Home is where you hang your @.
To clear up any confusion, this is directly from the syllabus:
Proposals should include:
- Statement of guiding research questions
- Literature review
- Trajectory of research
- Specific links to class readings, discussions and themes
Hey everyone …
The text that follows is the final version of my paper/proposal. I am planning on using this research for my dissertation or a project that will eventually compliment my dissertation!
So, I hope you enjoy what follows. Have a wonderful break and thanks for a wonderful semester!
Social & Digital Structures 2.0: A Look into the Digital Divides in Rural Bihar India
In the very early stages of developing a research topic for this course, I found myself wanting to critique technology projects like “One Laptop Per Child” within India. Basically, I wanted to critique the mission/end-goal of Western Multi-nationals and governments influence within India’s technology sector in hopes to “Bridge the Digital Divide”. Interestingly enough, this research would not be something that my family in India would be too happy about considering one of my uncles (Yashwant Sinha) who currently holds the post of Indian Minister for External Affairs. He is a senior leader for the B.J.P. party (Bharatiya Janata Party – what in the United States would be our Republican/Conservative party – focusing on issues like Hindu/Indian nationalism, free market capitalism, etc.) and was the Finance Minister under Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Anyways, back to the research. The very tough situation within India is the fact that there is a divide, actually massive gap, between the rich and poor … so much so that according to Kenneth Keniston, professor of Human Development at MIT, 60 million Indian children do not even go to school each day. So for them is the question about working with ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) … helping to bridge the digital gap, or is it simply getting a proper education? But, when a person shifts their focus towards the 3%, or fewer, of the Indian population that is or can be connected then are we not just reifying the gap and/or even widening it?
This project will examine the use and implementation of technology, and the issues surrounding the digital divide, in India in terms of religion, caste, gender, and even age. From class I will be focusing on themes generated by four books: Structures of Participation, New Media, The Cell Phone, and finally The Young and The Digital.
In Joe Karaganis’s book, Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, he points out how our physical/social networks play a big role in our use of digital spaces and technologies. He posits a linear progression of the transformation in recording history and information. As an example, Karaganis points to the fact that society’s memory practices have changed through the years; to oral and electronic practices from an oral and written based practices. It is because of Karaganis’s book why I have begun to look at India’s digital divide in a differently light. One cannot completely ignore the influence of religion, caste, and gender hierarchies in a society which has a history of societal development that can be traced back thousands of years.
The authors of New Media: A Critical Introduction, show that in the West issues surrounding identity performance, the influence of technologies on the public/business sectors, and questions of intellectual property are very important. This makes me want to question … what then, as far as technologies and digital spaces are concerned, are the issues important to the rural communities in India? Does this change depending on the distance/influence of larger urban/metro communities like Patna, New Delhi, Mumbai, etc.? And taking into account these issues and focusing on political economy … what then is the focus of the research on? (The authors show that in the West, the focus is on production). A key term to come out of their book is the term Technological Imaginary. A technological imaginary pursues the challenge of riding the globe of social injustices and attempts to forge a single social reality both democratic and coherent.
Horst and Miller’s book, The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication, went beyond just putting cell phones in homes, a “One Cell Phone per House” type project. Rather, their book points to the fact that opening the doors to technology benefits some and creates family/social chaos for others (i.e. the example of Mr. Levy and the end of “call boxes”). Horst and Miller also point out how subtle our relationships with a broader network has become and how complex they once were. They argue how multi-stranded our networks have become and how the influence/introduction of cell phones in Jamaica has expanded this “multi-strandedness” and is almost making these complexities seem second nature. Lastly, they also argue that the introduction of technologies does not inherently mean a dramatic transformation to people’s daily lives – although not completely absent. It was this book, the concept of technological imaginary, and input by Kim Christen, which led me to think of India’s ICTs as and ecology rather than individual objects. I am still in the process of gathering sources which, hopefully, will point to the differences between the two ways of classification and provide a theoretical background which will help critique the positionality of Western/governmental powers.
Craig Watkins’s book, The Young and the Digital, was great for showing how social networking sites and other technologies were being used. Scholars of and implementers of technology seem to overgeneralize these connections by making a reference to “this is Generation-Y”. To critque this, I would also like to see how social networking sites are used in rural India and what a term like “multi-tasking” means to these rural communities.
The Project: My Methodologies & Position
I want to begin this section by saying that I have decided that this proposal will play into my dissertation or be a project that my dissertation looks into at the very least. I have decided to focus the project on India … and considering there has been a lot of work done on technology use in urban settings, I want to narrow the project’s focus a bit further by examining proper implementation/uses of ICTs in rural India. For example, one of my final research questions I posed was, “What projects are currently taking place within rural India that includes proper implementation of ICTs?” I want to narrow this focus a bit more by moving the focal point of my research towards the rural areas in the state of Bihar (located in northeast India, just south of the Nepali border) – perhaps even focusing on villages near the capital city of Patna. This way I would have a “base” in Patna (where my family is from of course) where I can center myself, have access to certain amenities (basic human needs, family connections for financial/personal purposes, and the University of Patna’s library for further information/research gathering.
This project, yes, will have a research-based foundation but also needs fieldwork to work out some of the other questions that are present or may arise. I plan for this project to last one semester to a year depending on what form of fieldwork I will be doing. As I have mentioned above, observations and one-on-one interviews will be my main source of gathering information while in India. The observations will allow me time to do my own analysis of project, but the interviews will either confirm or reject these analyses, and in the case of rejection … will hopefully point me to what is genuinely going on.
I will also be including a 5-10 page position paper positioning myself within the project. I will cover my background as an American born South Asian and how my father’s “breaking” of family traditions as led me to a more liberal mindset (in comparison to my family overseas). In addition to this, it is this mindset which has sparked the interest to focus on rural Bihari communities rather than urban “poor, college students” like my family would want me to focus on (I know this through discussions I have had with them).
What is at stake with this research project? Why is it so important? First off, it is important to me because it could potentially impact me (if I decide to live in India), but will definitely impact my family currently living in India. Secondly, if India wants to further develop its economy and maybe avoid some of the issues that Western societies are facing with the implementation of ICTs, than I advise the Indian society to focus on the same questions I pose in my project. The helping just Hindus or Muslims, or urban vs. rural Indians, does absolutely nothing for the betterment of the nation. But at the same time I realize that my project is not the “Be all to end all”. What is at the foundation of even my issues is the realization that assess to basic education would alleviate the majority of problems surrounding technology access.
Here are the questions that I focused on:
1) How does the participation divide interact with(in) existing social structures in India?
- What is socialization in general terms?
- What is socialization in Indian terms?
- How does one already socialize? (Notions surrounding hypersocialization)
2) How have International Organizations influenced the participation divide for better or worse? (IMF, World Bank, Nasscom, etc.)
3) What is “access”?
- What does it mean to different communities? (rich/poor, traditional/non-traditional, etc.)
- Is there an underlying issue to the problem of access? (Kenneth Keniston)
4) In India, are there more divides present than just the typical participation and access divides?
