Development Communication Research Paper Topics

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Development Communication Research Paper TopicsSee our list of development communication research paper topics. Development communication refers to strategic communication toward and about social change. Development encompasses intentional strategies designed to benefit the public good, whether in terms of material, political, or social needs. Communication engages mediation by communities, movements, and organizations within these institutional and social structures to promote beneficial dialogic action. This subject is considered in terms of its historical context, academic approaches, and research agendas.

Development Communication Research Paper Topics

  • Activist Media
  • Citizens’ Media
  • Communication Evaluation Research
  • Communication Strategies for Empowerment
  • Communication Technology and Development
  • Community Media
  • Daniel Lerner
  • Dependency Theories
  • Development Communication Campaigns
  • Development Communication in Africa
  • Development Communication in Asia
  • Development Communication in Latin America
  • Development Communication in the Middle East
  • Development Discourse
  • Development Institutions
  • Development Journalism
  • Development Support Communication
  • Development, Gender, and Communication
  • Everett Rogers
  • Geometry of Development
  • Health Campaigns for Development
  • Media Democracy Movement
  • Modernity
  • Modernization
  • Participatory Action Research
  • Participatory Communication
  • Planning of Development Communication
  • Population Campaigns
  • Postdevelopment
  • Radio for Development
  • Rural Development
  • Social Mobilization
  • Spirituality and Development
  • Sustainable Development
  • Telecenters
  • Television for Development
  • Transnational Civil Society
  • Wilbur Schramm

Development Communication in Historical Context

Historically, development strategies have targeted developing countries, meaning those with fewer resources than the wealthier countries supporting bilateral and multilateral development institutions. More recently, development goals have been incorporated into social and political protests, through transnational movements actively engaged in promoting economic, political, social, or cultural progress. Social change may be occurring as a result of a variety of factors, such as long-term shifts in policies and political leadership, economic circumstances, demographic characteristics, normative conditions, and ideological values: development communication intersects with social change at the point of intentional, strategic, organized interventions.

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Following World War II, development communication emerged as a foreign aid strategy, designed by northern and western institutions to promote modernization among less wealthy countries. Early approaches articulated by Daniel Lerner, Wilbur Schramm, and others advocated the promotion of media toward national modernization. Critics raised concerns with hierarchical communication transmissions devoid of historical, structural, or geopolitical context, with some arguing for more participatory processes.

Justifications for participatory development have varied greatly. Development institutions interested in creating efficient and effective projects understand participation as a necessary tool for achieving defined ends. Other development institutions concerned with the ethical aspects of participation are more likely to conceive of participation as an end in itself, regardless of project outcomes. Some participatory approaches build on more resistant strategies to fight oppressive conditions, inspired through Freire’s work in liberation theology. These concerns resonate with recent attention in development to the importance of social and political movements in the broader context of social change.

Although the focus of development communication has changed over time from concerns with modernity, to dependency, cultural imperialism, globalization, participation, and resistance, these shifts have not evolved in a linear fashion. Many underlying concerns with power, whether conceived within political-economic structures or within community contexts, or whether posited as hegemonic or pluralist processes, remain. Highlighting experiences of oppression and dominance, a reframing of the ‘geometry of development’ shifts the landscape of development from nation-states in north/ south orientations toward a more fluid sense of transnational collectivities and agencies.

Academic attention to development communication typically addresses programs designed to communicate for social change, or what can be called “communicating for development.” More recent critical approaches of development concern “communicating about development,” questioning the way that social change projects articulate assumptions about problems, solutions, and communities. These are not mutually exclusive endeavors: ongoing critique and research engaged through communicating about development should contribute to improving strategies for communicating for social change.

Communicating for Development

Communicating for development engages intentional strategies to promote socially beneficial goals. Development problems often addressed through these projects can be found in health, agriculture, governance, population, nutrition, sustainable development, and other subjects. These programs address a variety of themes, such as stimulating economic growth, promoting transparent governance, asserting cultural identities, and creating social spaces for community dialogue, through project implementation.

Communication interventions may help to mobilize support, create awareness, foster norms, encourage behavior change, influence policymakers, or even shift frames of social issues. The goals themselves vary with the underlying approach taken to development, such as social change frameworks based in social marketing, entertainment education, or media advocacy. What unites these approaches is having an intentional, organized strategy toward a specific, noncommercial goal. These types of projects differ, however, in terms of the types of groups they address and the nature of the social change process assumed. Some projects integrate more than one of these types of interventions in broader programmatic efforts. They also may incorporate a variety of mediated technologies as part of their strategic intervention. Communications technologies and processes contribute to these strategic approaches to directed social change.

Communicating about Development

A complementary approach within the broader field of development communication addresses the topic of communication about development. Critical of a development industry that appears to channel resources yet has worsening rather than improving consequences, some scholars position development as a particular discourse that communicates problematic assumptions about the nature of the problems addressed, appropriate solutions, and communities at risk.

The ideological assumptions of development are deconstructed and criticized in this approach. The underlying issue questions how development communicates particular ideological assumptions, and, moreover, what the implications are in terms of understanding power. Power can be understood as a negotiated and fluid process through which some agencies have the economic, cultural, and other resources to dominate and advance their agendas, whereas other groups have the potential to subvert and resist. Some development strategies explicitly take on the goal of empowerment, advocating the rights and responsibilities of particular communities.

Recent attention to postdevelopment posits social movements as radical alternatives to dominant development structures and ideologies. In this regard, social movements are seen not as a way to transform or improve mainstream development, but as potential channels for resistance. Opening our gaze to the possibilities of more resistant strategies means advocating a more inclusive conceptualization of development and social change.

Development Communication Research Agendas

Development communication requires research as integral to the dialogic implementation and assessment of programs. Individual projects need to be analyzed not only in terms of their defined objectives, but also as they relate to broader programmatic strategies and underlying social problems. Monitoring and evaluation research allows an assessment of the program consequences, in order to contribute to improving future projects.

Although quite different in strategies implemented and theories engaged, these approaches are united in their attempts to build on communication toward and about social change. Sharing a profound concern with devastating conditions worldwide, critical scholars and advocates broaden their vision of development communication to include concerns with inequities and to advocate for social justice. Development communication continues to offer an increasingly holistic and far-reaching framework for engaging in dialogue and action toward social change. Future research can inform development communication to improve its contribution toward resolving global concerns.


  1. Dutta, M. (2011). Communicating social change: Structure, culture, agency. London: Routledge.
  2. Enghel, F. & Wilkins, K. (eds.) (2012). Communication, media and development: Problems and perspectives. Nordicom, Special Issue, 31.
  3. Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering development: The making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  4. Gumucio-Dagron, A. & Tufte, T. (2006). Communication for social change anthology: Historical and contemporary readings. South Orange, NJ: Communication for Social Change Consortium.
  5. McAnany, E. (2012). Saving the world: A brief history of communication for development and social change. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
  6. S. (ed.) (2012). Development communication in directed social change: A reappraisal of theory and practice. Singapore: AMIC.
  7. Nedervee Pieterse, J. (2001). Development theory: Deconstructions/reconstructions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  8. Sparks, C. (2007). Globalization, development and the mass media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  9. Wilkins, K. & Mody, B. (eds.) (2001). Communication, development, social change, and global disparity Communication Theory, Special issue, 11(4).
  10. Wilkins, K., Tufte, T., & Obregon, R. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of development communication and social change. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

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