50 years has permeated academic development studies, driving the few schools that teach this discipline to create interdisciplinary curricula or programs where theory and practice are harmoniously combined.

Communication for development as a university major is relatively recent in Per ú , though its origins date back a few decades in the history of Peruvian university studies.

In the mid-20th century, there were attempts at the Universidad Agraria de La Molina to establish communication studies specialising in agriculture, in an effort to incorporate innovations. One of the pioneers in this effort was Luis Ramiro Beltrán, who was committed to disseminating in his own country, Bolivia, and within the rest of Latin America, what he had learned in the United States.

However, though his contribution and that of other pioneers was fundamental, academic institutions did not respond appropriately, and the attempt did not make any substantial progress.

The Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos were involved in this pioneer stage of communication studies. The first school of journalism was created at PUCP in 1945; the school of social sciences was created in 1966. Journalism schools were the only alternative at the time. Then, due to the growth of local audiences and the appearance of mass printed media, the need arose to develop social communication specialists.

Unique Characteristics of the Development of Social Communication in Perú

Though the Anglo-Saxon paradigm has prevailed in the development of communication studies derived from journalism, initial mass communication endeavours, the Spanish cultural heritage, the significant presence in the population of Quechua culture and language, as well as the diversity and cultural plurality of the Peruvian population, have required the development of different alternatives to handle communication needs.

Obviously, the efforts to generate local and regional educational alternatives could not be made by simply extrapolating lecture content from countries North of Latin America. The degree of failure that experiences using this perspective have had is undeniable.

There has been strong controversy in Latin American academic circles with respect to Marxist ideological-epistemic matrixes and European culturalist influences, as well as with respect to North American functionalist pragmatism, where one of them prevailed or an attempt was made to take from each what appeared more convenient or applicable.

But, above all, the diffusionist approach has prevailed through communication for development courses and campaigns promoted by international and regional entities. It has survived until today as an echo of many development organizations' unavoidable need to use models that guarantee, at least in appearance, some level of efficiency and control. This persistence is visible in health communication interventions, in communication for settlement of conflicts and in communication related to behavioural changes applied to, mainly, areas as dissimilar as agricultural development, environmental protection, education, population control and the fight against drugs.

The limitations and failures of many communication for development projects resulted in the need to train social development professionals and to propose hybrid theories and mechanisms for learning and for analysing and transforming reality.

The appropriation of foreign epistemologies and methodologies, their adaptation to contexts that are complex, multicultural and marked by unequal progress towards development, and unstable economic and political environments exerted a natural pressure on academic institutions to promote a more comprehensive and integrative effort to cover the need for professional communicators.

The Universidad de Lima took the risk of opening the first comprehensive communications school more than three decades ago. A few years later, in the mid-1980s, it changed its curriculum to include advertising, journalism, audiovisual media and film majors. It was not till a decade later that they introduced the communication for development major, offering an integrative approach that gathered Latin American experience and academic production, as well as the alternative and popular communication concerns studied and promoted by some of their most distinguished faculty members, efficient translators of the proposals made by pioneers in the field.

Since then, some 20 public and private Peruvian universities have taken on the risk of creating professional training programs for communicators, though the majority limit themselves to the traditional journalism and advertising majors.

In the last 20 years, a career in social communication has become one of the most attractive for thousands of young Peruvians, who massively turned to studying communications and the growing communications job market in the 1980s. Peruvian universities have created programs specialising in this field, even where communication systems are quite precarious and job markets are rather limited, recognising an educational demand due to increasing interest in work fields related to media development.

However, it should be noted that experience in the field of communication for development has been primarily driven by development nongovernmental organizations (DNGO), firstly through a gradual transformation of popular education projects and, immediately after, through alternative popular communication. Rich experience in communication for development would fail to be gathered if the actions of DNGO programs and projects during the 1960s and 1970s were not taken up and evaluated.

During the 1990s, dramatic changes occurred in Lima's media environment. New media with new technologies appeared, cable TV signal coverage grew and some of the communication firms, the largest ones, echoed the global trend and became corporations.

Our School

The School of Communication Sciences and Arts of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú was founded in 1996. Human resources from the university itself and from various academic institutions offering training in communication converged in this effort. This convergence gathered not only a variety of specialists but also a variety of approaches, though with a single integrative and propositional mandate. The School started out with five majors, two of which were daring initiatives: performing arts and communication for development, in addition to journalism, advertising and audiovisual communication.