- If so, what are they and how do they operate in Indian society?
5) What, as far as technologies and digital spaces are concerned, issues are important to the rural communities in India? Does this change depending on the distance from/influence of larger urban/metro communities like Patna, New Delhi, Mumbai, etc.?
- And taking into account these issues and focusing on the political economy of the different divides … then what is the focus of the research on? (In Western societies the focus is on production)
6) What would a proper installation of technologies/ICTs in a rural Indian setting look like? (Attacking the participation divide”; pg. 32 of The Young and The Digital)
7) If we think of the social structure as an ecology – which includes multiple facets of daily life – than how might we begin to look at ICTs similiarly?
- How is this ICT ecology defined, shaped, understood, mobilized and put into practice?
Sources & Literature Review
The following is a list of my sources. I have divided them up into 2 sections: 1) Sources that go through the theory or setting up of topics like the digital divide, digital identity creation/culture, the participation divide, identity tourism, social life in cyberspace (also social networking), etc. This section will also include some of the texts from class … and 2) Sources that pertain specifically to India. The sources on India focus on ICTs not these previous theories. If any of you find sources of these theories and their practices/working within Indian culture/society please pass them my way!
The theory sources will lay the foundation for the examinations of the digital divide within India. But, to start the analysis I think I might use one of the “India” sources (Kenneth Keniston) which points out India’s particular situation concerning the divide and its stratification amongst the different groups within India (religious, caste, economic, political, etc.).
Critical Cyberculture Studies; David Silver & Adrienne Massanari, 2006 –> This piece operates in two ways. First, the book lays the foundation of how and what constitutes Cyberculture. Lastly, the book functions as a cautionary piece against the force of disciplinarity. The field of cyberculture studies (and other related fields) must have an agile curriculum – resembling that of the technologies themselves. In doing so, the injustices that arise from the advancement of our social/cyber networks can be better challenged.
Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture; Tarleton Gillespie
The Cell Phone: An Anthropology of Communication; Heather Horst, 2006 –> This book went beyond just putting cell phones in homes. Rather, the book points to the fact that opening the doors to technology benefits some and creates family/social chaos for others. Horst and Miller point out how multi-stranded our networks have become and how the influence/introduction of cell phones in Jamaica has expanded this “multi-strandedness” and is almost making these complexities seem second nature. They argue that the introduction of technologies does not mean a dramatic transformation to people’s daily lives – although not completely absent. It was this book, the concept of technological imaginary, and input by Kim Christen, which led me to think of India’s ICTs as and ecology rather than individual objects.
Structures of Participation in Digital Culture; Joe Karaganis, 2008 ed. –> This book points out how our physical/social networks play huge roles in our use of digital spaces and digital technologies. He posits a linear progression of the transformation in recording history and information. Karaganis points to the fact that society’s memory practices have changed through the years; to oral and electronic practices from an oral and written based practices. It is because of Karaganis’s book why I have begun to look at India’s digital divide in a differently light. One must not completely ignore the influence of religion, caste, and gender hierarchies on ICTs in a society that has a history which can be traced back thousands of years.
The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future; S. Craig Watkins, 2009 –> This book was great for showing how social networking sites and other technologies were being used. Scholars of and implementers of technology seem to overgeneralize these connections by making a reference to “this is Generation-Y”. To critque this, I would also like to see how social networking sites are used in rural India and what a term like “multi-tasking” means to these rural communities.
Coming Out in the Age of the Internet: Identity ‘Demarginalization’ Through Virtual Group Participation; Katelyn Y.A. McKenna and John A. Bargh
Life on The Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet; Sherry Turkle
Beyond Anonymity, or Future Directions for Internet Identity Research; Helen Kennedy
New Media: A Critical Introduction; Martin Lister, 2009 ed. –> This book shows the issues surrounding identity performance, the influence of technologies on the public/business sectors, and questions of intellectual property are very important. I thus beg to question what issues are important to those in the rural communities? A key term to come out of their book is the term Technological Imaginary. A technological imaginary pursues the challenge of riding the globe of social injustices and attempts to forge a single social reality both democratic and coherent.
Relationship Formation on the Internet: What’s the Big Attraction?; Katelyn Y.A. McKenna, Amie S. Green, and Marci E.J. Gleason
Language, Identity, and the Internet; Mark Warschauer
The Internet and Social Life; John A. Bargh and Katelyn Y.A. McKenna
The Augmented Social Netowork: Building Identity and trust into the next generation Internet; Ken Jordan, Jan Hauser, and Steven Foster
Can the digial divide be contained?; Duncan Campbell
India (the following are hyperlinks to the articles themselves) –>
Bridging the Digital Divide: Gyandoot – The Model for Community Networks; Rajesh Rajora
Bridging Digital Divide: Efforts in India; Siriginidi Subba Rao
Information Village: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural India; Shivraj Kanungo
Bridging the Digital Divide Lessons from India: The Four Digital Divides; Kenneth Keniston, 2003 (this is the online version of his book) –> This piece was the starting point for the development of this proposal. In this article, Keniston discusses 4 digital divides that implementers of ICTs in India should take into account: 1) the typical access divide [rich v. poor, educated v. non-educated, etc.], 2) a linguistic/ cultural divide [issues between Hindus and Muslims, one of a few nations world wide to have more than 10 official languages, etc.], 3) the digital divide between the global North v. South, and finally 4) the benefactors of such a gap … the new “Digerati” elite as Keniston says. As much as I love Kenneth’s piece, I also have another problem with it … he like many other researchers do not even address the disparities between male and females within Indian society – thus, just maybe, leading to a “Gender Divide”. This will be the piece that I begin my writing on India with, and it will be the cornerstone for the upcoming research.
Political Economy and Information Capitalism in India: Digital Divide, Development and Equity; Govindan Parayil –> I have not been able to get a hold of this book yet, but the following is a description that I have found on us.Macmillan.com and other sites (Amazon.com, etc.) … “In this theoretically and empirically engaging volume, the contributors demonstrate that despite the dynamism of India’s software industry and the rhetorical flourishes of industry leaders, at present, the benefits of the revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) touch only the hundreds of thousands with the right skills and access. India still needs to do more to bring the benefits of ICTs to the hundreds of millions of its citizen’s still living in acute poverty. The contributors take stock of the political economy implications of informational development in India” (Palgrave Macmillan, May 2006). Once I am able to get a copy of this book, I will find out how it may(not) work into my dissertation.
I dont know why my old powerpoint decided to start coming up instead of my updated version…hope this works! I have found it works better if you don’t view it in the blog, but actually pick “view on slideshare”…that way you will be able to view all of the words on the slides without them getting cut off. Sorry about all of that!
Hey guys, I have updated my powerpoint for my final project proposal….check it out and let me know your thoughts. I changed my research area to southern Idaho (an area I am much more familiar with and interested in) and also was more interested in pursuing not just the question of how technology (or lack thereof) affects women’s careers in general….but affects their pursuit TECHNOLOGY RELATED careers (does women’s lack of access keep them from pursuing these types of careers?)
