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Theoretical and methodological foundations

Project statement update, January 2005

Point of departure. The field of development communication has become an important branch of development research in recent years. Its primary focus has been on social and technological aspects of communication (Melkote/Steeves et al. 2001), to the almost complete neglect of its linguistic side. The relative emptiness of the vast field of potential common interest shared by linguists and development researchers is evidence of a strategic gap in interdisciplinary dialogue and co-operation. Calls for taking local language seriously as a key for development have mainly emanated from development research on the African continent (Chaudenson et al. 1999; Koné & Sy 1995; Robinson 1996; Tourneux 1999; Tadadjeu/Chiatoh in press). However, "language-conscious" approaches to development tend to focus on the interface between development source and development target languages (DSL/DTL) and concentrate mainly on communicative factors affecting the transfer of innovative concepts in the initial phase of development interventions. Yet there are good reasons for assuming that "parallel" local discourses (Bearth 2000a/b) accompanying development projects in all stages of their implementation are crucial to understanding the causes of ultimate success or failure of development projects.

Overall purpose. Responding to this gap in interdisciplinary co-operation, the LAGSUS research group has initiated a number of parallel longitudinal studies in currently four different Research sites - TURA (Ivory Coast), HERERO (Namibia), BALULI (Uganda), and KAILI (Indonesia) - in broadly comparable cultural and sociolinguistic settings. Main objectives are (i) to derive, from solidly documented case studies, a general paradigm of the relevance of language to development; (ii) to investigate conceptual, discursive and interactional processes associated with operational or post-operational phases of development programs; (iii) to integrate gender aspects of communication and changing gender-roles as a semi-independent variable at the macro- as well as at the micro-societal levels; (iv) to assess, document and enhance the still generally underestimated role of (inherited or newly acquired) communicative expertise of local communities in monitoring development processes and ensuring their sustainability.

Working assumptions. In terms of its methodological presuppositions, the research orientation of LAGSUS is complementary to the general orientation of previous work in the field of development communication (DC) and of sociological approaches to development. It starts from a double premise regarding the nature and objective of DC: (i) DC must not be reduced to the conceptual understanding and reception of an exogenous message of innovation, but must extend its scope to the conditions under which an innovative message is transformed into a message "from within"; (ii) this entails a double focus on DC as an externally-driven process of inducing change, and as an endogenous process of argumentation and negotiation which, in the prototypical multilingual situation, relies on locally available communicative resources; in most cases, this will be the local language. This basic premise is expanded into a set of working hypotheses (cf. Key hypotheses) subsumed under the general principle of communicative sustainability.

Preliminary results. Among the tentative observations which can be made at the present stage of fieldwork is that in widely different sociolinguistic and socio-economic settings, and in a broad variety of situations within a given community (e.g. home area vs. diaspora), the issue of language is perceived as a key factor by the "target groups" themselves, and one on whose successful negotiation the approach to development issues depends in a significant way. Extrapolating from preliminary analyses of data, the divergence or the convergence of "parallel" discourses (DSL-centred vs. DTL-centred) offers a rational basis for identifying and factorizing variables underlying communicative sustainability, with possible ramifications beyond local contexts of development. Finally, an approach to development through the prism of local communicative processes embedded in naturally action-oriented interactional settings turns out to offer a challenging and promising field for the reflection and elaboration of an interdisciplinary methodology which will go beyond the initially provided heuristic starting kit of the Twelve Questions catalogue.

Additional information:
Detailed project description
Bibliographical references

This project is a joint venture initiated by language-oriented and development-oriented researchers at the universities of Frankfurt a/M, Kassel and Zurich, in close cooperation with their partners and counterparts in the host countries: Ivory Coast (Centre Suisse de Recherche Scientifique [CSRS]; Université de Cocody [Abidjan]); Namibia (Univ. of Namibia; NNFU; TKFA); Indonesia (STORMA [= SFB 552: Stability of Rainforest Margins in Indonesia]; Tadulako Univ. at Palu [Central Sulawesi]), and with various other actors engaged in various roles in various local development projects.

 
A Project of 
Volkswagen Foundation