Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mattelart: Clearly on Team Huxley

Mattelart’s Foucaultian analysis of the semiotics of ‘globalization’ kept bringing me back to that Huxley v. Orwell comic, or rather, the “Huxley was right” part of it.

The connection is between Huxley’s idea of being lulled by non-stop entertainment and info-tainment and Mattelart’s discussion of “forgetting history” and replacing it with a “techno-mercantile determinism that has instituted endless, unlimited communication, the heir to the notion of ongoing, limitless progress.”

His article is indeed a pretty good wrap-up because it sort of summarizes the critical position of many of the scholars we have read in the last half of the semester. Dutta, Castells, Bennet, Fisher, Melkote: they are all coming from the same place, really, in that they question the rationality of the rhetorical connection between

‘modernity’ and capitalism or

‘globalization’ and global free markets,

or Western scientific knowledge and ‘universal knowledge.’

Dutta’s excerpts from USAID’s white papers, for example, support Matellart’s section on ‘the revolution in military affairs’, in which he asserts that the U.S. military began “promoting an offensive strategy of enlargement of the world market as a paradigm, in place of the defensive strategy of containment adopted…during the Cold War years” (Mattelart, 2008: p 321 of Thussu).

Reading Matellart was also a lot like reading Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who does a similar archeology of the World Social Forum (particularly as a viable form of resistance to the ideology of the WEF), and apparently ones on capitalism, knowledge, and many other topics that fall under the general ‘anti-globalization-as-those-with-power-define-it camp.

I’m not sure I can go along with Mattelart for the whole ride, though. Matellart asserts that “the ideology of corporate globalism is indissolubly linked to the idea of worldwide communication” and I respectfully, hopefully (and naively?) disagree. He is right about U.S. military, aka development policy, and he is right about the power and megalomania of the TNCs, but I'd like to think that Benkler and Bennet and others are right, too...that networked publics still hold some power to resist.

On the other hand, daily activities such as reading a newspaper or watching the "news" rob me of that hopefulness. Some of those think tanks Mattelart was talking about, for example, plus their friends at the energy TNCs that fund them, have continued to successfully hold back meaningful action on global warming by the power of the press (also, chuckle, funded by the same or related TNCs, I'm looking at you, GE I mean NBC) to frame it as an ongoing "debate." That's just one example, really. There is also the fact that Tiger and the Salahi party crashers are rivaling Afghanistan in the press. I'm sure I could list more and better examples, but as I said, I prefer to be hopeful. When corporate interests attempt to steer political debate through campaign $$, there is change congress calling out our reps for bowing to those interests over the desires of their constituents. And globally, orgs like CARE and ECPAT are taking up the 'empowerment' mantel outlined by Dutta and Melkote. So that's good, right? ...Right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

EE a type of PD?

It seems that the articles on Entertainment Education and Open Source Public Diplomacy had quite a bit in common. Both focused on the typical approach of the West to use these tactics (EE and traditional Public Diplomacy) to "impose" its values or beliefs on another country or region. With EE, Dutta says that the West is using the technique to tell the 3rd World countries what they think is best for them, be it population control, or safe sex, or any number of other issues. In PD, it could be any kind of value or idea, from democracy to pro-Americanism, to consumerism (which could also be thought of as the West saying it knows best too).
Dutta indicates that EE is done for the same reasons PD is, to encourage people to act or think in a way that will benefit you. He believes that The West engages in EE for selfish reasons under the guise of altruism. It encourages population control and other programs to create free-markets in those countries which would open them to foreign investment. While I'm sure there are people who do think this way, I doubt that is the overall aim of people in USAID and other similar organizations. Although not always implemented in the most effective way, I believe most of the people are doing this work because they believe it will help people.
However many of these programs have not worked as they were supposed to and therefore could benefit from Dutta's suggestions, which closely mirror Open Source Diplomacy; engaging the population you wish to influence, acting on a peer-to-peer level, and encouraging activism within the community. It seems as though acting like other countries are our peers and we want to work with them, rather than our inferiors whom we must teach how to live in the right way, would go a long way toward solving some of the world's problems.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Comcast and NBC

Interesting graphic for the Comcast NBC merger via boingboing and Free Press

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Value-Added, But For Whom?

