Issue #: 
December 6, 2004


This Drum Beat is one of a series of commentary and analysis pieces. Dr. Clemencia Rodriguez, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Oklahoma, analyses two communication approaches to peace-building, describing a "social fabric" approach as the most effective and efficient way to inspire peace- and community-building. What follows is her perspective - NOT that of the Partners collectively or individually.

This issue of The Drum Beat has been published in Spanish through La Iniciativa de Comunicación's Son de Tambora e-publication. Click here for the Spanish version.

We are interested in featuring a range of critical analysis commentaries of the communication for change field. These will appear regularly on the first Monday of each month and are meant to inspire dialogue throughout the month. Though we cannot guarantee to feature your commentary, as we have a limited number of issues to be published each year, if you wish to contribute please contact Deborah Heimann Many thanks!


Communication for Peace: Contrasting Approaches

For some time now I have been exploring communication and media initiatives that attempt to build peace in contexts of armed conflict. After observing some of these initiatives and reading about many more, it is clear to me now that they can be characterised as one of two approaches: the "epidemiology" approach and the "social fabric" approach. Here I intend to explain and characterise each of these approaches and to argue for the potential of the "social fabric" approach to support long-term peace-building through participation, community and empowerment.

The "epidemiology" approach conceives situations of social and political violence as a result of a "disease" that affects a specific community at a certain point in time. For example, negative ethnic stereotypes are seen as having "infected" a community, and this infection degenerates into ethnic violence. From this perspective, the goal of communication and media initiatives is to intervene in a conflict situation with pre-designed messages that address the negative factor and produce change in a specific direction - a direction pre-decided by the project "experts." Communication and media are used to persuade individuals to adopt specific behaviours or attitudes, for example to dismantle negative ethnic stereotypes. Frequently, entertainment strategies are used to reach audiences in the hopes that - if entertained - audiences will receive, like, and internalise messages better. This type of initiative is generally evaluated using quantitative research methods to measure certain indicators comparing pre- and post-project data, for example "change in percentage of children of ethnic group X correctly identifying other ethnic group language."

"Epidemiology" communication initiatives are grounded in traditional approaches to entertainment-education (E-E), which in turn emerged from an understanding of communication for social change as unidirectional persuasive communication focusing on an individual and intended to provoke behavioural or attitudinal change in that individual (see the work of Singhal and Rogers, Kincaid, and Sabido). The goal of traditional E-E is to persuade target audiences to adopt proposed social behaviours or attitudes; Singhal and Rogers for example, defined the role of communication for social change in the following terms "to influence audience awareness, attitudes, and behaviours toward a socially desirable end;" Miguel Sabido defines the goal of media for social change as "to promote good behaviour and to dissuade bad behaviours." Within this framework, interventions are designed to promote certain attitudes and behaviours pre-defined as socially desirable or good.

The design of traditional E-E revolves around a formula in which a prosocial behaviour is predefined by the producers; characters and storylines are developed around the adoption of the desirable "good" behaviour; characters are divided between those who adopt the proposed social behaviour, those who reject it, and those who are uncertain. When characters adopt the proposed behaviour, they are visibly rewarded. When they move away from the proposed behaviour, they are punished. For example, a male character dies from AIDS while his brother, who decided to adopt the promoted prosocial behaviour, is rewarded with a good family life.

The theoretical foundation of the "epidemiology" approach is Albert Bandura's theories of how individuals change. According to Bandura, human change is (1) a cause and effect process (you "inject" an individual with a message that will cause that individual to change in the direction you want him/her to change); (2) a process that is fairly controllable; and (3) an individual process.

The "social fabric" approach is very different. Here, social and political violence are understood as very complex phenomena that emerge at the intersection of many factors ranging from unequal distribution of resources, weak state presence, corrupt government officials, impunity, and strong presence of illegal economies (such as drug trafficking). All these, working in conjunction, erode the social fabric and normalise a culture of strong individuality, disbelief on the rule of law, fear and isolation, exclusion of difference, and lack of solidarity among individuals. In these contexts, communication for peace initiatives emerge as attempts to "re-knit" the social fabric. Here, the goal is to open communication spaces where individuals can - collectively - construct links among each other based on mutual respect, solidarity, and collective enjoyment of public spaces.

