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Roots and Relevance: Introduction to the CFSC Anthology

Order the CFSC Anthology

After many years studying, teaching, discussing, writing, practicing and analysing the field of work known as Communication for Social Change (CFSC), we at the Communication for Social Change Consortium realized a gaping hole remains in the compilation of literature on this subject. Because the field has evolved from the work of - numerous scholars and practitioners from varied backgrounds and disciplines, currently there is no central reference where people can go to learn about the theoretical evolution of this field.

We wanted to fill the void. We spent two years looking at the evolution of CFSC, reviewing the literature and answering the question: "Which thinkers and writers contributed to the formation of the key ideas and ideals of CFSC?"¯ Early on, we formed an editorial advisory committee, which met at the Bellagio Study and Conference Centre, in Italy, to plan the scope of work. We came up with initial suggestions of seminal thinkers and, following that meeting, dozens of leading communication academics worldwide added their own suggestions.

For the first time, we have in one place a picture of how CFSC-type thinking was born, how the discipline has matured, which disciplines contributed to CFSC theory and how these contributions have influenced current thinking and practice.

Producing this book was an inclusive, participatory effort by many scholars from five continents. We worked hard to find the writings and work of authors who may not be particularly well known in English-speaking countries or in the industrialised world. Whereas they might have been considered "fringe"¯ to students and teachers in rich industrialised countries, many of these people are renowned among academia in Latin America, Africa or Asia.

The writings of the more than 150 authors form this book's collage of ideas. The diversity of styles, opinions and backgrounds is deliberate: we have retained as much of the original styles and formatting as is practical.

This is in keeping with the key values of communication for social change: valuing all voices and giving people the space to tell their own stories in their own ways. No one approach or theory dominates: the reader is exposed to a wide variety of thinking from which he or she must form his or her own beliefs.

As CFSC proponents, we believe that this approach must be mirrored in development. No longer should experts from outside of communities dictate predetermined solutions to pressing social needs. Most people -- with the chance to come together and discuss problems, determine solutions together and plan ways to address their problems "“ can come up with workable answers. For the most part, communication processes which allow people themselves to define who they are, what they want and need, and how they will work together to improve their lives are more appropriate ways to address complex social issues.

Dialogue is at the heart of communication for social change. It gives people from diverse backgrounds the chance to share ideas, inform others, persuade some "“and first and foremost to listen. This book, therefore, offers the reader a rich mixture of ideas to consider. We offer a broad array of concepts to demonstrate CFSC's dominant attributes, how they evolved, how useful and applicable they are"”and to illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of this work.

It is an academic book, but not only for the academic world. We want to acknowledge the importance of practice as inspiration for theoretical work. Many people contribute important and interesting experiences by working in development and by perfecting principles of communication for social change, often without labelling them as such. We've chosen to produce a book based on theory, yet we wanted also to make it important reading for CFSC practitioners, aid workers and policymakers.

We were particularly keen to select texts that advance the critical values of communication for social change and share the beliefs that participatory communication is essential to developing societies. Many of the authors we selected may not use these words, but, when assembled together, their writings have a central focus.

You will find within these pages ideas current today"”even though they were written in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. We expect that their inclusion will spark reflection, discourse and debate about voice, participation, and democratic principles and their value to current development thinking.

This anthology has two sections: historical perspectives and contemporary readings. Beginning in 1927 with Bertolt Brecht's piece "The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication"¯ to 1995, the first section of the book reveals the historical roots of CFSC principles and pioneering thinking. One sees quite clearly the significant contributions from Asia and Latin America in the earliest years of communication for development. Despite such contributions, the dominant voices in the earliest years came from North American and European scholars, in no small part due to their ability to write in English, the language used by faculty at the largest and best-funded universities of the time.

For the first time here, a number of key texts have been translated into English. While academics and students in non-English speaking nations have read classic communication texts by scholars in the United States from the beginning, authors from developing regions were often overlooked. We believe this book, by translating into English many of these authors, minimises that imbalance and takes a more enlightened, equitable approach.