The US Census Bureau (2006) headlined that, “nearly half our lives are spent with TV, Radio, Internet, Newspapers.” In addition, a plethora of advancements in technology continues to intensify this relationship, making our connection to technology pervasive, fundamental, and ubiquitous. In particular, Generation Y is one population that is known for its intense relationship to technology (Howe & Strauss, 2000). The population is the largest group to-date, with birthdates ranging from approximately 1974-2003 (American Demographics, 2001; Alloway & Dalley-Trim, 2009). Social media Optimization (2008) call this group, “the first online native population.” The postmodern world of technology influences and shapes this particular population in multiple ways. However, when Generation Y is discussed it is generally talking about affluent white heterosexual middle class young men and women. According to standpoint theory, young men and women from this social location will have a different “standpoint” than others from a different social location, such as a young man or woman who self-identifies as non-white or bi/multiracial, low SES, and hetero/bi/homosexual. Furthermore, because of the historical socio-cultural political context of these ascribed multiple social locations and their positioning in the contemporary global world these individuals will experience power differently and to different degrees.
Problem Statement/Research Questions:
I propose young men and women who come from marginalized groups within the larger population of Generation Y are part of a movement towards the reformation and re-conceptualization of social theory within education. Specifically, I propose these marginal groups are part of a larger movement to immantize and playlist theory—to make it meaningful, intimate, playful and personal, which could potentially be a way to re-arrange or disrupt dominant regimes of truth and “order of things” (Foucault, cite year). The purpose of this paper is to address Generation Y’s incoming presence onto the scene of education with the following questions: How might up-and-coming scholars, in particular, marginalized scholars, affect the field of higher education? How have the lines of technology redrawn the lines of learning and the dissemination of knowledge in relation to the field of higher education and social theory? How do these Gen Yers from marginal locations render theory in their contemporary world?
Review of the Literature
The following section targets one position within the ecology of communication (Horst & Miller, 2006). I focus on this particular positioning as it becomes an “access point” for this paper’s focus to follow.
Baudrillard discusses the dissolve of previous boundaries stating, “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself” (1998, p. 166). He emphasizes “to simulate is not simply to feign…simulation threatens the difference between “true” and “false”, between “real” and “imaginary”” (1998, p. 167). The meaningful way in which the public interacts, communicates, forms and maintains relationships, is dominated by contemporary forms of technology, creating a hyperreality which needs less face-to-face interaction time. Virtuality thus becomes the center stage to which reality is the main act, producing a techno- hyperrealism that goes beyond postmodernity into something else.
Lessig claims technology is, “change[ing] us. They [digital businesses] change how we think about access to culture. They change what we take for granted” (2008, p. 43). For example, community and identity are two arenas which become dramatically altered within this emerging context. Identity, which is intimately linked through the membership (or non-membership) to any one community, finds itself tightly interwoven in the fabric of the virtual, directing and constructing communities that no longer have to be physical or geographical. Individuals can be found simultaneously participating in and identifying with multiple groups, in multiplicity. Anonymity, through the Net, offers a space in which individuals curiously explore “other” realms of being, which may or may not be the socially accepted norm within their physical/geographical community. Moreover, virtuality poses a unique opportunity for the individual to compose, de-compose, and re-compose identity and community in ways that can be playfully “re-mixed,” and re-arranged. People form intimate relationships with each other and with immaterial objects through this participation. Relationships can be lost or gained, and value is re-defined. Active participation through virtuality contributes to the re-writing and re-conceptualizing of reality. It normalizes and naturalizes how one carries about her/his day, it re-arranges schedules and priorities, and it further obscures any lines of what is real and what is not. (Lessig, 2008)
“Going virtual” as cited by Baralou and Shephard (2009), have major implications for everyone. The literal manifestation of the fluid arrangement of signs and symbols within a cultural context are more evident than ever. Several popular culture examples are erected; such as Myspace, Facebook, and the Net’s general composition of online communities which force users to assume an identity made out of virtual signs and symbols that are coded/re-coded/decoded and processed through the relationship between user and viewer. The digital era imposes and presents itself as an opportunity to “re-mix” identity. It forces one to see and acknowledge the contradictions and interruptions that were so blindly passed over in the past. It awakens dissonance and reveals the contentious shadows that follow one’s reason. (Lessig, 2008) Furthermore, one can argue identity becomes so inexorably entangled within this emerging condition that reality ceases to be examinable without the exploration of these elements. The superfluity of the techno-virtual realm exponentially increases access to popular culture, making its prominence felt everywhere to some degree. In the implosion, Lash and Lury define the event as the consequence. No longer does one need to conceptualize subject-object, as two separate distinctions; it then becomes irrelevant. Relevancy lay in the relationship between the two, the immanent experience, the event made up of “multimodal experience” (2007, p. 15). It is the persistent and intense branding of everything and nothing virtual, where one’s experiences are “indexed” and colored with degrees of intensity. Hyperreality, simulation, and virtuality via popular culture are elements that continue to define virtual identity construction. Differentiation between lives a priori sans virtuality is no longer conceivable or practical; the human experience is now enveloped and interwoven with these simulations and hyperrealisms making them appear normal and feel natural.
Virtuality reveals modernity’s relentless attempt to conceal the simulacrum’s message—“the simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true” (Baudrillard, 1983, p. 1). It challenges the grand narrative of absolute certainties with the ironic and paradoxical notion the only thing infallible is the fallacies in which it stands upon, “stability is not natural” (Derrida, 1996, p. 84 as cited in Hall and Birchall, 2006, p. 172). The field of subjectivity and the myriad of “necessary fictions”, make up, and are in fact, the only fact—although, are not equal in its density of influence or power. The implosion emphasizes and reveals the relationship to the oxymoron: certainty can only be understood in degrees of uncertainty; reality is only as real as one’s senses tell her, and all experiences are both real and illusory. A degree of playful seriousness is mandatory, producing and adrenalizing the heart and essence of virtuality and immanence.
Interruption re-humanizes the dehumanizing state of academics, and invigorates one, on his/her endless odyssey, to dance on life’s tensions with a placid satisfaction. As Hall abdicates, “It is an extremely difficult road, not resolving the tensions between those two requirements, but living with them” (1992, as cited in The Cultural Studies Reader, 2007, p. 39). This space allows the individual to acknowledge the shared capacities of the profane and the seemingly divine, absolves the mundanities of everyday-ness, the battleground (or playground) of struggling and competing subjectivities, while de-throning the anamorphic and stifling effects of objectivity. It is one’s active “wrestling with the angels” (p. 37). This is far from indifference; this is a space where passion of interpretation and subjectivity are alive and thriving. And once again, one is found back at the site of implosion (or never have left) observing and experiencing fear and/or delight in the mundane everyday.
Generation Y and Education:
With the prevalent use of technology demonstrated by the staggering statistics and constant anecdotal evidence found in the everyday lives of generation Y, researchers and educators should find it as no surprise that there is growing unrest among this current and diverse generation. There is a call for reformation in the classroom. Research and education face a current crisis with Generation Y’s emergence into academia.