In "A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education," the authors observe that the role of the media as a societal influence gets a lot more play in communication theory than the role of entertainment, even though Western society is increasingly imcorporating entertainment into more and more activities in everyday life. (I can confirm that the Mall of American, by the way, is awesome.) I agree with the authors that underestimation of the influence of entertainment on individual and group behavior is a mistake. "Previous E-E research has mainly been conducted in developing countries and dealt with health topics," but I think there is definitely room for evaluation of the messages transmitted by entertainment content in America. I once read an account (I can't remember where) of an E-E project where a radio soap opera in an African country encouraged safe sex by having its characters make clear mention of their use of condoms every time they engaged in the behaviors that soap operas are apparently characterized by no matter where you live. This method of banging audiencs over the head with a message every time someone had sex allegedly made a big impression. In public education programs in Third World countries, that is called E-E, but in the U.S. it would be called preachiness. Would that sort of obvious messaging be tolerated on an American TV show like Gossip Girl or Sex and the City? I don't think so. This disparity highlights a double standard: outsiders can tell LDC populations what to do because it is for their own good, but in the U.S. we expect people to know how to behave responsibly and then inundate them with a world that is consequence free.

Moving on to another reading: According to Mohan Jyoti Dutta in "Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique," developers of E-E programs for Third World countries get to "identify" the problems facing their target audience and choose the practices to encourage based on their knowledge of their target audience's culture and way of life, with limited feedback mechanisms in place to find out what the target audience thinks about the problems being addressed and the solutions being suggested. Populations bearing the brunt of structural violence-- a lack of access to proper health care, for example, or just plain poverty-- have only so much power to make the choices or obtain the resources that will benefit their quality of life. Encouraging activism through entertainment, says Dutta, is a possible way to influence change in the system that impacts people's choices. American and transnational organizations have thought that they can accurately judge the needs of Third World populations and dictate proper behavior, but I agree with Dutta that this paternalistic attitude does little to free people on the ground from their sense of powerlessness to improve their ability to make positive choices to improve their life.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Entertainment Education

Dutta's article criticizes Entertainment Education campaigns and analyses USAID objectives. She claims that the values and ideologies driving a campaign are perhaps most evident in the objectives of the campaign. Dutta writes, “the goals of EE programs then are located within the broader goals of USAID to create strategically secure environments and to exploit subaltern spaces to secure profits for the transnational hegemony.” She writes that in essence, the goal of EE programs serve the tools of globalization and transnational capitalism that impose a set of core values on other parts of the world and that open up the doors of countries from starvation and poverty to commercial products of the free market economy. Dutta argues that EE programs have become the tools for colonialism of a different kind that focuses on creating markets for multinationals. Which correlates to what Singhal asks in his article, “why are 'doing well' (commercially) and 'doing good' (socially) perceived as being at odds with each other?” If USAID goals are to open up markets to transnational corporations, are their commercial interests are in some ways at odds with their EE goals?

I was hoping Dutta's article would discuss more specific campaigns and gone more in depth with some analyses. She does mention some movements briefly and writes in a footnote that many grassroots movements use forms of entertainment such as folk art forms, streets plays, etc. She quotes some subaltern voices which articulate the need for food in many countries. Singhal gives examples of EE campaigns and what they are fighting. For example, the Karate Kids has been shown to combat the prostitution of street children in dozens of nations. Soul City in South Africa spend many months conducting extensive formative research to develop one annual campaign cycle. One of the problems of EE interventions in places like the US is what the authors call 'media-saturated societies.' This made me think about last week's readings, specifically Nye when he discussed the 'paradox of plenty' and how there is a scarcity of attention because of this. I think the 'scarcity of attention' is an issue even in societies where people are not overrun by the media and information from many directions. Trying to find the right kind of EE for a specific community is quite difficult and obtaining and keeping their attention is just as difficult. The goal of EE is behavioral and social change, and this is even harder than just acquiring people's attention. I'd be interested to read some research in this area. What are the best EE practices to obtain behavioral change? Is it necessary in this process to separate the commercial and social goals then? Singhal notes that entertainment-education interventions face a variety of challenges and resistances from the start of the message production process, to the message environment, and even during message reception. “Theoretically based research on entertainment-education should pay greater attention to these various resistances, and identify ways to overcome them.” Dutta recommends that scholars of health communication start looking outside the traditional EE agenda and defining alternative models of participatory communication. "Scholars need to identify problems based on community dialogue, fostering it with the elite classes to facilitate structural changes and working with subaltern classes to identify strategies for getting their voices heard." Dutta's recommendations are common sense in some ways, but they are not easily executed because the subaltern voices the ones that are easily ignored.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Birth Control Ends Hunger in 'Subaltern' Community