The second section showcases texts published since 1995, covering 10 years of intensive contributions to the new field of communication for social change. The 80 or so works included in this section are organised thematically:
- Paradigms in Communication for Development
- Popular Culture and Identity
- Social Movements and Community Participation
- Power, Media and the Public Sphere
- Information Society and Communication Rights

Roots: Historical Readings

A walk through the looking glass of paradigms

It is important to describe the context in which the various paradigms of communication for development and social change have evolved since the 1960s in order to better understand the cyclical nature of current debate. While this is not a literature review, we've included selections of innovative thinking to illustrate the evolution of concepts such as participatory communication and social change. Many of the writers broke new ground in the earlier years; those who followed later also added new insights.

The systematic use of communication tools in development programmes started after the Second World War and developed in different directions according to the various geographic, cultural, social and economic contexts. Development communication models have been around since the 1950s, some as a result of academic study and others inspired by fieldwork. Models often developed concurrently and in parallel with each other, with marked and irreconcilable differences. We have seen recently more of a tendency to close the gaps and foster convergence of previously divergent models and approaches.

Two main threads dominate five decades of development communication. The first is modernisation. Communication models inspired by modernisation theories developed primarily as information strategies, first used by the U.S. Government during the Second World War and then by an industrial sector struggling to position its post-war products. The second thread is dependency. Dependency theory-based models of communication emerged in the heat of the social and political struggles against colonial and dictatorial powers in Third World [developing] countries.

Models based on modernisation theories support the expansion of markets for products and the assimilation of large numbers of marginalised people. Persuasion, information dissemination, and diffusion of innovation and technologies are most often used. These are generally vertical approaches, mostly generated in the research laboratories of private corporations, marketing agencies and university departments. The main premise of these approaches is that information and knowledge, per se, generate development. In this view, local culture and traditions are "barriers"¯ for Third World countries to reach levels of development similar to those of industrialised countries. Perhaps due to their funding by U.S. government agencies, they appear to be linked to U.S. foreign policy. Such modernisation approaches have dominated international cooperation for several decades.

Conversely, the approaches that emerged from the independence struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America are intimately linked to political and social events, and in a larger sense, to values and expressions of cultural identity. Their main premise is that the underlying causes of underdevelopment are structural and have to do with land tenure, lack of collective civil liberties, oppression of indigenous cultures, and social inequity, among other political and social challenges. These communication models promote social change rather than individual behaviour change. They suggest actions that emerge from the communities and not just for the communities. The involvement of local stakeholders is considered essential in the entire spectrum of such alternative, horizontal and participatory communication models. The right to communicate and the ownership of the communication process are at the heart of these approaches.

Modernisation Theories and Models

Based on their technological and economic supremacy, industrialised countries promulgated, for many years, the belief that the poorest nations are somehow responsible for their fate. Models based on modernisation theories "“dominant even today in many development organisations -- suggest that local traditions prevent developing nations from leapfrogging towards modernity. Such theories suggest implicitly that every poor country should aspire to achieve materially, as has been the case with industrialised countries. To do so, developing countries must shed beliefs and cultural practices that hinder modernisation.

Such models attach foremost importance to economic and technological progress; they advocate that a better life is the corollary of increased agricultural and industrial productivity. Therefore, the introduction of new technologies and knowledge will help poor, illiterate and "ignorant"¯ peasants to modernise. This premise suggests that knowledge is a privilege of rich countries"”and that poor nations lack it; that transfer of information will improve the lives of the poor. The underlying assumption is that "information-poor"¯ people are poor because of a knowledge deficit. If only development strategists could massively provide the world's poor people essential information, such people would be able to produce more, boost family incomes, integrate better into the society and be happier.

This concept of massively sharing innovations, called diffusion theory -- from knowledge centres in the United States and Europe with less-advanced rural populations in Asia, Africa and Latin America -- generated one of the most lasting communication paradigms in development. Everett Rogers, often referred to as a communication pioneer, was a key proponent for much of his career. Later in his life, Rogers re-evaluated his positions and began to write and promote participatory approaches as well as diffusion theory.

