by Muhammad Al-Waeli
In the 15th Anniversary ComDev seminar that was held from 18-19 of September in Malmö, lot of important points and reflections were made. Tobias Denskus made an interesting talk about the future of ComDev, as a field and as a practice. This post completes the ideas and comments that were made in the Q&A session after the talk.
In general, all experts in the field of ComDev seem to agree that there are no clear boundaries for the field and that what ever could be counted as a boundary, is in fact constantly moving.
Of the interesting ideas Tobias introduced in his talk was the future trends of ComDev, which among many directions, could be in ‘internal organizational communication’, and ‘ICT4Bad’.
Both topics are of interest to me. In the case of ICT4Bad, or what I like to call Communication for Destruction (ComDes) the interest comes from personal experience and observations of media conduct in the Middle East and its impact on the conflict(s) going on there, and in the case of internal organization communication, because it is very much related to my studies in human resources management.
Eric Schrammel, one of my fellow ComDev students and a new friend that I made in the ComDev event, made a very smart comment. He said “If there wasn’t communication for destruction, there wouldn’t be communication for development.”
In general, I do agree with Eric. If I’d would like to categorize communication in terms of development, I’d say that there is communication with the aim to develop, communication with “anti-develpoment” aims, which eventually is destruction, and communication that doesn’t seem to have either objectives, but still can have implicit positive or negative impacts on development.
I am aware that I am doing some academic “skipping” of many issues that still compose the main discussion in the field(s) of developmental studies, like the very question of what comdev really is, or even what development actually is. However, we can say that advertising for cigarettes, for example, does not compose communication for development, regardless of which angle we look at issue (health, economy, culture, globalization, consumerism,..etc).
Therefore we can agree that there is a type of communication that leads to bad results and movements. That is what ICT4Bad essentially means.
The Nazi movement that lead eventually to the WWII is a perfect case to study in this regard. But more recent happenings are of major importance to understand, like the rise of ISIS, which wouldn’t be possible without a specific type of communication that was able to recruit people from “east” and “west” to accomplish its dark agendas. Answering the question “what did ISIS communicate?” and “how did they pull all this off?” is of critical importance here, not for the Middle East only, but for the whole world security.
But here is the thing: when thinking about ComDev or ComDes, we are in reality thinking about communication for social action (lets call it ComAct), because any communication in the field of development or destruction won’t have any real impact on the ground if it doesn’t turn into action within a social context. Therefore, as I see it, the real question (are at least a major question) in ComDev is what type of communication is making people act, and why it works or won’t work in a specific community.
Many disciplines can have a say in this and are able to help enriching and informing the field of ComAct. On a dinner with fellow students in Malmö, I recall smart question made my Tom Wein, also a ComDev fellow student and new friend, who asked the following “if ComDev is about change, then why doesn’t it take input from behavioral psychology?” I thought of it a valid question and it made me think. The inputs of other behavioral sciences like organizational behavior and social psychology are very important here if are talking about social change and action. So its not (or should not be) only about media and cultural studies.
As said, the comments here might not be completely academically sound, but they nevertheless are things that are worth thinking about when contemplating the question about future of ComDev. ComAct, as a necessary step towards social change, is of practical value. And practical uses from the topics related of ComDev increases its centrality in answering the many question a glocal world poses to researchers and practitioners.