Dutta provides us with a sharp critique of the ideologies and values that drive entertainment education campaigns, specifically those carried out under USAID funding. He reminds us that those values are not difficult to divine, since they can be found within the mission of USAID itself, which is essentially to create a strategically secure position for the U.S. through humanitarian and developmental projects. As can be expected, Dutta shows that USAID repeatedly and unabashedly makes the post-cold-war rhetorical link between market economies and political freedom: “It [successful development abroad] produces allies—countries that share U.S. commitments to economic openness, political freedom, and rule of law.” (qtd by Dutta from 2000 USAID doc). Dutta also shows the way that USAID has come to its participatory approach towards development programming with the primary ‘problem’ already determined: population control and family planning, as opposed to poverty and lack of access to resources.

While Dutta clearly establishes the covert motivations of E-E campaigns that belie their overt focus on population control methods as opposed to, say, improving subaltern access to clean drinking water, access to health care, or access to food, I wished Dutta could have focused more on establishing how E-E programs carried out by organizations like USAID become the “machinery for oppression of the poor in the Third World by pushing transnational capitalism and, thus, obliterating domestic forms of production that support the subaltern classes” (Dutta, 2006: 224). How? I agree that transnational capitalism has the potential to increase the distance between the rich and the poor (as it has in the U.S. and many other countries) or to put ‘domestic forms of production’ out of business, but I think a few examples would have strengthened the piece. He provides perfect examples for his ideological critique, but I would have like to read more about the concrete results of those ideological efforts (maybe some sweat shops or dangerous coal mines?). Granted, the paper does not really claim to address those issues.

Dutta could perform the same subaltern critique of the World Bank and IMF and their constant touting of their ‘engagement with civil society.’ I started looking at this issue for another class called Global Civil Society (offered in the summer online, I believe) and it was really interesting to delve into the Fund and the Bank’s own accounts of their “engagement with civil society” and the extent to which they account for “country ownership” in their loan projects.

Just as Dutta says that “forms of participation applied in E-E campaigns particularly refer to participation as a tactical tool that is used to diffuse the already preconfigured problem”, Ngaire Woods, author of The Globalizers: The IMF, the World Bank, and Their Borrowers (2006) offers a similar critique to Dutta’s:

“…for the Bank and the Fund, ownership [country ownership/agency in loan agreements] does not…mean ownership as you or I might see it. They applied a different test: Does the country understand the policy we are pressing on them? And have we explained it to a wide section of the society? That is a very different approach [that] at its weakest just looks like amplified public relations and at its strongest, involves an attempt to engineer societies so that they respond better to the agenda pursued by the Fund and the Bank” (Woods interview, 2006).

To give you an idea of the great language I found in World Bank/IMF descriptions of their “engagement” with local populations and civil society, check out The World Bank’s Inspection Panel brochures and online literature, which are meant to show how borrowers are given a voice and agency in loan projects. According to the World Bank itself, “the primary purpose of the Inspection Panel is to address the concerns of the people who may be affected by Bank projects and to ensure that the Bank adheres to its operational policies and procedures .” The brochure assures those with complaints that “if you and at least one of other member of your community believe that you are suffering, or may suffer, harm caused by a World Bank-funded project, that the World Bank may have violated its operational policies or procedures, and that this violation is causing the harm, you may submit a Request for Inspection…” (The World Bank Inspection Panel”, emphasis my own).

This wording makes it clear that all three conditions are needed for a funded project to be eligible for review, which means the Inspection Panel will only investigate a project if World Bank operational policy appears to have been violated or could be violated in the course of a project. There is, as of yet, no recourse for borrower country populations and communities if harm is being done them as a result of a World Bank operational policy.