Since its foundation, four classes have graduated, with more than 800 students currently enroled. The majors offered reflect the vision for communication in Per ú sustained by its promoters. We understand that communication, being the stimulus that incites social relations and individual actions and dreams, must be managed responsibly and rationally, and that accreditation for communicators requires a particular training resulting in women and men who are exceptionally committed to their society. .

Evidently, the educational proposal is still rather too new to see its results. However, with the express resolve to create a school of thought, our concept of communication for development responds to local geographic and cultural dynamics and realities, without prejudice to gathering the best contributions from foreign scholars and pragmatic experts.

Our Proposal

The curriculum provides a flexible structure designed to allow the student to create a professional profile that leverages his or her personal skills and cultural background. It has been developed by professionals whose work experience has led them to design, manage and execute development projects in such a complex sphere as Latin America.

Our curriculum describes the goals of the communication for development major as follows:

Analysis and management of communication strategies are fostered in order to generate or improve interpersonal, group and mass communication processes focused on social development.

Prepare the student to research, design, manage and implement strategies, actions and messages in communication projects and organizations, stressing current issues involving improvement of the quality of life, such as health, education, citizenship and human rights, gender, institutional development, productivity and the environment.

The knowledge gathered during almost eight decades of academic communication studies in North America, Europe and Latin America converges in the communicator for development. It is essential for a communicator for development to have a firm knowledge of this theoretical and practical heritage.

This knowledge is the result of analysing industrial society and the relationships established between cultural industries and mass society, between the meaning of the symbolic interactions driven by people in their communities and the cultural mutations resulting from such contacts. Communicational knowledge and praxis have developed from these communication actions and works and the empirical-functionalist, Marxist, structuralist, culturalist and mediationist approaches that preceded them.

We seek to form a communicator for development who continuously makes an effort to rationalize and take distance both from the orthodox purism of traditional educational sciences, where mediatic communication is concerned, and from the stigmatising reasoning based on social criteria, where commercial communication is concerned.

This allows for developing professionals capable of viewing their context and messages free from prejudice, taking full advantage of the potential afforded by the communicational experience of fields that are not necessarily interested in or limited to social development objectives.

The phenomena of the reality we observe involve the communication between people from various local, regional and global cultures; what people do with the messages produced by communication technologies at the interpersonal, group or mass level.

We observe and intervene in the configuration and expression of public opinion. We interpret and classify citizens in their dealings with the consumer market. We also study and design approaches to persuade consumers to purchase products, ideas or behaviours. Therefore, we do not hold power, but are the instruments of power. We are not ideology; we are the technicians who operate the tools that convey ideology. We are not the message; we are the rhetorical articulators that propose ways of staging the message.

The communicator for development knows communication theories, technologies and practices and uses this knowledge to create planned communication strategies designed to influence citizens' behaviour in order to promote their human and social development.

It is impossible for a social communicator to work alone. Development is a collective process that favours the individual; it is a cross-sectoral and comprehensive dynamic that calls for actions based on consensus and collaborations that are interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and cross-subjective, among others.

The Profile of a Communicator for Development

We hope to develop professionals trained to apply communication concepts and techniques to promoting active participation among citizens in their society's development processes.

The communicator for development is an expert in diagnosing communication problems, planning solutions and monitoring and evaluating results. Communicators for development stand out for their interdisciplinary work capabilities, comprehensive vision of development and methodological know-how.

In addition, communicators for development must be particularly sensitive to local, national and global issues and must have the ability to put themselves in someone else's place, work as a team and lead, mediate and reconcile interests, in addition to having initiative and creativity. They must supplement this with fundamental skills as drivers of communication processes for social change. A communicator for development must seek to promote democratic practices both in organisations and in the relationships between the various development actors.

The profile of a communicator for development is a person with remarkable qualities, not a super hero with clairvoyant knowledge but a person with an amazing charisma and with a fundamental disposition for team-work.

Those with a penchant for monologue, those who are unable to integrate with work teams that include members from the natural and social sciences, cannot be communicators for development. Intolerant personalities are inadmissible.

We call on communicators to "make" a different kind of communication, one not focused on giving the news or media-based creations, but rather on improving the communicative capabilities of communities, transforming people and, thereby, their lives. It is not about informing, but about forming; we wager on proposals that can be maintained over time and space and that may have an effect on cultural, economic and political development.