Hall and Birchall discuss a generation of scholars who are neither entirely necessarily comprised of Generation Y, nor necessarily excluded to this generation, and state that scholars who are affecting the field of education today, “do not have a common approach or methodology. […] If anything, what’s different about this ‘generation’ is that it is not recognizable as a school, but is rather more mobile” (2006, p. 5). The members of this particular generation have grown accustomed to and prefer this approach of participation and integration, deeming it convenient, mobile, accessible, and necessary. In other words, this era works through degrees of intensity, “immanently, in the arteries of society” (Lash & Lury, 2006, p. 13).
Generation wh/Y must we do this?:
Specifically in the field of education, the backlash of No Child Left Behind, which is arguably part of a larger condition of Hardt and Negri’s, Empire, further fuels the voices that challenge conventional models of learning and pedagogical practices. The weight and significance given towards standardized testing, is one recent example of the Imperial policy tactics dictated for educators, who are to impart a standards-based curriculum that does not steer from the content. Ultimately, standards-based education curriculum carries with it the assumption that universalization is not only doable but right. This universalization perpetuates modernity’s globalized illusion of a New World Order, which ceases to take into account the diversity and contextual differences between populations. This universalism also deems the “nature” of things as inevitable and excludes the historical realms that shaped its condition to begin with.
Hall and Birchall do not explicitly focus on Generation Y, yet their presence and forthcoming appearance onto the scene of academia appropriately coincides with their previously quoted statement. Generation Y’s seemingly obligatory nature and relationship to technology allows the diaspora to flourish. Mobility defines the diaspora; the diaspora defines the current living context. This raises important questions: Where does that leave research and education? How are scholars to use this information in relation to their own research and to their classrooms? How can scholars incorporate this changing landscape into something helpful and useful for their students? What does this mean for scholars and people alike who are to explore the realms between agency and hegemony? Where does one draw the line? While these question may not find resolve any time soon (if ever), they do offer the field of academia an opportunity to pause and question the direction in which education is to go. Generation Y’s appearance into the work world, their necessary fictions they bring with them may be annoying, but nonetheless, should be examined and acknowledged making the field re-think and re-search how it views the world in all its subjectivity, complexity, and tensions.
Generation wh/Y not?
The culmination of these elements: individualization, techno-virtual hyperreality, mobility and subjectivity in large, produce an immanentization affect that dramatically shifts how one knows, conceptualizes, theorizes, and thus, understands the world in which one lives.
Torres Garcia (dissertation, 2009) details her personal struggles in finding a theoretical framework that accurately satisfied the context of her study and reports:
I found myself dancing to numerous rhythmic tones [regarding various theories]. These expressive and elegantly soaring notes were artistic but disconnected, pleasant but unfulfilling, relaxing yet discomforting. I realized that these theoretical concepts individually do not bring justice to the experiences of Chicanas/Latinas in the Pacific Northwest, nor did they produced a rhythmically familiar and satisfying melody. (2009, p. 26)
Correspondingly, black feminist theory is made up of a pastiche of theoretical schools that “theoretically” contradict one another and do not ‘go’ or ‘fit’ together. Yet, Collins manages to weave a fruitful and meaningful argument that acknowledges the complexities, contradictions, and tensions black women face and experience. By acknowledging her positionality and creating her own theoretical framework grounded in experience, Collins validates her experiences and gives others, like Torres, who struggles to find a meaningful framework, permission to do the same.
Currently, theory is suspended in the diaspora of global consequences. Isolation, nomadic wandering, and displaced identities saturated in the virtual, as defined by Hardt and Negri, are the constant. They are constant in the daily activities of production and being. They define one’s being. Theory must acknowledge this reality and respectfully and accurately position itself in a space where it itself can be productive and beneficial. Said’s notion of a “traveling theory reconsidered” (as cited in The Cultural Studies Reader, 2007, p. 252) is invigorated, and scholars can once again, return back to, the filaments of theoretical exploration.
The disassembling and re-assembling of theory in different, possibly contradictory, and even inconsistent ways is vital for Generation Y, who ride the coattails of a former generation of scholars who emphasize the importance of the everyday. Generation Y is deeply embedded into a customization and brand environment which forces them to break things down (which includes their experiences) piecemeal, and then re-configure what they can out of those pieces to inform their identity. Subtle nuisances and smidgeons of degrees of difference become fundamental. Despite the fact that outsiders of any one community may fail to recognize, understand, or feel the tension, participating members understand that these subtle difference are not subtle.
The Design: Methods and Procedures
This is a qualitative study with a mixed sampling set and collection of data. The researcher will study alternative research articles within education that use social theory as a conceptual framework. In addition, these articles will address issues of social justice within the realm of education. My emphasis will be on comparing the researcher’s background, her/his age, ethnicity(ies), SES, and sexual orientation. From this particular data, I will contact these authors and ask to interview them. The interview will address issues of social theory and its use in the author’s work(s). See below for interview questions.
Significance of Study:
Theory has always been a metaphorical, theoretical, deconstructed and reconstructed, virtual playlist. The immanentization of theory is the theoretical playlist; the parceling out and the weaving in of multiple retroperspective concepts into a setting that is contemporary and context specific. The theoretical playlist is the amalgamation of various strands of differing theories, some of which may be contradictory; into a cohesive portraiture used to explain and illustrate understanding. Emerging scholars are attempting to deconstruct theory in ways that may have traditional theorists gasping. Yet, to this ‘new’ generation, one which is led by non Gen Yers, but is being taken up by incoming scholars who are of the Gen Y population, this type of deconstruction and re-construction seems completely plausible to their current experiences.
In particular, the direction of theoretical relevancy raised by Hall and Birchall’s discussion of the ‘new’ generation and their affect on the field of cultural studies, and I would add, education writ large (2006), is due to the growing number of scholars entering the field from non-traditional “academic” backgrounds. Not only, are these scholars challenging previous social theoretical models, but they are tinkering and pushing the lines and seams of theory. Ironically, it is the technological advancements of the current conditions streamlined with the growing inclusion of alternative resistant communities/cultures (i.e., indigenous, Queer, feminist, race theories) that, together, navigate and challenge previous conventional models of theory.
The context of theory’s privileged place within education is at stake. Its power and relevancy lie in the expansion of how one configures, conceptualizes, utilizes and presents theory in alternative ways that fit the diverse conditions of today. Moreover, the significance of how the field responds to this particular generation, who nonetheless, have grown up, been indoctrinated into, and have known nothing else other than the virtual playlist, will be of key importance in the direction education is to journey. Furthermore, generation Y brings along its own unique set of issues that confront technology’s ubiquitous presence, dealing with growing up in a neo-Capitalist/global society, and their personal struggles to find a working conceptual model which illuminates the diaspora associated with current social, political, and cultural conditions. Previous scholars’ from different generational eras, who have worked from the margins or outside the margins, can be seen as pioneers and important leaders who have foreshadowed and paved the way for Generation Y’s insistence on alternatives conceptual models of theorizing (c.f., Collins, 1990; Foucault, 1994; Shiva, 2005; Prakash, cite year; Urietta, 2002; Hall 1990; Grande, cite year).