It’s kind of laughable, really. With that said, I have to also say that the Bank has made clear efforts to be more inclusive of civil society actors and local people when determining their CAS and PRS, as outlined in “World Bank - Civil Society Engagement: Review of Fiscal Years 2007 to 2009”, but I'd really like to see someone outside of the World Bank provide this sort of assessment. They are are always assessing themselves, and saying yep,. we did a great job with this participatory approach, but what in the world is supposed to make that valid? Just sayin....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Winning Hearts and Minds

In his article, Monroe Price quotes a foreign policy specialist, Metzl who believes that there is “a need to reach beyond governments and touch hearts and minds more directly.” Metzl called for a change in emphasis at the State Department for public persuasion rather than a system based on country contacts. The key element was to mesh public diplomacy with national interest decisions, “and to have public diplomacy involved early in policy making as well as in critical part of the execution of policy.” This is similar to what Nye argues in his article about Public Diplomacy and Soft Power. Nye states that the current struggle against transnational terrorism is “a struggle over winning hearts and minds,” and the current over reliance on hard power alone is not the path to success. He argues that “public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power, but smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the role of credibility, self-criticism and the role of civil society in generating soft power.” Both authors agree that public diplomacy and soft power need to be incorporated into the policy making process and execution. The State Department cannot rely on contacts nor can we solely rely on hard power, especially if we want to win the hearts and minds of people. Perhaps the authors are a bit idealistic in their views, but it makes sense to use soft power to not only persuade people in other countries to believe in our policies and choices, but to really have them see and understand the issues. Trying to pull people to our side is not easy, as we know, but having good public diplomacy that can win them over, not just try to push them over, can really help. But, it is not just talk, as the authors mention, there must be action. Providing people in developing countries with aid helps boost Americas image, for example. More often than not, there is simply talk by diplomats and politicians and not enough dialogue or action. As Nye contends “effective public diplomacy is a two-way street that involves listening and talking.” Exchanges are often more effective than broadcasting.

Nye argues that the soft power of a country rests primarily on 3 resources: its culture, its political values, and its foreign policies. People started to pay more attention to soft power after September 11th. It was always important, but with the revolution of information technologies, it became more important. Nye states that only after the attacks did people start to realize the importance of investing in soft power. Now that there is so much information that we can access quite easily, there is what Nye calls “a paradox of plenty.” Plenty of information leads to scarcity of attention. When people are overwhelmed with the volume of information, it is hard to know what to focus on and attention rather than information becomes the scarce resource. Politics have become a contest of competitive credibility. How can governments better obtain and retain public attention and, at the same time, win the hearts and minds of people all over the world? Well, they first can take into consideration Price's recommendation, that “governments must recognize and internalize this communication transformation.” Taking the advantage of communication technologies is important and in some ways the U.S. has begun to do that. But, as Nye argues, “the effectiveness of public diplomacy is measured by minds changes, not dollars spent on slick production packages.” The fancy, expensive packages that Nye talks about may not be changing people's minds. But, it is also hard to measure this, as we discussed in class. How do we know which 'marketing' programs or packages are working? How do we measure the successes of soft power?

It find it interesting that only after wars or attacks on the U.S. and on the declining image of the U.S. does the government pay more attention to these issues. For example, the Peace Corps was started after the war by JFK to alleviate the negative feelings people had about the U.S. This kind of 'grassroots diplomacy,' as some call it, has been effective as have been study abroad programs for foreign students who come here as well as for those Americans who go abroad. Why not continually support this kinds of efforts, not just after crises?

I also thought Price's discussion on copyright is interesting because he feels that the globalized laws that the Berne Convention established were never adequately adjusted to new technologies or to the changes that arise from a global spread of information and media. Neil Netanel argues that “the international copyright laws have effectively become the arbiters of domestic copyright law.” In his view, intellectual property serves fundamentally to underwrite a domestic culture. The issue, Price says, is not whether Netanel is right or wrong, but rather the intricate relationship between one country's foreign policy towards another's copyright laws and the potential effect on political systems. It is true what Price argues, that an overly rigorous copyright enforcement policy can hamper efforts in developing countries to nourish 'free and independent media' and halt the “spread of parasitic start-ups.” “If there is a foreign policy need for plural media—during a period in which multiple voices are desirable—then raising the cost of entry is counterproductive.” It seems that the higher costs of entry would hinder the emergence of new entrants and cause the lack of plurality. International laws cannot and do not seem to effectively regulate or arbitrate in domestic settings. Nor do I think they should have sole say because each country, culture and region is different. Some governments refuse to take take intellectual property and copyright laws into consideration, but in the boundary-less world we live in now, where ideas and information flow so freely, there is a need for some kind of international laws. Coming up with the laws and regulations is difficult enough, but adequately implementing them would be even harder.