Arvind Singhal
Nagesh Rao
Saumya Pant
Publication Date



School of Communication Studies, Ohio University

Published in the Journal of Creative Communications (Vol. 1, No. 3), this 17-page report explores the transformative effects that the entertainment-education (E-E) radio soap opera Taru has ostensibly had among listeners in Bihar, India. The authors argue that - while most social change projects achieve "first-order change" (change within a system which itself remains unchanged) - Taru's 52 episodes and its spin-off initiatives seem to have engendered "second-order changes", presenting, as it were, a new alternative for social action. That is, they suggest that the radio drama has changed the system itself by spurring fundamental, sustainable shifts in people's values and beliefs. The article investigates how Taru generated such change in Bihar, distilling lessons for how mass-mediated E-E programmes can be strategically positioned to create and sustain systemic social change.

The authors first provide background, exploring the differences between first- and second-order social change. In short, first-order change is a response to problems that involves trying the same type of strategy - e.g., persuading people to stop smoking by encouraging them to buy/try the latest nicotine patch on the market. However, the authors argue that, even if such a well-worn approach does lead to (short-term) behavioural changes, this strategy does not address the underlying reason why people smoke. Thus, there is not much new learning going on, and only "cosmetic social changes are achieved".

Second-order change, on the other hand, requires that new stories that resonate with existing realities of audience members be told - and told ways that "embody dramatically different solutions to old problems." The authors cite an example from the Soul City E-E television series in South Africa to illustrate the way in which existing patterns of social behaviour can be questioned, and new ways of dealing with them modelled, through this mode of communication. In short, following an episode of the drama in which a group of neighbours broke away from a prevailing cultural norm - of not intervening in domestic abuse - by banging pots and pans to collectively act against an abuser, pot banging was reported in several locations in South Africa.

This example is also meant to highlight the authors' claim that second-order change requires something beyond people's learning about new behaviours through media models; audience members' doubts, inhibitions, and fears about performing the newly-learned behaviour must be addressed. The authors suggest that "collective efficacy" is key to facilitating this process, and involves dialogue among audience members regarding the content of an E-E programme. Having been thus been empowered together, audience members need to "mentally rehearse how their actions may be implemented and tailored to their specific local cultural context". Through this process, the collective interventions are envisioned as increasing in frequency and then gaining in legitimacy. This then leads to "amplification", or the spreading of the social change from one context to another (e.g., community members go from banging pots and pans outside a domestic abuser's home to collectively banging bottles in a local pub when a man physically abuses his girlfriend in a bar).

Drawing on this theoretical perspective, the authors next detail the methodology and data collection they undertook over an 18-month period to investigate the second-order social changes sparked by Taru in 4 Bihar villages. This process involved: listening to focus group interviews with Taru listeners and audiotaped listeners' club discussions; reading transcripts of listeners' club diaries; watching video testimony provided by listeners and their community members; collecting field data; and carrying out a participatory theatre workshop and performances with Taru listening club members.

The authors detail specific characters and plot turns here; an examination of the overall storyline, they say, indicates that the soap opera modelled second-order social changes by "introducing decisively different codes of social behaviour that radically challenge existing norms and practices." The key illustration used to highlight these impacts is that of a family from the upper-caste brahmin community in Kamtual village, Bihar, who made the bold decision to allow men from the lower-caste dalit community (whose members are also referred to as achuts or untouchables, and who are often socially ostracised) to serve water to guests during their daughter's wedding. The authors suggest that this dramatic move was the beginning of a process that sparked systematic social changes for dalits - changes "which decades of emancipatory governmental programmes of affirmative action had previously failed to achieve". This process was apparently inspired by the Taru character of Neha (who establishes a school to educate dalit children in the fictional storyline). Other listeners were spurred to action in various ways, as well; for instance, young male and female listeners of the drama gathered to discuss the paucity of educational opportunities for their underprivileged peers - which is described here as "a collaborative social cause activity". The involvement of local rural health practitioners in publicising Taru - e.g., through folk performances; colourful posters, stickers, and banners; contests; and the formation of listening clubs - is described here as key to the success of this E-E initiative's second-order social change impact.

In the concluding section of the piece, the authors offer both methodological and strategic reflections that extend beyond Taru. For instance, they urge that limiting research on the impact of E-E programmes to knowledge-attitude-practice (KAP) as outcome variables can be problematic. They then offer a set of 7 factors that can initiate second-order change; for example, "amplification is a critical and necessary ingredient" this type of change, in that it triggers actions such as mobilising the Singh family's daughter to urge her friends to follow her family's lead by treating dalits fairly.


Posting from Arvind Singhal to the Hollywood, Health & Society listserv on January 17 2007.