Tag Archives: 09/14/2015

International education and the modernization theory

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga (cd0253a@american.edu)

Reading about the doctrine of ‘free flow’ information, the basis for the modernization theory, and how it was used to help develop Third World nations, reminded me of the state of education currently in my country, Mexico.

The inconsistencies with the modernization theory are well documented, for example, when it failed to recognize the disparity of wealth among the social classes in these nations (Thussu, 44). This failure is particularly applicable when studying the topic of education in Mexico.

In Mexico, income disparity is still a big issue. According to a report from El Daily Post, “the richest 10 percent earn 30.5 times more than the poorest 10 percent”. ‘Free-flow’ information and exposure to modern media to expand education in Third World countries sounds good on paper, but it fails to recognize the obstacles each particular country is facing when it’s put on practice.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2014, Mexico was the sole country in the organization where 15-29 year-olds are expected to spend more time in employment than in education. This fact alone tells you a lot about the way people live their lives and what their priorities are.

Work is more necessary than education; people don’t always see the benefits of getting educated. The OECD states that “in Mexico, higher educational attainment does not necessarily translate into better labor market outcomes”.

Why would citizens choose education if it’s not going to provide them with better opportunities?

This also coincides with the other discrepancy of the modernization theory, in which it disregards traditional lifestyles in favor for modern ones (Thussu, 45). Grouping a whole bunch of different nations, calling them Third World countries, and expecting the same outcomes when helping with their development, is probably why the theory needed to be reformulated.

No Big Brother to Forecast the Net’s Future

Do current debates over internet technology governance reflect any past or present communication theories?

To discuss the governance of the “World Wide Web” we need a quick ‘n crucial review of the timeline of this Berners-Lee breakthrough. And when I say “quick” I want to emphasize how surprisingly recent the idea to organize and standardize the technical aspects of the internet were – beginning in the late 80s and funded by the U.S. government – let alone any governance action regarding the world-wide dissemination of information.

The 90s were mainly technical development, so let’s jump right on up to 1998 when the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was formed to coordinate the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS connects unique identifiers (IP addresses) with domain names (URLs and email domains) that people and devices use to connect on the internet.

So, ICANN, this Californian-based multistakeholder model of an international information governor has been in control of this transnational medium for the past 17-years, and was in contract with the U.S. government up until March of last year.

Now, post-contract cessation, the current controversy has to do with a fear of who might take over the U.S. government’s oversight role of ICANN and have influence over the internet, like an intergovernmental organization or foreign government, or whether dropping “big brother” will indeed strengthen the multistakeholder governance model. And on top of that, can or should ICANN and its multitude of private-sector entities play a role in the policy and governance of where the DNS and copyright law, the freedom and/or censorship of information, or cybersecurity intersect?

And while I’ve noted that ICANN controls the delicate and central structure of the internet, it’s not to say that governments don’t have control over the availability, access and use of the internet within their countries. They do. And even while the great expansion of internet access is contributing to “cosmopolitics” and a more globalized society (Thussu p. 60), not every country has access to this train.

For example, along with massive internet censorship among populous countries; Iran, China, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, to name a few, it wasn’t until 2009 that ICANN “internationalized” domain names. In other words, up until recently the internet was very exclusive to mainly English speakers and languages that use Latin characters.

Overall, the rapid international growth of the internet and the various affects it’s had on communication within different cultures; religious, traditions, and freedoms, is so diverse that, as Thussu noted, “there appears to be a fragmentation of [communication] theories, with an emphasis on the personal and the local, while macro-level issues affecting international communication are often ignored.” (p. 64)

And I tend to agree. Since internet protocols and policies can’t function universally, nor will one model of communication. From the start of any sort of mass international access and the incorporation of e-business on the internet, we’re only just beginning. The global reach of the internet is still a seedling and has no historical predecessor to shed light on the “best practice” theory of communication, principles, norms or governance. Either way, the medium has and will, undoubtedly, continue to strengthen and change the discourse and perspectives among people and cultures around the globe.

Thussu, Daya Kishan. (2006) Approaches to Theorizing International Communication. In International Communication: Continuity And Change. London: Hodder Education.

Internet Technology Governance and its Theoretical Parallels

Much of the challenge of defining and successfully implementing internet technology governance is borne of the desires of sovereign entities to possess control of the technologies and their accompanying industries within their borders. The predominance of western control on these things is a key factor in the diplomatic and regulatory issues that exist in the communication world today.