For all its debatable glory and gloom, this is what I suggest the ‘new’ generation asks. They want knowledge, information, and theory to be relevant to the context they have grown up in. This context calls for creative and innovative explorations of experience and meaning-making, many of which falls outside the boundaries of traditional educational theories. The significance of making connections from the ‘outside’, or bringing the ‘outside’, ‘inside’, is urgent. The approach is where the contentions lay—the approach of utilization, interpretation, and presentation. They want it to feel meaningful and immanent, or intimate with their experiences. Immediate connections to the profane and ordinary are significant and fundamental. In a world where they are constantly asked to participate; where they feel they are the other half to the relationship of their doings and undoings, they understand academia best in a setting which acknowledges their multiple contexts. Their intense relationship and interaction with their simulated environment changes the way in which they conceptualize the relationship between subject and object.
For the most part, technology and alternative marginalized population groups are not thought of as concepts that go together, at least in a harmonious conceptualization. There is an abundant amount of literature and studies that expose technology’s disastrous and devastating effects on vulnerable populations. One cannot dispute that fact. In many respects, technology is a space in which much criticism can and should be generated and argued most vehemently against. However, I am inclined to recognize technology’s prevalent and stubborn appearance. I believe it is important to reconcile its unyielding, persistent presence. One cannot criticize something away. And because of this, it is important to find ways in which productive forces within the master’s house, so-to-speak, can use the momentum which was generated for it, against it, thereby attempting to subvert dominant and oppressive ideologies. As educators and researchers, it is in our best interest to acknowledge the increasing power Generation Y will continue to have on all of our lives.
Donnison argues that teacher educators should be cautious about accepting and adopting popular discourses about the generation as a basis for the designing and developing millennial appropriate educational practices and pedagogy” (2007, p.1). And that, “Millennials have allowed others to determine who they are, what they believe and what they can become (p.8). Which furthers leads into her final quote: “It is only when the Millennials engage in the active co-construction of their own discourses that real empowerment will be possible” (p.9). This is one millennial engaging in the construction of her discourse making. And furthermore, I contend that youth are challenging this notion that this generation passively accepts what others previously have told them. Maybe the people in power just aren’t listening or recognizing youth’s attempts, which I would say speak loud and clear in terms of the lack of participation and connection to the material taught in classes. To ensure, it is not about ending theory; it is about making theory meaningful and relevant to the everyday lives of people; it is about making theory more immanent and experiential, an absolution from all the previous borders that did not/does not allow for intimacy or inclusion, which links humans together. Immediate connections to the profane and ordinary are fundamental. The significance of becoming conscious to the connections of the outside as inside is urgent. The raw flesh exposes itself, immediately unearthing the ridiculous irony that defines humans’ being. It is the immanent-izing of theory—the blurring of theory to one’s experiences and the turning out of all that is normal and natural only to display it for its complete unnaturalness and abnormalities. It is the discovery that the everyday mundanities navigate the ideological machines which run human’s lives. The immanentization of theory is about the self and its context. The lines of separation are obscured; and the meeting space between the real and the non-real becomes a rich landscape for awesome possibilities and great dangers, making its potential an exciting arena to explore.
Below is what I have so far for the final paper. It’s still a draft and might be a little choppy and abrupt. I am also yet to write the DISCUSSION section and I did not included a bibliography at the end in the interest of space (they’re there in-text, though). The in-text reference links also don’t seem to be working for some reason – so please ignore those. Other than that, I welcome your feedback via comments and questions. Thanks for reading!!! 🙂 🙂
Digital Culture, Identity, and Participation: Bridging the Health/Development Digital Divide in India
Since its inception, the field of development communication has been understood and operationalized through various approaches such as the dominant paradigm (where health is largely a matter of individual responsibility), diffusion of innovations (health as function of adopting certain innovations), social marketing, cultural sensitivity (merely using local culture to tailor health messages), cultural-centrism (building theories and applications organically from within a culture), entertainment education, organizational communication, information communication technologies (ICTs), and recently, participation-based communication. No matter how health communication is understood, however, in its simplest form, it is the process by which communication theories and strategies are used to stimulate social change and/or development. It is also geared toward some form of positive social growth that is intended to help people improve their quality of life and empower them with knowledge and agency.
The new paradigm or what is referred to as the participatory approach to development communication, shifts the agency of development from the researcher or the outside expert to the people who constitute the target for development communication programs. This shift is premised upon the belief that it is the community that knows best about the problems it faces and hence should be included in any development communication efforts that target the community (Dutta, 2007). This is held to be a reasonable assumption for development-related aspects such as health practices, attitude change, resource allocation, power distribution, and even family dynamics. A significant body of research has been aimed at investigating the factors that prevent people from adopting certain health behaviors or seeing value in an attitude change. Scholars have also investigated how certain power mechanisms operate at a global scale to deliberately subordinate certain parts of the world or certain groups of people in every part of the world. Further, Rogers (2003) theorized specific adopter characteristics that encourage some categories of people to adopt innovations while others are driven by several factors to not subscribe to them. While most of these research efforts have focused on Western society and conventional media, little attention has been paid to the types of barriers (structural/cultural) that development/health efforts have faced (or are likely to face) in India – a society deemed conservative, collectivistic, traditional, and yet making giant strides in technology. Recently, considerable research has demonstrated that health and development campaigns are increasingly going digital as new media formats such as blogs, mobile technology, and social networking are being deployed in developing nations in order to disseminate health/development related information. Scholars such as Berg, Aarts, & van der Lei (2010) have therefore urged for a greater understanding ICTs by means of analyzing the relationships between social environments and the technology being used to spread health-related information. Further, scholars like Haux, Ammenwerth, Herzog, & Knaup, (2002) have made several lofty predictions about how ICTs are going to facilitate advanced yet affordable healthcare and information in the near future. However, most of these predictions and recommendations are for the Western world and they usually refer to technologies such as the internet.
Therefore, in this paper, I focus my attention on India and the potential reasons why developmental and health efforts might be difficult to conceptualize, mobilize, and implement in the country. First, I will briefly trace the historical trajectory of development communication efforts in India – this is akin to mapping the communicative ecology as suggested by Horst and Miller (2006) in the context of proliferation of mobile technologies, and the ecosystem approach to development presented by Chung & Pardeck (1997). Second, I will identify the gaps that exist between traditional development ideologies and realities in the Indian scenario. Third, I will attribute these gaps not only to certain structural barriers but also to some intrinsic cultural and psychological barriers within the communicative ecology, at the individual, community, and even at the nation-state level which health and development scholars will likely need to overcome before a developmental effort can fructify in India. Lastly, I will use a development communication campaign in India conducted via the digital media (undertaken by the BBC World Service Trust in association with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) from 2006 to 2009, as an example of how culture and new technologies can be successfully incorporated into development messages and how the barriers and challenges outlined in this paper can be worked with. As I will illustrate, this campaign also served as an excellent example of how digital technology is being utilized in order to bridge the digital divide between the information-rich and the information-poor from a health communication perspective.
