Wednesday, December 12, 2012

America Against the World?

As the semester comes to a close on the topic of public diplomacy I would like to draw attention to the relationship between the United States and the United Nations. I recently came across a leftist article titled Globophobia: America Against the World, it is an OP-ED about the U.S Senate voting down the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty designed to extend the same rights disabled Americans already have to the rest of the world.

This piece quickly caught my attention because it highlighted a headline in the Yakima Herald “Senate Vote a Profile in Cowardice” The author then goes on to speak how if that’s how the people in Yakima imagine how it look to the other 114 nations that have ratified this treaty.  This brings me to the question of the importance of soft power among our United States Senate. Aren’t we supposed to be a nation that stands for giving all people an equal opportunity? If so how does it affect us and the soft power of our nation if our leaders are making decisions that fail to uphold those political values.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Diabetes Patients and Drugmakers Connect

I came across an interesting article on NPR, “Social Media Help Diabetes Patients (And Drugmakers) Connect.” The article discussed how people with diabetes have used social media to create an online community. The community allows members to share videos with advice on everything from removing an insulin pump to telling your date you have diabetes. The site even offers reviews of products to treat diabetes.  The community has become so influential that drug companies have started to take notice. Some pharmaceutical companies have even gone as far as creating their own social media sties and or sponsoring bloggers.

However this online community is not without its critics. Those in opposition of the site feel that pharmaceutical companies will use social media to promote their gadgets in a deceptive way. And with their being no current regulation critics also fear that this may drive pharmaceutical companies to create false blogs representative of their company to help propel sales. 

The FDA is currently working on guidelines for drug companies and social media to ensure that drug companies are not exploiting the public through the use of social media. True to form the FDA is behind the technology  by forced to draft guidelines after the usage has already posed a potential problem.

This article discusses common concept we have discussed numerous times throughout our course. Is it the place of the government to regulate user generated content and if so where is the line drawn? It seems practical enough now to formulate regulations that protect citizens from being exploited by large pharmaceutical companies, but later how will this form of  governance effect the voice of this online community and network overall?  Will censoring the voices of a few silence the entire group, will it deter participation or will it legitimize the online community as a place to receive honest information and help? It will be interesting to watch these questions get asnwered as these two worlds continue to collide. 

Development "Bites" Back

Dr. Sonnet Ehlers shows a spiked female condom, whose hooks she says stick on a man during rape.

In Waisbord’s, Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication, he addresses deficiencies in the health promotion model. Waisbord claims, “Individual-centered health promotion ignores the surrounding social context (poverty, racism) in which individual health behaviors take place as well as the fact that certain unhealthy behaviors are more likely to be found among certain groups”. This statement brings to mind a current device being used in South Africa, by NGOs such as Planned Parenthood, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers Rape-aXe. The Rape-aXe is a latex female condom that is inserted into the vagina like a tampon. Jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line the inside and attach onto a man’s penis during penetration.  Once it is lodged only doctor can remove it.  Additionally, it hurts the man to pee and walk when it is on, albeit the condom does not break skin.

Dr. Ehlers invention is lauded over by female advocate groups and women’s health organizations. Planned Parenthood has been very active in its dissemination throughout Africa. However, the Rape-aXe is not without its critics. Many worry that the condom will increase violence against rape victims and put them in more danger. Nonetheless the most formidable argument against its use is the increase in individual responsibility against rape for women.  A woman most first perceive herself as vulnerable enough to rape to wear the condom and secondly endure the act of rape in hopes that the current system in place will punish the assailant accordingly.  Rape-aXe places it’s focus on helping the individual rather than addressing bigger issue; the current social context of South Africa that perpetuates such behavior.  

South Africa has the highest instances of rates of rape in the world, with 28% of men claiming to have raped a woman. To bring about true change for women in South Africa, advocates need to focus on the culture and communication of the country. Social activist should further examine and seek out options that do not circumvent the situation, but work to alleviate the crisis. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Development Paradigms

The role of communication in development has dramatically shifted. Srinivas R. Melkote, in her chapter Theories of Development Communication, provides a clear and comprehensive explanation as to the shift in paradigms regarding the role that communication and media plays in development.  One of the fundamental difference in the approaches to development that she discusses – modernization and empowerment - centers on the role of communication.

