Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Daniel Lerner, Cold War Propaganda and Us Development Communication Research: An Historical Critique

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Daniel Lerner, Cold War Propaganda and Us Development Communication Research: An Historical Critique

Article excerpt


In scholarly works celebrating the genesis and growth of U.S. communication research, the two most notable being that of Rogers (1) and Everette & Wartella, (2) readers would commonly find considerable pages dedicated to the lives and works of pioneering researchers such as Wilbur Schramm, Harold Lasswell and Robert Merton, but would find only passing references made to Daniel Lerner, this despite the fact that he had published almost as much as did his contemporaries, and worked closely with them in many research projects. One reason given for this omission is that Daniel Lerner in many respects was not truly a communication researcher like his colleagues and contemporaries, that his foray into communication research was fortuitous, being in many respects merely an extension of his propaganda research. (3) Many, if not most, scholars of international/Third World/ alternative development (communication), are far more familiar with Daniel Lerner as the author and chief proponent of the dominant paradigm of development communication, than they are of his works on propaganda, making passing reference to his works only to debunk his ideas by highlighting the imperialist biases underpinning his argument.

Present day scholars' ready dismissal of Daniel Lerner's development communication research, coupled with their unawareness of his propaganda research, may well account for their failure to identify the strong connection between U.S. Cold War propaganda, and the genesis and growth of U.S. development communication research, a connection, I argue, that is embodied in the military career, academic research and political ideology of Daniel Lerner. I claim in effect that development communication research in the United States was not only influenced by U.S. Cold War propaganda objectives, it was in essence a manifest U.S. anti-Soviet foreign policy strategy, one that recruited the knowledge and expertise of preeminent social scientists to establish and fund research institutions, institutes and programs aimed at promoting U.S. foreign policy objectives in general, and Cold War propaganda objectives in particular.

I substantiate my claim by first providing a historical overview of propaganda and development communication research in the U.S. between the early 1950s and the late 1970s, identifying a critical shift in U.S. Cold War propaganda strategies as the crucial link between the two fields of study. This link is further highlighted by identifying key academic institutions and their research programs and institutes that were actively created and/or funded by the U.S. government. Finally, based on a biographical overview and a thematic analysis of his publications, I discuss Daniel Lerner's role and significance in this link by discussing the influence of his career as a World War II Allied propagandist on his later career as a propaganda scholar and development communication scholar, arguing that, in many respects, Daniel Lerner's ideology and works embody the prevailing objectives and interests of his contemporaries on one hand, and those of the U.S. State Department on the other.

My objective here is not to consider the merits or demerits of Daniel Lerner's model of development, nor to make a case for him to be placed in the pantheon of founding fathers of communication research. Rather, I seek to highlight the political imperatives underpinning the very foundation of what would quickly become a contentious field of study, with the ultimate objective being to suggest, at the very least, the impact of this connection on the evolution and practice of the field of development (communication) research and the challenges this field faces today.


Propaganda in the United States could be traced as far back as 1925, the year when Harold Lasswell published "Prussian Schoolbooks and International Amity. …

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