The diffusion of innovation model was first applied to agriculture in the 1960s, when donor agencies believed that increasing agricultural productivity was the development priority. Increasing crop production by introducing new technologies would curb hunger in the Third World. Surplus food produced in developing countries could also supply food markets in industrialised countries with cheap agricultural products. What we now term "banana republic,"¯ implying economic, social and political dysfunction, is an expression of this conceptualisation.

In some cases, powerful media strategies were used with overt political aims. Guatemala is a good example. The U.S. intervention in 1951 promoted a military coup against the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. New measures were established to stop land reform and facilitate the concentration of productive land in the hands of a small sector of the white minority, leaving the majority of the indigenous population landless. Since then, 65 percent of productive land is in the hands of 2.1 percent of Guatemalans. In an attempt to validate the process of counter-reform in the eyes of the general population, the US Information Agency (USIA) used all possible means -- radio, television, film, posters, brochures and interpersonal communication -- to persuade the Mayan majority to accept the measures dictated by the U.S.-backed military dictatorship.

Widely adopted throughout Latin America, the dissemination of innovation model ended up benefiting large terratenientes [landowners] far more than poor peasants. History has shown that development is accelerated not so much by the acquisition of information, but rather is dependent upon structural issues such as land ownership and human rights. Even armed with useful information, poor peasants usually do not break the vicious cycles of social injustice and exploitation.

Diffusion of innovation led to social marketing, which is widely embraced today. Proponents argue that the approach originated in an attempt by industry and academia to be more sensitive to social issues. In the political context of the late 1960s, characterised by demonstrations against the Vietnam War, against racism and for civil liberties, both the U.S. administration and the private sector recognised the need to respond to a demanding social agenda.

Today, social marketing has its most fervent proponents within the health sector, mirroring the affection the agriculture sector had with diffusion of innovation theory. Social marketing is frequently favoured by development professionals interested in supporting policy agendas of the world's power brokers: the G-8 nations primarily. Even before AIDS erupted as the world's major health priority, health workers were using social marketing techniques to promote family planning and reproductive health behaviours.

Population explosion was considered a catastrophe for this planet. Rising birth rates, especially among people living in poverty, is a threat to rich countries, which see their borders invaded by huge numbers of immigrants from the South seeking work. For 50 years, social marketing programs have addressed family planning and population growth; today social marketing is applied to the AIDS pandemic, with very limited success. Such initiatives promote condom use and safe sex absent consideration of the social conditions in which people are making decisions.

Mass media is essential to social marketing campaigns. With strong roots in commercial marketing and advertising, radio and televisions campaigns are used to "sell"¯ a version of harmony and happiness worldwide. Product marketing strategies, such as those used to sell Coca Cola, are exported by social marketing aficionados to convince people to buy the latest icon of safety and good health: a condom. Attractive messages, often featuring famous role models, use state-of-the-art technology to persuade rather than to educate.

Individual behaviour change is the goal of social marketing. Implicit is the belief that traditions and cultural patterns of behaviour in poor countries prevent people from living better lives. Local cultures are seen as barriers to modernisation, and collective cohesion delays changes in attitudes, which is why the individual is targeted as a "champion"¯ of change within his/her own community. Too often, people from commercial advertising agencies conduct social marketing campaigns. This trend is alien to social development and perhaps more effective with urban "clients"¯ than with people living in poor rural communities.

Planners who lack knowledge and sensitivity to the local context have, at times, inadvertently made bad situations worse. In the 1970s, a worldwide boycott was sparked due to promotion of infant formulas in poor regions of the developing world. Responding to the marketing goals of a multinational corporation, promoting infant formula actually worsened the plight of poor people. The campaigns persuaded mothers that mixable formula was as good as breast milk. Yet families lacking access to clean water and proper refrigeration actually made their babies sick when using local water supplies to mix the formulas. It took years to turn around this disaster and to encourage some mothers in poorer countries to begin breastfeeding their babies again.1

Health promotion, often a variation of behavioural change strategies, emphasizes the role of health workers in the health education process. Despite sometimes using innovative interpersonal communication, health promotion primarily focuses on disease, not on communication about health. Issues of poverty, discrimination or social inequity are not factors.