Mapping the communicative ecology: India’s development trajectory
India has historically presented several contradictions and formidable challenges for development communication efforts. Overall development efforts in India are undertaken through five-year plans, conceived, implemented, and monitored by the Planning Commission of India. The first of these five-year plans was presented in 1951 and as of today, India is in its 11th five-year plan. Taken collectively, these 11 plans have focused on a plethora of areas such as agriculture, industry, energy, transport, communication, information technology, economic reform, and modernization of agriculture and industry. It was only in the later five-year plans (after 1974) that the Planning Commission of India began to focus on developmental issues such as unemployment, low literacy rates, infant mortality, affordable health care, impoverished living conditions, sex ratio, and the environment.
The fact that the initial five-year plans did not really focus on these issues is surprising, given that origins of developmental efforts in India can be traced back to the 1940s when the Gandhian model of development was conceptualized with an intention to attain individual- and community-level empowerment and self-sufficiency. The Gandhian model was aimed at preserving Indian values and culture rather than substituting them with the Western paradigms of development that were in vogue around the 1940s and 1950s (Khoshoo, n.d.). The focus was on rural reconstruction based on Gandhi’s ideal of ‘villageism’ which emphasized participatory communication as a means to attain self-reliant villages. Gandhi envisioned the Indian village as the most basic unit of social planning and conceptualized the philosophy of ‘Sarvodaya’ (meaning development for all) as the backbone of an economy that would be able to provide food, clothing, shelter, justice, political power, and education to its members.
For a long time, the Sarvodaya model was considered the ideal model of development in India because it suggested that development is inextricably enmeshed with social transformation which would allow people to realize their ethical and spiritual potential. In the decades that followed, political instability and an ideological vacuity led to the lack of a cohesive vision for the country’s developmental goals. This, coupled with the government’s promise of attaining quick results for the masses, meant that there was significant chaos in choosing the developmental model that would be best for a country like India. This chaos was apparent in the second, third, and fourth five-year plans proposed by the Planning Commission where little or no resources were allocated toward alleviating the conditions in which the majority of Indians lived.
By the 1990s, the focus of development shifted drastically from what was proposed by Gandhi to three developmental models implemented by the Planning Commission: The Basic Minimum Needs Model, Technological Model, and the Participatory Model. Under the Basic Minimum Needs Model the government is the change agent responsible for providing the basic necessities of life to the people of the country. The relationship here is thus akin to that between a parent and child where authoritarian agent would tell the dependent party what to do and how to do it. Under the Technological Model of development, science and technology were seen as the agents that will improve the living conditions of people even at the grassroots levels. This is consistent with Lister, Dover, Giddings, & Grant’s (2009) argument that in every era, there exists a technological imaginary whereby each new technology brings with it a “positive’ ideological charge”. Lastly, the Participatory Model, which is in keeping with the Western ‘new’ paradigm of development communication, suggests that people can only live better if they are given the power and agency to improve their own lives. Ideally, these three models should be implemented concurrently so that various sections of society may benefit from one or all of the development models. This, however, is far from the development realities in India where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is ever-widening. In the next section, I seek to identify some of these gaps.
Development ideologies and realities in India – the chasms
For a developmental effort to attain intended results, there needs to be successful and effective interaction among all units involved in that developmental effort. Usually, these include the government, development planners, sponsors, change agents, and of course, the targeted community which could be as small as a village or as big as the whole country. It is fair to assume that during this interactive process, an ‘image of development’ arises that might be different for each of these development units depending on where they are situated. From a phenomenological perspective (Griffin, 2008), one may argue that each unit’s experience of the self and of other units can only occur here through effective dialog and the thoughtful scrutiny of everyday life from the point of view of the person living it. Politicians, planners, sponsors, change agents, and the masses might agree that development is always good and ethical but it is possible (and in most cases, probable) that each of these units has preconceived notions of what constitutes development and how it can be best attained for the population in question. For instance, the development planner’s perception of what a target community’s problems and needs are, might not be synchronous with what the target community itself perceives as its problems. What then ensues is a veritable mismatch of expectations driven by differing visions and aspirations that politicians, bureaucrats, sponsors, social leaders, and the people have for their country’s development. These fault lines are largely where much of the meaning making of Indian realities takes place. The complexity of overlapping and/or contradictory visions for development along the development continuum means that eventually, each node (unit) of development struggles to define and coherently put forth its notion of development because it runs into opposition from other nodes’ conceptualization of development. In the process, no real development takes place.
For true development to be attained, therefore, each participant in the development process needs to seek some amount of congruence and co-orientation in the meaning-making of development. This is in keeping with Pavitt’s (1981, cited by Papa, 1995) argument that “successful co-ordination is more likely to occur when communication increases each member’s ability to make…predictions relevant to the particular task at hand. Members would then make judgments as to whether their knowledge about each other is adequate for the task and if further information acquisition would be advantageous.” This leads to the conclusion that the conceptual chaos pertaining to development can be clarified significantly through an interactive process where dialog and acceptance take precedence over lofty visions. In an Indian context, this conceptual chaos is further problematized by nation-state level variables such as bureaucracy, political ideology, culture (individualistic/ collectivistic/combination thereof), type of society (modern/traditional/transitional), as well as demographic-level variables such as gender, age, and regional diversity.
Evidently, it is hard to reach a consensus on the meaning, processes, and goals of development because of these variables which in turn determine the definition of what constitutes development. This becomes especially problematic in a country as diverse as India where there is an overwhelming plurality of political parties, ideologies, and religion, among other variables. This multiplicity eventually culminates into complex realities that defy generalized conclusions and create several chasms along the development process.
Barriers to development communication in India
It is evident from the above discussion that the development scenario in India is one where all involved entities agree that there is something intrinsically wrong with the way development is being understood and undertaken in India. Naïve realism (Ross, 2004) might even lead to each of these entities into believing that while their actions are responsible and pro-development, other entities are responsible for the developmental disarray in India. In this section, I proceed to identify three possible causes behind the development gaps mentioned in the previous section. Previous scholarship (Kar, Alcalay, & Alex, 2000; Servaes, J., 1999; Singhal & Rogers, 1999; Singhal & Rogers, 2001) in this field has attributed these gaps to several structural barriers. My emphasis in this section, however, will be on barriers that may be considered cultural and psychological in nature. These barriers are, what I argue, challenges and factors that development planners and/or change agents need to bear in mind and purposively consider when planning health and development programs in India.
