The Dominant Paradigm

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The Dominant Paradigm
Behavior change models have been the dominant paradigm in the field of development communication. Different theories and strategies shared the premise that problems of development were basically rooted in lack of knowledge and that, consequently, interventions needed to provide people with information to change behavior. The early generation of development communication studies was dominated by modernization theory. This theory suggested that cultural and information deficits lie underneath development problems, and therefore could not be resolved only through economic assistance (a la Marshall Plan in post-war Europe). Instead, the difficulties in Third World countries were at least partially related to the existence of a traditional culture that inhibited development. Third World countries lacked the necessary culture to move into a modern stage. Culture was viewed as the “bottleneck” that prevented the adoption of modern attitudes and behavior. McClelland (1961) and Hagen (1962), for example, understood that personalities determined social structure. Traditional personalities, characterized by authoritarianism, low self-esteem, and resistance to innovation, were diametrically different from modern personalities and, consequently, anti-development. These studies best illustrated one of modernization’s central tenets: ideas are the independent variable that explains specific outcomes. Based on this diagnosis, development communication proposed that changes in ideas would result in transformations in behavior. The underlying premise, originated in classic sociological theories, was that there is a necessary fitness between a “modern” culture and economic and political development. The low rate of agricultural output, the high rate of fertility and mortality, or the low rates of literacy found in the underdeveloped world were explained by the persistence of traditional values and attitudes that prevented modernization. The goal was, therefore, to instill modern values and information through the transfer of media technology and the adoption of innovations and culture originated in the developed world. The Western model of development was upheld as the model to be emulated worldwide. Because the problem of underdeveloped regions was believed to be an information problem, communication was presented as the instrument that would solve it. As theorized by Daniel Lerner (1958) and Wilbur Schramm (1964), communication basically meant the transmission of information. Exposure to mass media was one of the factors among others (e.g. urbanization, literacy) that could bring about modern attitudes. This knowledge-transfer model defined the field for years to come. Both Lerner’s and Schramm’s analyses and recommendations had a clear pro-media, pro-innovation, and pro-persuasion focus. The emphasis was put on media-centered persuasion activities that could improve literacy and, in turn, allow populations to break free from traditionalism. This view of change originated in two communication models. One was the Shannon-Weaver model of sender-receiver, originally developed in engineering studies that set out to explain the transmission of information among machines. It became extremely influential in communication studies. The other was the propaganda model developed during World War II according to which the mass media had “magic bullet” effects in changing attitudes and behavior. From a transmission/persuasion perspective, communication was understood as a linear, unidirectional process in which senders send information through media channels to receivers. Consequently, development communication was equated with the massive introduction of media technologies to promote modernization, and the widespread adoption of the mass media (newspapers, radio, cinemas, and later television) was seen as pivotal for the effectiveness of communication interventions. The media were both channels and indicators of modernization:...
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