Tuesday, December 4, 2012
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?