By the late 1970s, we began to see proponents of dissemination, diffusion, social marketing and health promotion approaches reviewing their assumptions, especially looking for ways to account for the influence of culture and tradition on social change. Some communication theorists acknowledged that their original models were based more on psychology of individuals than on political and socio-cultural factors. Thus in some ways we were witnessing validation of the criticisms levelled by proponents of participatory approaches.

The marriage between social marketing and entertainment gave rise to the edutainment approach. Because of its flexibility and capacity for adaptation to local cultural contexts, edutainment has been very successful in some countries. Edutainment applies techniques of the spectacle to awareness raising and education, using dramatic radio or TV soap operas, pop songs, theatre, print stories and attractive posters to impart socially relevant messages and to spark communication.

The experience of South Africa's "Soul City"¯ is perhaps the best-known example of large-scale edutainment. The priorities are decided locally, as well as the communication tools. Mass media are a means to spark community-level dialogue and understanding, yet they are never considered "silver bullets."¯

Some of the most valuable outgrowths of the edutainment approach are the networks and social organizations of people who come together because of their shared interest in a particular social issue highlighted in a programme or song.

Dependency theories and approaches to communication

Since the 1940s, Third World countries have experienced liberation and anti-colonial struggles in Africa and anti-dictatorship movements in Latin America and Asia. With the struggles for liberation and independence, intellectuals emerged who asserted that underdevelopment and poverty are not merely the result of ancestral cultural defects. They have resulted due to a system of exploitation of poor nations by rich ones and of enormous social inequalities between rich and poor people within each nation.

Structural reasons"”political, economic, social, cultural and legal"”explain the causes of underdevelopment and poverty. Social and political action led to the emergence of countless experiences of alternative and participatory communication within marginalised communities, urban as well as rural. These experiences sought to claim spaces for expression and to empower collective voices. They grew without relying on any existing communication models, and, in fact, the theory grew out of the practice. Such participatory ways of working are known by various names including popular, horizontal, dialogical, alternative, participatory or endogenous communication. All involve principles critical to what we now know as communication for social change.

In 1980, UNESCO released Many Voices, One World, known as the MacBride report. (Excerpts from the conclusions are in this anthology). The report revealed alarming data about control of information on a global scale. Just two United States- based print news agencies at that time controlled two-thirds of the world's news and information flow. There were no national or regional news agencies in Africa, Asia or Latin America offering alternative perspectives. Large media conglomerates"”which, today, are even larger"”monopolised daily and weekly publications, as well as radio and television stations. The report sparked much debate about the influence of rich countries on the hearts and minds of the world's people. Political debate about the implications of the report, and the actions termed the New World Information and Communication Order contributed to the United States and the United Kingdom withdrawing as UNESCO members. [ The United Kingdom rejoined UNESCO in 1997, and the United States rejoined in 2003.]

Development communication prospered beginning around 1970, especially within key U.N. agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Development communication and the diffusion of innovations theory are complementary. Both are used effectively in rural settings and both promote the introduction of new technology for improving agricultural and livestock production. Development communication emphasizes the need to establish two-way knowledge flow and information exchange between rural communities and technocrats, rather than one-way "transfer of knowledge."¯ Development communication not only values local knowledge, but it also promotes the strengthening of traditional forms of social organisation in which communication is empowering, and it respects local cultures.

Alternative communication, also known as radical media, emerged as a number of unconnected experiences throughout the world. Seen as nonconformist efforts, alternative communication promotes the right to communicate and taking possession of communication space in neo-colonial, neo-liberal and repressive societies. Alternative communication media spring up, as peasants, workers, students, miners, women, youth, indigenous people and other politically marginalised people develop their own communication tools, since they have no possibility of accessing the State's or the private sector's mass media. Social groups"”who share ideology, needs and a desire to raise their voices"”establish community radio stations, popular journals, street theatre troupes and, sometimes, local television channels. Often, because they upset the dominant private media and conservative governments, they are victims of repression.

