Heart of a Lion, Mind Full of Pride: The Paradox of Teaching E-E as a Heuristic for Homegrown Change in Rwanda

By Ryan, Sarah E. | Journal of Development Communication, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Heart of a Lion, Mind Full of Pride: The Paradox of Teaching E-E as a Heuristic for Homegrown Change in Rwanda


Ryan, Sarah E., Journal of Development Communication


The Paradoxes of E-E: Lessons from the Academy and the Field

Entertainment-Education emerged as a rigorous field of study and practice following the publication of Singhal and Rogers' 1999 text, Entertainment-Education: A Communication Strategy for Social Change. While the practice of entertaining the masses in order to educate them has existed for thousands of years--incarnated in forms as diverse as Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Wyclef Jean's Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill) video--Singhal and Rogers produced the first social scientific treatise on the topic. Following a brief history of E-E and an analysis of time-tested techniques for successful social change interventions, Singhal and Rogers suggested that a series of core research practices and messaging strategies had yielded nearly universal success across time periods and cultures. The most effective techniques included leveraging cultural values and deploying transitional characters, or sympathetic actors learning to amend their ways, in pro-social storylines.

Drawing upon the methodology of renowned E-E soap opera creator, Miguel Sabido, Singhal and Rogers contended that successful educators move their students--or audiences--forward by presenting new material consonant with existing values, such as those contained in "a national constitution, laws and policies ..." (71). While such official documents often articulate idealised versions of common cultural beliefs, they nonetheless reflect principles that should be well-known and generally accepted by the public (e.g., freedom of the press in the USA). Ideal cultural values provide not only a starting place for a culturally-sensitive dialogue, but also a set of boundaries for new ideas. For example, the most recent Rwandan national constitution defines marriage as a heterosexual institution (i.e., between a man and a woman), a belief widely supported in the country. An E-E storyline about a transitional character embracing a gay couple's marital union--even if embedded in one of the popular radio soap operas on cutting-edge Radio Salus (i.e., the nation's most popular radio station)--would be so outside cultural norms that it would more likely result in a rejection of the radio characters, programme, or station than a robust discussion of gay marriage (Barker & Sabido; Gesser-Edelsburg, Guttman, & Israelshvili; Graham). However, a programme suggesting that violence toward gays--like factional violence in general--could undermine the progress of the nation, would comport with nearly every national document produced in the past decade and prevailing public sentiment. Such a storyline would respect national values while nudging the boundaries of acceptable discussion outward, a key strategy employed by experienced E-E practitioners. It would necessitate a delicate negotiation of anti-gay and anti-violence values in a society with a history of patriarchal discord--a difficult and ethically challenging feat for a novice practitioner (Brown & Singhal; Gesser-Edelsburg, Guttman, & Israelshvili; Herndon & Randell, forthcoming).

Leading E-E theorists, practitioners, and critics have long noted the ethical quagmires of negotiating communities' values. Singhal and Brown articulated the core ethical dilemma succinctly in their 1996 E-E review article: "Who is to determine what is right for whom?" (27). Four years later, Guttman criticised practitioners for failing to interrogate their own values as robustly as audience members' values. But perhaps the most consistent critic of the traditional E-E values framework has been Mohan Jyoti Dutta. Dutta painted a grim, neo-colonial picture of E-E as "implemented by Western interventionists in Third World spaces, reflecting the power differential in access to the discursive space between the West and the Third World and circulating the voices of the West in the formulation of the problems for the Third World" (221). Dutta was particularly concerned with E-E's potentially negative influences on discussions of community health. …

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