The case of citizens' radios in Colombia illustrates well the "social fabric" approach. Part of an emerging movement of community radio in the country, some of these radios operate in isolated rural communities where guerrilla organisations, paramilitary groups, and drug traffickers have cornered civilians. In 2000, during an event sponsored by the Ministry of Culture's Unidad de Radio (click here), a group of Colombian community radio leaders declared their stations "territories for peace." This declaration indicated that the radios would be used as cultural, social, and political spaces for peace building. When asked what this means today, community radio leaders explain that the stations enable communication processes that build citizenship, strengthen public spheres, facilitate social participation in community decision-making processes, call for government transparency, and propose alternative collective imaginaries. The theory is that most Colombians are not violent, and that the only way to counter violence and "los violentos" [the violent ones] is to strengthen civil society's discursive competencies. That is, a social fabric made of responsible and empowered citizens that value the public good, demand transparency, participate in collective decision-making processes, and cultivate local cultures, will eventually repel violence. In Belén de los Andaquíes (Caquetá-Colombia - click here), for example, a group of children produced a radio programme in which they mixed sounds of several local birds; among chirpings and twitterings, the children explain how all the birds share the same tree, all searching for the same thing: searching for life. Here these Colombian children learn to value their local environment, find their own voice, and articulate how different identities can co-exist peacefully, sharing the same vicinity. With this two-minute radio programme, these children are knitting a different social fabric, one that will be less vulnerable to the seduction of violence.

These Colombian communication-for-peace initiatives are grounded in a concept of communication for social change understood as complex, multi-directional, and very long-term collective processes. Here, instead of dissecting social reality and transmitting pre-designed messages that address violent behaviour as a fragment of that reality, communication initiatives open social spaces that invite citizens to interact among themselves in alternative ways - ways that are not legitimate within the normalised culture of violence. Thus, alternative identities, alternative ways of socialising, and alternative collective imaginaries have a chance to emerge. Instead of addressing audiences as individuals, the "social fabric" approach addresses individuals as members of a collective; and instead of persuading audiences to believe or behave in a certain way, these projects attempt to introduce into the public sphere alternative ways of being and relating to others. If the goal of most "epidemiology" initiatives it to persuade, the goal of "social fabric" initiatives is to propose.

Funding agencies love "epidemiology" projects because they can be designed and implemented according to clear formulas, they are easily evaluated with pre- and post-surveys, and because successful cases can be replicated in different contexts. "Social fabric" projects have to emerge from the ground up (and therefore are difficult to replicate), are not easy to evaluate, and are built more on seemingly "elusive" notions of social reality and communication for change. The need to design appropriate evaluation methodologies to assess the potential of "social fabric" communication-for-change projects is a responsibility that academics in the communication field have neglected for a long time. Unless we offer evaluation tools that demonstrate the validity of these "social fabric" projects, funding agencies will persist in preferring "epidemiology" projects.

As a Colombian academic my research agenda has been driven by the need to understand violence. For more than ten years I have read about violence, reflected on it, discussed it with colleagues from different parts of the world, and felt its impact on my own life. On this basis, it is very hard for me to believe that something so complex and multifaceted as human violence can be dealt with as a fragmentable social reality with clear causes and controllable effects. I have serious doubts about the long-term success of "epidemiology" approaches; and despite all the effort to make these projects more participatory, I still perceive them as intensely patronising.

Dr. Clemencia Rodriguez

Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Oklahoma


See also:

Conversation between Dr. Clemencia Rodríguez, Amparo Cadavid and Jair Vega about the "Project of Systematization and Qualitative Evaluation of the Experiences of the Mounts of María and AREDMAG" (Proyecto de Sistematización y Evaluación Cualitativa de las Experiencias de los Montes de María y AREDMAG) - experiences utilising a "social fabric" approach. [in Spanish]

Unidad de Radio - Colombia

System of Communication for the Peace (Sistema de Comunicación para la Paz - SIPAZ) - Colombia

School of Children's Communication at the Andaquí Center of Communication (Escuela de Comunicación Infantil del Centro de Comunicación Andaquí) - Colombia

Community Radio Network Association of Magdalena Medio (Asociación Red de Emisoras Comunitarias del Magdalena Medio - AREDMAG) - Colombia

Communications Collective of Montes de María Línea 21 (Colectivo de Comunicaciones Montes de María Línea 21) - Colombia


Please participate in a Pulse Poll on this same theme -

Peace-building communication initiatives should prioritise building local communication platforms for dialogue and sharing over directing peace messages at the parties to the conflict.

Do you agree or disagree?


This issue of The Drum Beat is also presented in Spanish through the Son de Tambora e-publication and is meant to inspire dialogue and conversation among the Son de Tambora and Drum Beat networks.

To read contributions please click here.


RESULTS of past Pulse Poll

Development institutions rely on gender stereotypes rather than foster resistance to them.

[For context, please see The Drum Beat 273]

Agree: 73.33%

Disagree: 20.00%

Unsure: 6.67%

Total number of participants = 45


This issue of The Drum Beat is an opinion piece and has been written and signed by the individual writer. The views expressed herein are the perspective of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of the views or opinions of The Communication Initiative or any of The Communication Initiative Partners.


The Drum Beat seeks to cover the full range of communication for development activities. Inclusion of an item does not imply endorsement or support by The Partners.

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