Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The structures of neoliberalism: Redefining social change

In my book "Communicating Social Change: Structure, Culture, and Agency," I begin with the premise that how we define, operationalize, and measure social change essentially needs to be re-conceptualized in order to articulate an entry point for transformative politics in te backdrop of neoliberalism. I base this argument on the notion that traditional conceptualizations of social change perpetuate the status quo through their emphasis on individual behavior change in target populations and systematically ignoring the necessity for structural transformations. This is particularly true of social change as configured within capitalist formations, where the basic premise of social change has been co-opted within the frameworks of capitalism to keep intact the positions of oppression among the owners of capital, extracting profits through the exploitation of labor.

Therefore, for a transformative moment to be re-captured witin the context of contemporary neoliberal phenomena where the poor have increasingly been impoverished further, the middle classes have lost the economic base for finding sustainable means of engaging in work, and the unions have consistently been rendered ineffective through the co-optation of their resistive capacities, both local and global organizing efforts are needed that fundamentally redefine social change to activist politics, politics that seeks to de-center the positions of power. Efforts of social change need to be re-defined as efforts that are specifically directed at challenging structures, as opposed to efforts that masquerade themselves as social change and fundamentally reify and serve the interests of the status quo.

In the book, I work through examples of the works of Daniel Lerner, Wilbur Schramm etc. to note how the history of communication scholarship is precisely located at the moment of co-opting social change agendas within the agendas of US expansionism, imperialism, and service of the capitalist classes. Rendering this linkage in the history of the discipline visible I believe lies at the heart of re-defining the political capacity of communication scholarship as transformative, as social justice scholarship that sets out to invert the relationships of power written into the dominant power structures.

The examples of mass protests at Wall Street once again point to this transformative capacity of organizing that is directed at bringing about social change. The possibilities for communication for social change are endless, in terms of creating openings for resistance that challenge the established sources of power both locally and globally. The role of communication in re-presenting these stories of social change is tied to specific public relations functions in knowledge production in reverse (read more about this in "Communicating Social Change" and in a book chapter that I have authored with Mahuya Pal for "Public Relations in Global Cultural Contexts"), challenging the traditional forms of knowledge production that serve to carry out the interests of TNCs on the landscape of globalization.

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