The culture of inculcated dependency
India’s economic fabric has previously been comprised of socialism, communism, extreme protectionism, state-ownership, and excessive regulation. Because of these factors development and growth have taken place at a slow pace in India, punctuated in large measure by rampant corruption and the infamous ‘license raj’ (red tapism). In fact, for about three decades after its independence, India continued having a mixed economy, where the government monitored and dictated private domestic businesses, stopped imports, and made the purchase of official licenses (hence ‘license raj’) mandatory for any entrepreneurial initiative in India. The goal of this system was to ensure economic self-sufficiency but the policies led to the production of low-quality, outdated products that had no demand. The result of this restrictive mixed economy was that while the GDP of nations such as Korea and Singapore grew at a rate of 9% from the 1960s to the 1980s, India’s GDP grew by a paltry 4-5%. With little or no agency in the hands of people to better their own lives and procure the means necessary to live comfortably, Indians have therefore traditionally looked to the government for provision of food, clothing, shelter, social justice, and even self-fulfillment. India has witnessed economic liberalization only since the 1990s and is expected to embrace “compassionate capitalism’ in the years to come with a focus on entrepreneurial efforts and ethical distribution of wealth. In spite of what may be considered a vast improvement in terms of economic freedom and permissiveness, even today, India ranks 122nd in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2009 report in which countries are ranked in terms of how conducive their “regulatory environment” is toward the operation of business. The reason why India’s entrepreneurial permissiveness is being discussed here is because development (especially in rural areas) has been often linked to entrepreneurship and its concomitant factors such as innovation, risk taking, agency, decision-making, change, and even uncertainty (Petrin, 1994). This is further substantiated in an Indian context if the mission statement of the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) of India is taken into consideration. According to EDI, some of its primary objectives are to create “a multiplier effect on opportunities for self-employment, promoting micro enterprises at rural level, and inculcating the spirit of entrepreneurship in youth”.
Clearly, entrepreneurial efforts and development are enmeshed with each other to an extent that limiting the former in the past has led to sluggishness in the latter today in India. Because of the historical nature of entrepreneurship in India (outlined above), I argue that people were culturally ‘trained’ to depend on the government for fulfillment of their basic needs. This cultivated passivity, coupled with a fatalistic attitude toward life (Bhattacharji, 1982) is the main reasons for this culture of learned dependency – the primary barrier.
The ‘why me’ ethos
Historically, there has been a lack of initiative-taking among Indians due to their over-reliance on the government. The chances of taking initiative diminish further when an individual perceives that other people will benefit unfairly from his/her actions. Thus, everyone waits for another to take action first before they will join in. In the process, no one does anything about an issue and things remain as they are – a fact which is then justified via reciprocal blame. This rationale keeps individuals and communities from taking action that will serve collective purposes. I argue that the ‘why me’ ethos originates in an individual from a sense of feeling exploited when others benefit as a result of action taken by that individual. The same could also hold true for entire communities where one community will not take action if it means other surrounding communities will also benefit from their having taken that action.
While this might make individuals and communities look selfish and short-sighted, it is crucial to bear in mind that the government’s assumed parental role precludes these people from realizing that what when an action benefits one person, it begins to benefit others, and eventually has a ripple effect.
This is almost akin to the concertive control system that Papa et al. (1995) identify as one of the reasons behind the Grameen Bank’s success. I argue that the benefits of concertive control, where the locus of immediate control rests with the people and not the government, need to be established and even demonstrated in a health/development program for people to see how one person’s right action can and should have a multiplier effect on the community.
Psychological fears and dilemmas
In this section, I use Hofstede’s cultural dimension scale as a theoretical framework to substantiate some possible psychological barriers to development in India. Hofstede’s conclusions about cultural dimensions were originally aimed at garnering a better understanding of cultural differences specific to international business. However, I extrapolate Hofstede’s conclusions about Indian culture to explain people’s psychological dilemmas when it comes to development communication in India. Specifically, I use two of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions – ‘avoidance of uncertainty’ and ‘individualism’ – as the theoretical underpinning of this section. While Hofstede’s arguably prescriptive approach and functionalist characterization of uncertainty avoidance and collectivism-individualism does not do justice to the diverse Indian demography, these concepts may be implicitly associated with the psychological dilemmas that I discuss in this section.
India is ranked 45th and 40th on Hofstede’s cultural dimension scale of individuality and avoidance of uncertainty respectively. A score of 45 on the individuality scale, according to Hofstede, indicates that the social fabric is closely knit, with a high emphasis on extended families, loyalty, and importance of the group over the individual. However, it seems contradictory that a culture can be collectivistic and yet have the ‘why me’ ethos at the same time since each of these concepts indicate the presence of inherently opposed social characteristics. While the collectivism-individualism might not be a binary continuum, there is an amount of validity to Hofstede’s conclusions about India. Individuality, as characterized by autonomy, independent thinking and judgment, self-responsibility, and the pursuit of one’s goals/happiness, is not necessarily considered a good thing in India. Instead, people (the vast majority, anyway) do not want to act or think in a manner that makes them stand out or be different even if that means the attainment of the common good – an essential principle of collectivism. In other words, the fear of being perceived as an ambitious elitist, much like the theory of the spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1974), which explains why people would refrain from voicing an opinion or taking specific actions if such opinion or action runs contrary to prevalent social trends. Thus, someone adopting a new health behavior based on a health communication campaign (for example, testing for STDs), might be seen as an elitist who would run the risk of social reprisal from others.
India also ranks low (40) on Hofstede’s avoidance of uncertainty scale compared to the global average of 65. This, according to Hofstede, indicates that a culture is relatively more comfortable with unstructured ideas and ambiguous situations. Further, such a society will also have fewer rules with which unexpected events can be tackled and will be “more phlegmatic and contemplative.” It follows logically from this theorization that there might be a pervasiveness contentedness with the status quo as well as resentment toward the government (the failed parent). The concurrence of such contentedness and resentment leads to two things – people voice their needs and grievances but do not take alleviative action. This in turn breeds a cynical frustration and an overall climate of skepticism among people toward any developmental or health-related efforts since they have learned to accept their condition as inevitable and pre-ordained.
So far, this paper has attempted to map India’s communicative ecology, and presented cultural factors (inculcated dependency and the ‘why me’ ethos) and psychological factors (such as fear of isolation, indifference, and inertia) as the reasons responsible for causing the gaps between the image of development and the reality of it in India. In the next and final section of this paper, I use an ongoing development campaign in India to demonstrate how the above-mentioned barriers were worked with, not just by incorporating Indian culture as we know it so far, but by shifting the identity of what it means to be an ‘Indian’ today.
Using digital culture for health communication
The employment of culture is crucial to any health/development program not just in order to increase receptivity of the program or message but also to make sure that theories and applications pertinent to a campaign originate from within that culture, thereby situating culture as a pivotal core of health- and development communication practices. Development scholars such as Dutta (2007) recommend a culture-centered approach to development communication as opposed to a culture-sensitivity approach that usually works toward maintaining the status quo and for the most part simply uses culture in order to increase the receptivity and identifiability of social/health messages. The culture-centered approach, however, uses culture as a theoretical lens and employs it at a deeper, structural level (Dutta, 2007). Under this approach, the researcher and the researched are collaborators who engage in dialog in order to not only identify health/social problems but also conceptualize solutions to those problems. Further, the culture-centric approach is aimed at challenging the status-quo through dialog with the target community (cultural members), thereby creating discursive spaces for subaltern voices that have been traditionally marginalized by dominant development programs that reflect “Eurocentric biases of individualism” (Airhihenbuwa, 1995).