Bolivia's miners' radio is a paradigmatic example. The fundamental aspect of alternative communication is the appropriation of communication tools for the benefit of marginalised people. The concept goes beyond the ownership of media and technology; it is not simply a matter of owning the tools, e.g., a radio station, a newspaper or a television channel, but also a question of gaining a piece of, or appropriating, the communication process, including content design, management and decision-making.

Evolution of Communication for Social Change

Communication for social change is a way of thinking and practice that puts people in control of the means and content of communication processes. Based on dialogue and collective action, CFSC is a process of public and private dialogue through which people determine who they are, what they need and what they want in order to improve their lives. It has at its heart the assumption that affected people understand their realities better than any "experts"¯ from outside their society, and that they can become the drivers of their own change.

The CFSC Consortium, among others, has been refining the assumptions and practice of CFSC, looking at how CFSC is taught and learned, how thinking has evolved, where and why communication for social change works, how to monitor and assess impact and effectiveness, and how to document social change within social groupings or communities. Principles underlying CFSC ways of working include voice and participation, unleashing unheard or marginalised voices, equity and justice. The theoretical formulation continues to evolve, but finds supportive theory within anthropology, social justice and community building fields.

With communication for social change the process is key: It highlights the critical two-way nature of communication during which people and communities come together in dialogue, listening and responding. The products, or dissemination of messages, are merely by-products of the communication process. Like participatory communication, CFSC attaches importance to the appropriation of the communication process, not just the content of the information. Communication for social change builds upon local knowledge and traditions, basing the communication process on the societal realities in place within an affected community.

The driving forces of communication for social change can be synthesized as follows:

  • Social change can be sustained if individuals and communities affected own the means, content and methods of communication.
  • Communication for social change is horizontal and strengthens community bonds by amplifying the voices of the people who are poorest.
  • People within poor communities must be the protagonists for their own change and manage their own communication tools.
  • Rather than focusing on persuasion and information dissemination, communication for social change promotes dialogue among equal voices, and debate and negotiation within communities.
  • The results of the communication for social change process go beyond individual behaviour and consider the influence of social norms, values, current policies, culture and the overall development context.
  • Communication for social change strives to strengthen cultural identity, trust, commitment, voice, ownership, community engagement and empowerment.
  • CFSC rejects the linear model of information transmission from a central sender to an individual receiver, and relies instead on a cyclical process of interactions focused on shared knowledge and collective action.

Communication for social change is a living process, one that's highly dependent upon context, conditions and the culture within which it evolves. Essential characteristics include:

1. Community participation and ownership

Far too many communication projects in the context of development fail due to lack of participation and commitment of the subjects/agents of change. Access to information and to media is insufficient.

2. Language and cultural relevance

For decades, development programmes and communication strategies forced on Third World nations were designed in laboratories of industrialised countries. Models, messages, formats and techniques are applied, without adaptations, to different cultures or circumstances. Cultural interaction is healthy when it happens within a framework of equity and respect, through dialogue, debate and solidarity. When power dynamics within societies make one culture dominant over others, true dialogue between cultures is limited. Communication for social change addresses the imbalance by supporting marginalised voices and promoting dialogue across differences.

3. Creating local content

Vertical models of communication for development assume poor communities in developing nations lack knowledge. The communication for social change process acknowledges the specificity of each culture and language; moreover, it supports local knowledge as a way of gaining legitimacy. While access to information generated in industrialised countries is often seen as a silver bullet, communication for social change reinforces creation of local content and revival of traditional, indigenous knowledge.

4. Using appropriate technology

Fascination with technological innovation, often presented as the sine qua non condition for development, can lead towards greater dependency. Many projects fail because they are reliant on technology that people are unable to pay for, to renew or to control. Communication for social change promotes processes, not technologies. When in use, technology must meet the real needs of the people who are affected, and it must be owned or controlled by them.

5. Network and convergence

Once people in a community use dialogue processes and collective action to address their concerns and come up with solutions to their development challenges, it is important that they apply what they've learned to new situations and share their learning among networks of people with similar concerns.

1 The Nestle boycott.

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