Sustainable Social Change and Communication

By Servaes, Jan; Lie, Rico | Communication Research Trends, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Social Change and Communication


Servaes, Jan, Lie, Rico, Communication Research Trends


1. Introduction

In the social and communication sciences, people have traditionally associated social change with "development problems" that occurred in "developing countries." It is only since the late 1980s and early 1990s that social change has become a global issue. In the new 21st century, the term sustainability is often added to emphasize the continuing and long-lasting character of change over time. The study of communication for development and sustainable social change has therefore been through several paradigmatic changes. From the modernization and growth theory to the dependency approach and the multiplicity or participatory model, the new traditions of discourse are characterized by a turn toward local communities as targets for research and debate, on the one hand, and the search for an understanding of the complex relationships between globalization and localization, on the other hand. The early 21st-century "global" world, in general as well as in its distinct regional, national, and local entities, is confronted with multifaceted economic and financial crises but also social, cultural, ideological, moral, political, ethnic, ecological, and security crises. Previously held traditional modernization and dependency perspectives have become more difficult to support because of the growing interdependency of regions, nations, and communities in the globalized world. The conclusion we can draw from late 20th- and early 21st-century reconceptualizations and reorientations of development and social change is that while income, productivity, and gross national product (GNP) are still essential aspects of human development, they are not the sum total of human existence. Just as this has important implications for the way we think about social change and development, so too does it present opportunities for how we think about the role of communication in development and social change processes. We have chosen in this document to use the term sustainable social change (in a global context) as this seems to be a term that is currently and generally used by different scholars coming from different disciplines. The term more or less covers the same field as development or sustainable development. We use the terms interchangeably, but when we refer to specific texts or historical developments we often speak of communication for development or/and communication for social change, without the emphasis on sustainability, as those were the terms used in the specific periods in time.

This issue of Communication Research Trends provides a survey of the field of sustainable social change and communication in a global context. It starts with a review of introductory works and general overviews and lists some manuals, resource books, journals, and organizations, which are relevant to the field. The second section continues with definitions that circulate in the field and provides entries to materials discussing the history of development communication and related policy and rights issues. Section three reviews approaches and is structured according to dominant paradigms, such as modernization, dependency, globalization and localization, multiplicity, and participation. The final section takes a look at practices and methodologies.

A. Introductory works

In general, social change (or development) could be described as a significant change of structured social action or of the culture in a given society, community, or context. Such a broad definition could be further specified on the basis of a number of "dimensions" of social change: space (micro, meso-, macro), time (short, medium, long-term), speed (slow, incremental, evolutionary versus fast, fundamental, revolutionary), direction (forward or backward), content (sociocultural, psychological, sociological, organizational, anthropological, economic, and so forth), and impact (peaceful versus violent). The literature on social change and development is rich and plentiful. …

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