Perhaps it should not have been surprising that given the rolling thunder of multitudes that the world witnessed throughout 2011, the global news media would end the year with reflections on the fact that citizens massed, marched and yelled at the powerful. If you are English-speaking, you would have noticed that TIME Magazine’s person of the year was The Protester. Kurt Andersen’s cover story is beautifully written; so too are the photographs and illustrations that accompany the piece. If you have not read it, try to do so.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011
Originally published on September 6, 2011
Most of those who have been riveted to the breaking news in North Africa and the Middle East during the so-called “Arab Spring” and the recent grimmer months this summer have been focused on predicting the actions of the various heads of state—of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad. But many academics have been trying to figure out who have been the prime movers of the grassroots unrest sweeping the region.
The global policy community seems unlikely to take drastic steps with regard to climate change any time soon. Politicians remain hesitant about taking action, although scientific consensus on climate change is overwhelming. It’s happening, it’s happening now, and it will cause massive damage. And it’s mostly caused by humans. Public opinion, on the other hand, is far behind the science. Are politicians unwilling to impose dramatic measures to slow down climate change because the public is unwilling to pay the cost – yet? Are they kicking the can down the road because the people are not yet willing to fully embrace the fact and the consequences of climate change?
- The World Region
- Susan Joy Hassol
- Steven Sherwood
- Scientific Revolutions
- Science Communication
- Richard Somerville
- Public Opinion
- Physics Today
- Paradigm Change
- John Tyndall
- Global Warming
- Development Agencies
- Communication Techniques
- Climate Change
"One wonders whether the Internet, blogging, Twitter, texting and microblogging ... have made participatory democracy and autocracy so participatory, and leaders so finely attuned to every nuance of public opinion, that they find it hard to make any big decision that requires sacrifice. They have too many voices in their heads other than their own."
New York Times, November 15, 2011
One of the ways in which the world we live in today feels very different from the one we lived in even a decade ago is how ‘connected’ we all feel these days. It does seem that there are issues that we all talk about, personages and celebrities that we all know, and technological means of information sharing and exchange that we all share. Yet, can we say that one of the consequences of globalization is that we now have a global public sphere, especially now that Fareed Zakaria of CNN calls his talk show ‘The Global Public Square’?
You will recall that a public sphere is a metaphor for a space that still exists in some contexts: the village square, the town hall… a place where people come together to talk about common concerns, a process that leads to the crystallization of public opinion. Beyond the level of the village or the small town --- situations where most inhabitants can conceivably gather and talk – the public sphere becomes a grand metaphor, but a useful one. As Denis McQuail asserts in his classic text on communication theory, in most national contests today the ‘media are now probably the key institution of the public sphere, and its “quality” will depend on the quality of the media’. [See McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, Fifth Edition, page 566.]
As CommGAP draws to a close, I've been reflecting a bit on what I've learned from the program over the last five years and the many interesting research, practice and policy questions still left to be explored.
For me, CommGAP was one of the first programs to take a critical look at the phenomenon we call "good governance" by drawing linkages between the related but conceptually distinct strands of accountability, transparency, access to information, citizen voice and mobilization, civil society capacity building, media development, public opinion formation, democratic deliberation, and state capacity/ resilience/ legitimacy. I still remember a conversation I had with Sina at a conference many years ago, asking him how he envisioned the "connective tissue" between all these concepts. The CommGAP program, in a sense, was Sina's answer, and I've been lucky to be able to help articulate some of this work.
"Princes had need, in tender matters and ticklish times, to beware what they say: especially in these short speeches, which fly abroad like darts, and are thought to be shot out of their secret intentions."
Sir Francis Bacon
'Of Sedition and Troubles,' Essays
"Public opinion, well briefed and properly marshalled, is a decisive force in public policy. But since there are many issues in public debate, attention to any one is necessarily transient. The attention of vested interests to their own concerns, however, is permanent."
-- John Kay, Don’t listen to the lobbyists: they never go away, Financial Times, September 21, 2011
For those of us committed to democracy and interested in matters of governance and citizen accountability, the theatrics in India involving the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare pose a neat little dilemma. For, we love freely-elected governments and positively swoon over articulate civil society advocates, and here we have a situation where the two are in a head-on collision. So who’s the good guy? Whose side should we be on?
Hazare is pushing an anti-corruption bill that would give immense (possibly corruption-inducing and governance-disrupting) powers to an unelected ombudsman. The government is countering with a version that would keep key functionaries out of the ombudsman’s purview, arguably defeating the very purpose. Take your pick.
As we reported on this blog, CommGAP organized an Executive Course in Communication for Governance earlier this month. The communication part of the course was characterized as "strategic communication" - which made me wonder what, exactly, strategic communication is, how it is relevant for our work, and whether it's different from "communication" per se. A faculty member from the course pointed us to an article by Hallahan et al., titled "Defining Strategic Communication," which states that "strategic communication" is "the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission." The purposeful use of communication makes it "strategic." The authors elaborate that : "Six relevant disciplines are involved in the development, implementation, and assessment of communications by organizations: management, marketing, public relations, technical communication, political communication, and information/social marketing campaigns." Although the authors see strategic communication as "an emerging paradigm," this clarification defines strategic communication as a set of tools, not as a discipline. Marketing, public relations etc. themselves are no disciplines, but approaches drawn from broader fields, such as economics and communication.