I argue in this section that an ongoing health communication effort in India has been able to successfully incorporate popular digital culture into a campaign that urges the youth to use condoms and to talk about contraception without embarrassment. This campaign is being chosen for analysis here primarily because of its unique utilization of technology (which has become an intrinsic part of the Indian lifestyle) and for the way in which it managed (as opposed to ‘solved’) the development barriers identified earlier in this paper.
On World AIDS Day 2006, the BBC World Service Trust in association with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, implemented a mass media campaign in India that seeks to “normalize” condoms in India. Indian men of varying ages were surveyed in order to find out existing knowledge, practices, and attitudes toward condoms. The aim of the campaign was to encourage men to talk about condoms since research suggests that “men who talk about sex are more likely to use condoms consistently.” The campaign was also geared at projecting condom-use as a positive health practice – something that should be done if Indian men want to be perceived as responsible and caring toward themselves as well as their partners and families. The campaign was estimated to reach about 125 million people through media that encompasses television, radio, movies, music, and print, and was lasted until 2009. Given its fairly long-term focus, the campaign was implemented in phases. The aim behind making this campaign multimedia-based as well as multi-phased was possibly to ensure that by the end of the campaign’s life cycle, most people will have witnessed one or more health message about condom-use. The campaign, in each of its phases, relied on one form of media and employed specific aspects of nouveau ‘Indianness’. For instance, the first phase capitalized heavily upon the Indian youth’s preoccupation with mobile phones. The first phase played on people’s curiosity – they were asked to solve a riddle, the primary clue being – “It’s a sign of manhood…but it’s not a moustache.” Free mobile phones with paid minutes were offered as incentives.
In the second phase of the campaign, a mobile phone ringtone (an ‘a Capella’ arrangement called ‘Condom Condom’) was used to spread the word about protection and its benefits and also bring the word ‘condom’ itself out of the closet to which it is confined in India. In a country where sex is not discussed and sometimes not even acknowledged, BBC’s campaign, and particularly the ringtone phase, demonstrates a dexterous nexus between tradition (where sex is taboo) and modernity (where mobile phones are ubiquitous and a quirky ringtone is a sign of being ‘with it’).
Music has always been a popular medium for delivering health-related messages. For instance, rock music videos promoting teenage sexual responsibility have been successfully used everywhere from Mexico and South American countries to the Philippines and Nigeria (Singhal & Rogers, 1999). However, the ringtone campaign seems to be the first time that a mobile phone ringtone has been used to deliver a health-related message. Yvonne Macpherson, Country Director, BBC World Service Trust (India), argues that “…with one in four people in India having a mobile phone, and ringtones being, for some, statements of personal style, it’s a new way to reach people.” Radharani Mitra, Creative Director, BBC World Service Trust (India) argues that “ringtones have become such personal statements that a specially created condom ringtone seemed just the right way of combining a practical message with a fun approach.”
The campaign obviously exploited the mobile-phone revolution in India where the subscriber base grew from a mere 3.2 million in 2000 to 508 million in 200912. By 2013, India’s mobile phone market is expected to surpass that of China’s with an estimated subscription base of 1.15 billion! Indeed, affordable prices and low recurring costs have made it possible for mobile phones to be used extensively, regardless of age, gender, and socio-economic status. Having the latest model of phones launched by popular phone brands is quite the fashion trend among the youth. Offering a free mobile phone with paid minutes and disseminating condom-use related messages via the cellphone indicated a clever employment of popular digital culture.
According to BBC World Service Trust, the campaign website got over 65,000 hits a day and the ringtone was downloaded close to 300,000 times within a few months of its launch (MacPhersen, 2008). Although it is not clear yet if the campaign has been able to effect attitudinal and behavioral change regarding condom use (although BBC World Service Trust claims that condom purchase has increased in India by 5% since the airing of the campaign), these numbers indicate that the campaign raised significant awareness about safe sex practices despite the strong taboo pertaining to anything sexual. This is interesting since health communication campaigns in India, particularly HIV/AIDS related campaigns have traditionally been top-down, informative, and educational in nature with implicit, indirect content. The popularity and apparent success of this campaign which mobilized popular discussion and encouraged interactivity indicates that there has been a positive shift in the manner in which HIV/AIDS related campaigns are planned and implemented in India. Further ‘being Indian’ vis-à-vis attitudes toward sex-related topics have also come a long way in the last decade or so. From a sexually repressive climate to an atmosphere where people proudly flaunt a condom-themed mobile ringtone – the leap has been significant. It is therefore interesting to analyze what cultural definitions and shifts the campaign employed to attain its goals.
On the one hand, this campaign retained some elements of the cultural-sensitive approach (asking questions such as “Will the ringtone concept work in India?”, “How can we make a ringtone that has international appeal and is yet undeniably Indian?”, and “How can you encourage Indian men to talk about and use condoms?” On the other hand, strains of the culture-centered approach were also evident (asking questions such as “What are the existing beliefs and attitudes about condom use in India and why do they exist?”, “How can we get Indian men to talk about condoms without feeling awkward?”, and “How can we centralize the voices of the people and engage them in active participation?”). The campaign also relied heavily on redefining what it meant to be an Indian male by undertaking cultural maneuvers. It modeled condom-use as a positive behavior for Indian men, the practice of which makes one attractive to women and leads to one being seen as a role model. It further projected that condom use indicates that a man is responsible toward himself, his partner, and to his family. Thus, it was no longer ‘cool’ to be reckless and irresponsible; rather, to be the new Indian male – sensible, prudent, and sensitive – one must use protection and be proud of it. By and large, therefore, this campaign employed a tectonic shift in the national and cultural identity of masculinity in order to promote a health behavior. We know that the cultural identity of a country is “a complex and dynamic web of meaning” (Dutta, 2007), subject to several cross-currents originating from myriad sources, usually social, economic, or religious in nature. In this case, a health campaign challenged the status quo of Indian masculinity and engaged the ‘with-it’ youth in order to relocate the Indian male and his notions of masculinity.
The campaign reinforced the notion that it was up to the individual to protect oneself and that one need not depend on external factors to ensure protection from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The transfer of agency from the conventional parent (government) to the individual was made clear by catchy slogans such as “you win when you understand” – with verbal emphasis on the second person singular pronoun. The campaign was also ready with an answer in case people asked “why me?” – it said “your family, your choice” – reiterating that it is up to the man to practice this health behavior because he is confident, smart, and responsible for his family’s well-being, and that no one else but him should have to shoulder a responsibility that is his.
Psychological barriers such as fear of isolation and indifference were also addressed by showing the campaign mascot (a typical middle-class Indian male, often accompanied by an animated talkative parrot or a puppy called Condom) flaunting the condom-ringtone at public gatherings such as weddings and games, thereby sending the message that there is no stigma or shame associated with talking about condoms.
Here is the article I will be focusing on for my current event!