As Powers and Jablonski repeatedly make clear in their book “The Real Cyber War,” communication technology, regulation, and infrastructure are based almost entirely in the Western world. Western powers took advantage of their capitalistic prowess in the onset of the global communication age and asserted their dominance through the pseudo-benevolent creation of communication capabilities in less-developed nations. Contemporary issues regarding the implications of these Western-sponsored infrastructures very often take the form of dependent nations attempting to confront the disproportionate amount of power and influence that foreign countries have over their affairs. Though there were declarations that lauded the motivation of these acts as being the result of efforts to create international cooperation and harmony, it is arguable that other influences were at play. In any case, the rhetoric associated with global communication development strongly resembles the language used to define modernization theory.

Modernization theory states that “international mass communication could be used to spread the message of modernity and transfer the economic and political models of the West to the newly independent countries of the South.” The idea that providing developing countries with the ability to engage in global communication would be an impetus for societal modernization sounds very similar, in my opinion, to the discourse that surrounded early globalization efforts by the U.S. and Britain (Thussu 42-44). President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of international communication, for example, declared that spread of “American ideals” were the key to universal progress (Powers and Jablonski 37). Modernization theory similarly contends that the catalyst which will promote global evolution lies in the spread of Western practices…

The theory of bettering another country by instituting economic and political standards of an entirely different place is strongly present in contemporary society, and modernization theory strongly reflects that. Whether or not this method of handling matters related to internet governance is successful remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Moving past “high tech ping-pong” in countering ISIS propaganda

How might a theory from the IC readings be applied to help understand the context and set the stage for a practical application to efforts at countering ISIS/ISIL propaganda?

ISIS is not a state entrenched in a particular homeland, rather it arose from the gaps left by the geopolitical divisions and misdirected states within the current landscape of the Middle East. As Gause, a senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, notes, ISIS now plays a key role in what he calls the “New Middle East Cold War”, a conflict primarily between Iran and Saudi Arabia over sectarian divides. ISIS serves as a renegade party in the region.  With no allies, ISIS is generally self-sufficient and operates to serve its own motives, which, as far as we can understand, is to spread its sphere of influence and establish itself as a global caliphate under its interpretation of Islam.

So this is where the question of “How do we combat ISIS’s propaganda machine?” arises. The answer from the U.S. government is that there is still no easy solution. Current efforts to counter propaganda from ISIS have been centered on social media campaigns, as ISIS has been relatively effective in targeting, particularly, young and impressionable recruits. The effectiveness of the U.S.’s approach was outlined by Richard LeBaron, former head of the U.S. government’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, as “some sort of high tech ping-pong game, with the two sides firing messages back and forth, with maximum spin and force. This cartoonish perception singles out the online battle for hearts and minds, and especially for ISIS recruits, as an independent phenomenon with no relation to other forces that go into the radicalization of the tiny minority of people who actually ever get radicalized.” Refreshingly honest, LeBaron’s critique plays into James Carey’s theory of communication as ritual.

As Carey notes, “the transmission view is commonest in our culture” (Carey, 15), implying that the U.S. focuses on transmission of information and how widely it’s disseminated, rather than the context in which that information is spread. Carey suggests that this is an ongoing phenomenon of U.S. communication practices, and therefore affects our public diplomacy efforts. In the context of ISIS, our desire to get our message out to those on the fence of staying put or joining their ranks as directly and quickly as possible is often not appropriately reaching that audience. Through Carey’s theory of communication as ritual, we do not solely rely on the message as a mode, but rather how it functions as part of a larger world view. ISIS has used its social media prowess to, as Gause also notes, expertly and honestly present its values and goals without influence. Therefore, despite the dramatic flair, its messages reflect a very objective sense of ISIS’s mission from its perspective, whereas the U.S. response is predominantly reactionary. In refocusing its approach, the U.S. has to undermine rather than condemn the ISIS propaganda machine and focus on alternative methods of influence from cultural and educational exchange to supporting and giving platforms to credible (i.e. culturally informed) voices. While slow to take hold, these methods better address communication as a ritual in their aims to provide better context for the message the U.S. is trying to send to those ready to cross the Turkish border.

Carey, J. W. (1989). A cultural approach to communication. In Communication as Culture: Essays on media and society. New York, NY: Routledge.