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The Theory and the Practice of Communication for Development

The Theory and the Practice of Communication for Development

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Published by Toby P. Newstead

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Published by: Toby P. Newstead on Jul 09, 2009
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06/26/2013

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COMM 415
 The Theory & the Practice of Communication forDevelopment
By: Toby P. Newstead
 The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Health Organization,the World Trade Organization, United Nations agencies such as UNICEF, UNCTAD,UNDP, UNEP, and UNHCR are just
some
of the aid and development organizationsspearheading communications for development initiatives. Communication fordevelopment strives to alleviate world suffering by using the communicationsprinciples of audience knowledge, motivation, media utilization, and persuasion inorder to change behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of people withinspecified communities or countries. Feeding starving children, preventing infantmortality, protecting vulnerable women, and eradicating devastating diseases aresome of the goals of communication for development. Communication fordevelopment is a process of cross-border communication. Aid and developmentagencies have headquarters and projects sprinkled throughout the world and theirnetworks of communications systems are absolutely global in scale.Communications for development is married to the process of global communicationand globalization.Communications for development is a rich academic field, with manyoverlapping, and constantly evolving theories. However, due to the organizationalstructure and institutional nature of the aid and development organizations thatcommunication for development operates within, developmental communications
 
COMM 415
 practices
tends to vary from developmental communications
theories
. By illustratingthe origins and evolution of communication for development, this paper will identifyand discuss the discrepancies between communication for development
theory 
andcommunication for development
 practice
.
Outlining the origins of communication for development
 The theory of communication for development resulted from the marriage of mass communications studies and the study of the modernization of traditionalsocieties. Communication for development studied audiences that were regarded aslargely passive masses, and devised methods of spreading, or propagatingmessages in an attempt to modernize, shape, and develop specific communities(Yun Kim, 2005). The study of mass communication and modernization wereemployed during the Depression in Canada, when radio programs were used to helpfarmers update their fruitless farming techniques (Thomas, 2005, p. 56). The theoryof communication for development originated out mass media studies, andspecialized in persuading people to think, act, and behave in new ways. The practice of communication for development emerged out of World War IIand the Cold War. World War II ended. Colonialism collapsed, and former colonies inAsia, Africa, and Latin America were left to their own devices. The Cold War began,and the race for Third World allegiance and political loyalty was on between the USAand the USSR. The former colonies of the Third World became the propagandabattleground of the Cold War. These countries, struggling with political unrest,poverty, disease epidemics, and social strife were targeted with Americanpropaganda and aid initiatives in an attempt to sway them toward western,democratic, capitalistic principles, rather than the evils of communism (Yun Kim,
 
COMM 4152005; Bah, 2008).The premise of development, and communication fordevelopment, allowed the US and other Western nations and organizations to entercountries in the Third World and, directly or indirectly, infuse principles of democracy and capitalism. Asia, Africa, and Latin America are the regions in which,during the Cold War, the practice of communications for development started.
Theoretical underpinnings of communication for development: The Old &The NewThe Old:
 The first major theory of communication for development was theModernization theory, which originated in the years after World War II. Schramm,author of “Mass Media and National Development,” and Lerner, author of “Thepassing of Traditional Society,” were World War II and Cold War propaganda experts. They were also two of the pioneers of the Modernization theory. The basicunderlying principle of the Modernization theory was that “...advanced capitalisticsocieties reflected a natural universal, end-state that could be reached by allcountries provided they follow the right ‘stages of growth,’” (Thomas, 2005, p. 56). The theory was founded on the notion that the major obstacle todevelopment was the psyche of the undeveloped citizen. Thus, the way to developa nation was to persuade individual citizens to adopt new, better, western traditionsand values. In his own words Lerner captures the supposed wonders of development:

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