Presentation at the First International Summit on Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) 2016

Maria Elena Figueroa
Publication Date
February 9, 2016

Director, Research and Evaluation - Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

“The Latin American theoretical tradition provides insights into self-determination, local ownership and empowerment as central to the “praxis” in communication with participants actively involved in the process of change and transformation.” (from the abstract)

Background to this paper as taken from the abstract:
“Communication as a field has been evolving and continues to do as scholars try to explain the various forms and angles of human communication. With communication having its founding roots in sociology and social psychology, scholars have struggled to find a single definition of communication and furthermore to describe its theories. Various communication traditions have been advanced to organize the way we think about communication rather than to define it. Some of these traditions have evolved from various schools of thought across different cultures. As health communication continues to evolve to more effectively respond to the multiplicity of health conditions in the world, both researchers and practitioners could benefit from having a broad perspective of the various schools that have influenced the field and from others that may have not reached such mainstream level due to language or sociocultural barriers. This paper contributes to the “Mainstreaming Global Theories” panel by describing communication theories from Latin American scholarship, what they have contributed to global theorizing, and what they are struggling to explain in a more connected world.”

The presentations starts off by explaining that Latin America (LA) theory developed from the practice of participatory communication in rural communities and that it has evolved in response to prevailing development paradigms. It is rooted in the following key principles:

  • Dialogue
  • Participation
  • Voice of the voiceless
  • Local, alternative media (community radio, theatre)

Figueroa explains how LA theory emerged out of the social and political environments of the 50s and 60s, as well as reactions to Western communication theory. She outlines the following new concepts contributed by LA theory:

  • dialogic: versus monologue
  • participatory: versus unidirectional
  • alternative: versus mainstream media
  • participatory action-oriented research: individuals as subjects and not objects of study

LA theory also emphasises democratic communication for a democratic society (80s) and seeks to expand and balance people’s access to and participation in the communication process for “sustainable humanistic development” (Bordenave, 2000).

The presentation goes on to look at three of the most influential communication theorists from LA. Luis Ramiro Beltrán who disputes the Diffusion of Innovations Theory and proposes a more horizontal, alternative, and democratic communication.

Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy and Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968, 1970) proposes a new relationship between educators, students and society, seeing students as critical thinkers, who must participate in solving their own problems. His theory looks at the importance of dialogue and reflection which is considered key for people to overcome their problems and become involved in determining their own future. The focus is on communication with and not for people.

Juan Díaz Bordenave advocated for attaining a “humanistic” development (economy, society, ecology) and a “democratic” communication that: assists in the development of communities’ cultural identity; acts as vehicle for open citizen’s expression and community deliberation, and facilitates diagnosis and articulation of community problems/needs and solutions.

The presentation then looks at the impact of LA theory and how it has informed multiple interventions being used today, e.g. those using participation; those giving people access to communication resources; community media; and community dialogues.

Figueroa ends off by posing the following questions:

  • Do our interventions create critical consciousness?
  • How horizontal, alternative and democratic can communication be in our area of work?
  • How do we accomplish this at large scale?
  • How can social media support LA theory principles?

International SBCC Summit 2016 Abstract Booklet and the Powerpoint presentation on February 16 2016.