As theorized under the modernization paradigm, by exposing the people of the Third World to mass media content from Western society, the values and behaviors of the Western society would thus be adopted into life in the Third World and therefore would accelerate modernization and development. Melkote describes the role of communication under this theory as, “The strength of the mass media lay in their one way, top-down, simultaneous and wide dissemination” (110). At the time that modernization theory was held, it was sincerely believed that this approach, simply exposing developing regions to Western ideals, would work to provide development benefits to those regions. Media and communication technology –television and radio productions among the methods - were powerful tools in this view as these were the means through which Western ideals were communicated.

This is a stark difference from the empowerment approach of the modern era that Melkote discusses. Melkote defines development under this theory as the “process that should provide people with access to appropriate and sustainable opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of others in their communities” (113).  In this view, it is more important to understand the values of the developing regions and finding solutions that will work in those areas based on resources that are available or can be made available, not dictating that since one solution worked elsewhere in the world it will therefore work everywhere in the world. The role of communication under this view is to be participatory, and to act as a tool of connection for people to reach necessary resources and each other. Waisbord in his essay Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication states that the value of this participatory media is “not in being instruments of transmission but of communication, that is, for exchanging views and involving members.” (20)
The understanding of the role of communication has shifted. Modernization was characterized by essentially a ‘communication to’ paradigm and now theory has shifted to a ‘communication with’ paradigm. This is a theme that we have seen spread across many of the areas of international communication that we have discussed in this course. New developments have made communication technology become more interactive; so did this cause the shift in development theory? Perhaps because the ways in which we communicate lend themselves better to participatory, two way dialogues, we have realized the flaws in prior communication and development strategies. Or is it possible that communication technology had to change and be developed in such a way to facilitate these types of interactive conversations because the paradigms were already shifting?

No fixed thing called a cell phone: Problematizing M4D

In their analysis of cell phone use among resource-constrained communities in Cape Town, Donner, Gitau, and Marsden (2009) argue that there is “no fixed thing called a cell phone” but rather a process by which technologies and communities influence one another. Chenxing Han, South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones: Challenging the Optimistic Narrative of Mobiles for Development,” 2071.

Until this week’s readings on mobile telephony—Chenxing Han’s article on “South African Perspectives on Mobile Phones: Challenging the Optimistic Narrative of Mobiles for Development” published in the International Journal of Communication and Araba Sey’s article on “'We use it different, different': Making sense of trends in mobile phone use in Ghana” published in New Media & Society—I had not had much exposure to studies problematizing the “mobiles for development” (M4D) initiatives taking place in developing countries around the world.

When I think of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) and mobile phones, Iqbal Quadir and his work on GrameenPhone come to mind. Here he is in a 2005 TED talk video discussing how he came to realize that “connectivity is productivity,” whether it’s in a modern office or an underdeveloped village. His work supports the idea that the poor can be customers. He discovered that they are not just recipients of aid, but they can be resources as well, given that they are “eager learners” and capable of surviving many types of hardships.

Sey concludes “high levels of mobile phone adoption do not guarantee particular development outcomes, especially if other elements in the livelihoods environment (e.g. vulnerability context, livelihood assets, transforming institutions and structures, livelihood strategies) are not appropriately aligned. Even if they are, specific outcomes are still not guaranteed” (387). This is because different users have different use for mobile phones and other technologies. Users will uniquely “manipulate technological systems to pursue diverse livelihood goals” (387). People’s purpose for using cell phones in developing countries vary. Some may be for work-related purposes, as Sey uncovered with Wofa, a Ghanaian fisherman who fielded work-related calls. Other may be for social and familial purposes; Osei the farmer, when asked, replied that he does not use his phone for discussing farming or work-related information. Instead, he uses it to communicate with his sister living in Accra.

While mobile phones connect people, compressing the reality of time and space, there are also a number of downsides, as Han points out when she highlights the dangers of blindly advocating for M4D with optimistic narratives without exploring the ways in which it can first be problematized. Mobile phones in South Africa are not as affordable as advocates often claim, Han notes. Moreover, the use of M4D to help prevent HIV/AIDS may actually be undermined by the fact that “women may chose to engage in transactional sex to afford cell phones” (2065). There is also concern that teens communicating on mobile chat rooms may also be at risk for sexual predation (2066). These factors, along with security risks associated with violent phone theft, are real and must be considered, Han writes.  

“Instead of fixating on the positive influences of mobile phones with “missionary zeal,” mobile enthusiasts must consider negative or neutral outcomes. Future academic research must consider more critical and skeptical perspectives to address the “epistemological shortcomings” of the current literature…(2070).” Han’s admonishment reinforces the need for continual awareness of the need of contextualization in our field of research. 

