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Development Communication: Reframing the Role of the Media

Edited by Thomas L. McPhail, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, 239 pages, ISBN: 978-1-4051-8795-4

Even in the highly developed countries researchers are wondering when we will ever cross the information society threshold since this has been the common rhetoric behind the information revolution theories for at least 40 years. With highly developed countries there are a number of social and cultural changes which make this (r)evolution evident. There are various numerical indicators about the spread of infrastructure and its relation to different social and cultural indicators, pointing towards a certain level of information society development. But what role has this supposedly global information and network structure in less developed countries? What role do new technologies have and can have in the development of these countries? Through which tools and which institutions can development through communication occur? Where and why have previous attempts failed? These are some of the questions that are easy to forget due to the lure of the supposedly technology neutral information and communication revolution from the perspective of the developed countries. These are also the questions that authors in this publication tackle from a wide range of perspectives and viewpoints.

The book is divided into 11 chapters with the editor, Thomas L. McPhail, taking the leading five chapters in order to give a comprehensive view on development communication and major theories, agencies and institutions involved in the process. In the introductory chapter he defines development communication as "...the process of intervening in a systematic or strategic manner with either media (print, radio, telephony, video, and the Internet), or education (training, literacy, schooling) for the purpose of positive social change" (p 3). The book is also steered towards viewing development not only in economic terms, but also in social and cultural ones, taking into consideration not only the top-down approach but also the bottom-up and grassroots development approach (p 3). The second chapter analyzes three main theoretical developments that were established after the weaknesses of the top-down modernization approach became evident: cultural imperialism, participatory communication and entertainment-education. The following chapter takes into account the role of the United Nations and specialized agencies like the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the International Telecommunication Union. The fourth chapter takes a look at the role of different NGOs which are not affiliated with the UN. These are: the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, World Social Forum, Communication for Social Change Consortium, and Canada's International Research Development Center. The ensuing chapter offers a view on the role of the NGOs from their differing views of world culture. The ones that promote cultural diversity are the International Network for Cultural Diversity and the UNESCO while the World Trade Organizations pulls towards a market approach which benefits post-industrial nations, especially the US.

Renée Houston and Michele H. Jackson further explore the crucial issues of the theoretical relationship between technology, culture and society in the sixth chapter. By creating a technology-context scheme for articulating the relationship between the technological artifact and context, the authors conclude that "(d)espite their physical materiality, technologies are not ahistorical, acontextual, and value neutral" (p 121). The global digital divide is the topic of the following chapter. Mitchell F. Rice analyzes a number of barriers that keep the digital divide persistently in the less developed countries (LDC) including economic and financial, organizational, institutional and human resources related. In the ensuing chapter, Luz Estella Porras and H. Leslie Steeves criticize the often ignored perspective in the capitalist-patriarchal basis of modernization in the text that questions the roles of feminism in a post-development age. In their view post-development feminists "...challenge us to consider the contradictions and paradoxes in the experiences of women within the global development economy and the need for grassroots expression and voice to share alternative views of social change" (p 157).

The two chapters that follow analyze different projects from the viewpoint of development communication. Satarupta Dasgupta gives us an example of the Sonagachi project which was an HIV/AIDS intervention programme undertaken in the red light district of Calcutta, India. By combining the guiding principles of the participant communication and empowerment communication approaches, according to the author, the project may be a development communication model for further academic research as well as different aid agencies. The tenth chapter, by Eva Szalvai, deals with the Open Society Institute's Roma project in Europe. The author argues for the empowerment development communication paradigm but also realizes that different development communication paradigms should be present in sustainable development projects. The final chapter offers an overview of the entire book by the editor, in which he concludes that "(i)t is by combining the most salient components of a range of approaches that positive social change will most likely come about" (p 209).

By taking both the theoretical and historical approach in analyzing foreign policies of the developed countries and institutional involvement of global NGOs in Third World countries, the authors do well in mapping all the tools and actors that we need to have in mind in order to understand the development communication process. Where the quality of the book is most evident is in the potent mix of theoretical viewpoints and a number of policy examples. Whether these examples were positive or negative, they provide us with the necessary experience to better understand and influence social and cultural change.

By Pasko Bilic
IMO/Culturelink