We necessarily work with interdisciplinary teams involving other communication specialties and seek to make cross-disciplinary proposals on issues such as child welfare, agriculture, health, education, the fight against drugs and mining, among others.

The origin and evolution of the concept of communication for development requires us to avail ourselves of multiple methodological and strategic approaches and of a rational methodological heterodoxy, with diverse sources of funding and with varied systems for evaluating and measuring impacts.

In Short: To Accomplish This Proposal

For our work, we draw on the following approaches, giving graduates the freedom to choose from the various variables used by development institutions:

Diffusionist approach: consistent with empirical/functionalist theories that propose vertical communication models; it involves the use of traditional media packages, including flyers, posters and radio spots.

Social communication approach: a qualitative improvement over the diffusionist approach in that citizens are the social actors who interact with the media and the cultural contexts that condition and mediate in the communication process; this approach gave rise to the era of educational television, for example.

Behavioural change approach: communication as a strategic tool capable of proposing ideal behaviours that may be adopted by those who consider that the new proposed behaviour offers positive benefits; this approach includes advertising and social marketing crossovers, reviewing genres and using soap operas as a narrative mechanism to enter people's lives through melodrama.

Participatory communication approach: consistent with current human- and social-development trends, where a person is the protagonist of his or her own development, the generator of his or her freedom and the driver of his or her own welfare; this is the era of recovery of group, interpersonal and educational communication strategies.

Relational communication approach: considers that communication is the link between the various social dimensions, and that the citizens themselves, as social actors, are the protagonists of the communication processes with which they negotiate. This implies that in contemporary communication there is neither a single dimension nor a single aspect; this is the era of multimedia, fusions and new communication and information technologies (NCIT).

Experience tells us that there is a difference between academic training and its application in the work environment. The number of fields in which one can apply the principles of communication for development has increased considerably, and each presents problems that must be faced carefully and boldly to avoid confusion and repeated errors.

This requires continuously adapting the syllabus to each new circumstance and redefining methodological approaches to guide communication interventions jointly with the other dimensions of development efforts.

Subjects for Reflection and Debate

  • Communication for development nowadays has neither eluded nor released itself from external influences. Usually associated with communicational hyperactivity and obvious saturations, diffusionism continues to brand today's educational-communicational interventions. Though academic debate may try to set boundaries, it is impossible to do away with diffusionism. Therefore, rather than setting it aside, it should be consciously leveraged. It is one of the natural legacies of empirical functionalism.
  • Interculturality and gender are very complex and hard to materialise in the design of communication plans and the actions to be carried out by communicators for development and the interdisciplinary teams with which they work. These issues almost always remain as rhetorical statements rather than actual realities. We have rarely found evidence of the symbiosis that interculturality proposes. Instead, we have found assistentialism camouflaged by concessions, courtesy and distance, where there should have been communion or where integration had been proposed.
  • We have found that there is an insurmountable void, a kind of black hole that the rationality of communicational diagnosis has actually prevented from closing: the creative connection between research in the form of diagnosis and/or baselines, and the communication strategies derived from such research. This is the subjective area that corresponds to the scientific component of the strategic communication planning process. It is the creative moment that links possible impacts with communication materials and actions. This is exacerbated by the dictatorship of time, as always, and the usual social and cultural contingencies.
  • We must draw our attention to clear areas of tension in the field of action of communication for development. We have already mentioned one: the tension between diagnosis and strategies.
  • There are also tensions between communication products or materials and cultures.
  • The tension between evaluations and testing with technicians and audiences.
  • Otherness is also an issue. To communicate is to reach a common ground, to take into account the Other and the Other's space, time, culture and habitat. More often than not, the Other with whom we interact considers us to be necessary and usable intruders (that old theme: "from being the invaders to being invaded").
  • Another equally complex area refers to financial and time conditionalities, as well as to efficiency, which often accelerate and traumatise development processes because they impose alterations in the natural dynamics of development.

As we face the natural complexity of development and of communication at the service of development, we could easily give in to the temptation of believing that these processes are not feasible in countries such as ours.

At the Communication for Development Department of the School of Communication Arts and Sciences of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, we believe in the feasibility of development in our region and trust that we have shared this with our graduates and students. Our educational proposal is currently undergoing an adjustment as a result of feedback from faculty, students, graduates and employers.

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