Valuing local knowledge in development communication

This eLearning platform based in Nigeria encourages a participatory approach to teaching sexuality and life skills based on experiential learning. The five topic areas of the nationally approved Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education (FLHE) curriculum are communicated directly to adolescents using illustrated 'info cartoons', quizzes and games.
In his discussion of development theories ("FAMILY TREE OF THEORIES, METHODOLOGIES AND STRATEGIES IN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION"), Silvio Waisbord provides insight into Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s work on advocating for a culturally conscious model of development communication. As Waisbord notes, early development theories in the 1960s “tried to domesticate foreign concepts, to feed information, to force local populations to accept Western ideas and practices without asking how such practices fit existing cultures” (18). The early development models of modernization and diffusion are weak because they fail to take culture, local knowledge, and belief systems into account. Instead, they blame “traditional culture” in Third World countries as the primary hurdle or “’bottleneck’ that prevented the adoption of modern attitudes and behavior” (3). In dismissing the importance of culture and in neglecting to communicate through (instead of over) culture, early development models did not fare well because theorists had mistakenly identified Third World countries’ lack of information as the reason why they failed to modernize like First World countries.

Today, we have a different view of local culture and knowledge. They are no longer burdens, but incredibly helpful tools. The old "traditional perspective according to which “traditional cultures” are backward and antithetical to development interventions" has been tossed out in favor of participatory and bottoms-up approaches, thankfully (36). 

Curious to learn more about how local knowledge may figure in development, I searched online for more data and came across a Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) document detailing why local knowledge is important. I learned that local knowledge may include but is not limited to the following:
  • Agriculture, knowledge related to crop selection, intercropping, planting times.
  • Animal husbandry and ethnic veterinary medicine, knowledge of breeding strategies, livestock characteristics and requirements, plant uses to treat common illnesses.
  • Use and management of natural resources, knowledge of soil fertility management, sustainable management of wild species.
  • Health care, knowledge of plant properties for medicinal purposes.
  • Community development, common or shared knowledge provides links between community members and generations; and
  • Poverty alleviation, knowledge of survival strategies based on local resources. 
  • Source for all bullet points above:

“Because what populations know is considered wrong, local knowledge is viewed as obstacle and unnecessary in development interventions. Overcoming ethnocentric conceptions is crucial.” The FAO provided an example of how local knowledge could have assisted an aid organization in averting a food crop failure:
"Higher yielding sorghum varieties were introduced into Ethiopia to increase food security and income for farmers and rural communities. When weather and other conditions were favourable, the modern varieties proved a success. However, in some areas complete crop failures were observed, whereas local varieties, with a higher variance of traits, were less susceptible to the frequent droughts. The farming community considered the loss of an entire crop to be more than offset by the lower, average yields of the local variety that performed under more extreme conditions. An approach, that included local farming experience, could have resulted in a balanced mix of local and introduced varieties, thus reducing the producers’ risk." (Source:
As we participate in conversations about development and communication, we must possess awareness “that understandings of information and knowledge are different,” Waisbord cautions (36). “Interventions also need to be sensitive to the fact that local cultures do not necessarily fit philosophical assumptions about individual rationality that are embedded in traditional models (36).”

U.S. Public Diplomacy: Seismic shift to social media? Yes. End of face-to-face communication? No.

'Boop!' 'This is so much more fun in person.' 

“A seismic shift is under way at the U.S. Department of State as Foggy Bottom increasingly draws on Silicon Valley expertise to develop tools and strategies for remaining effective — and relevant — in a rapidly innovating world. Though all sections of the State Department are affected, public diplomacy in particular has had to adapt its perspective and overhaul its outreach to stay current in a constantly evolving technological landscape.” – Jacob Comenetz, “Innovating Public Diplomacy For a New Digital World”

Jacob Comenetz’s article highlights the growing roles social media such as Twitter and Facebook will play in the United States’ “21st Century Statecraft” and its conduct of public diplomacy. He concludes these “technologies continually reinvent the ways in which people interact” and will therefore “fundamentally redefine the practice of diplomacy. And as the juggernaut of cyber connectivity marches forward, diplomats will need to keep pace if they want to connect with the people who find themselves newly empowered in ways never before possible.”

He substantiates this argument with insight from former Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale, who advocates for constant engagement, saying “We must be out there in as many ways as possible and at every hour of every day.” Comenetz describes notes the State Department is responsible for “engag[ing] with people wherever they may congregate in the real or virtual world.”

As I mentioned in a comment on Franzi’s blog entry, Comenetz’s article hardly acknowledges that social media is just one aspect of public diplomacy and that many in the world lack access to it because of the digital divide.  I am disappointed that his article doesn’t place more emphasis on using social media as a complement to public diplomacy.

Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, herself a veteran journalist, has “made it clear that social media and new communications technology will not replace traditional, face-to-face interaction.” According to an IIP Digital post, Sonenshine says: “No matter how evolved our technology becomes, there is no substitute for a visiting student to sit across the dinner table with a family abroad. There is no substitute for the give-and-take of real encounters between people.” 

Other experienced hands seem to disagree. During a November 13 talk on “Public Diplomacy: the Next Four Years,” hosted by the IPDGC at George Washington University, former Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman alluded that embassies and consulates are dispensable in the near future.

Glassman: And the other thing that I would just throw out to you is whether in an era of social media and very, very fast communications, whether we should be spending as much money as we are in general at the State Department on things called embassies. Okay, it made a lot of sense 100 years ago, but does it make sense today to have this edifice and this very complicated kind of arrangement where people go for a few years and live there, as though they couldn’t possibly influence people in those countries if they didn’t live there?

IPDGC blogger Mary Jeffers shares my disbelief over Glassman’s idea that embassies and face-to-face diplomacy will one day be obsolete. I cannot say I agree with Glassman. 

In an interview with a foreign newspaper published on November 28, 2012, John Brown—retired diplomat and founder of the venerable blog authored under his name—discussed his path to the U.S. Foreign Service and his views on how the nature of diplomatic practice has both changed and remained the same. 
I joined the US Foreign Service, in the early 1980s, in search of gainful employment and out of a certain sense of idealism to promote peace at a time when our small planet was arguably “bipolar” (U.S. vs. USSR) and threatened by a nuclear holocaust.  
During the period — Cold War and immediate post-Cold War  the social media were not omnipresent. I felt there was a need to depict America to foreign audiences as honestly as possible in a communications-limited world, not only behind the “Iron Curtain,” but in other parts of Europe.  
Of course now times have changed, and diplomats must adapt to change. But no one — including diplomats — should live under the illusion that, in our multipolar 21st century world, the social media are omnipotent. 
Indeed, the need to understand cultures beyond “interacting” on the internet is more important than ever. Facebook-to-Facebook “communications,” while creating professionally useful cyber-networks, will never replace face-to-face discussion/negotiations — which ultimately is what diplomacy is all about. 
Indeed, we should not labor under the illusion that social media are omnipotent, as Brown says. While social media is “refreshing,” it is by no means a replacement for traditional face-to-face diplomacy. Mr. Comenetz, do you copy? No one — including diplomats — should live under the illusion that, in our multipolar 21st century world, the social media are omnipotent. 

For more: Twitter as diplomacy?

Paradox of plenty: Channeling soft power in the 21st century “Information Age”

In his contribution to the ANNALS, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” Joseph Nye presents public diplomacy as a strategic tool in “the arsenal of smart power,” one that is capable of defeating “transnational terrorism[by] . . . . winning hearts and minds” (108).

The use of public diplomacy to promote a positive image of one’s country is not a new practice. As Nye notes: “The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)” (97). These three criteria that support soft power have not changed; however, the global landscape and, to use Nye’s term, “conditions for projecting soft power,” have shifted dramatically since the end of the Cold War (99). In our current “Information Age,” Nye explains, the incredible about of information available at our fingertips has resulted in Simon’s “paradox of plenty,” an explosion of information and scarcity of attention to follow-up.

Therefore, nation-states today must grapple with the challenge of attracting people’s attention while maintaining absolute credibility, Nye argues. The pressure is high, for if a nation is perceived as jingoistic or propagandizing, it won’t be able to supplement its hard power to win hearts and minds.  This is difficult to disagree with. Nye is, after all, the father of soft power.

In light of one particular point Nye makes ("Why pour money into VOA when CNN, MSNBC, or Fox can do the work for free? But such a conclusion is too facile. Market forces portray only the profitable mass dimensions of American culture, thus reinforcing foreign images of a one-dimensional country." Page 205), it would be interesting to see how he would contend with Shashi Tharoor’s arguments that private industries such as MTV, McDonald’s, and Bollywood have powerful and instrumental role in exporting culture and supporting a country’s soft power.