The conservatism of behavior change: The limits of health communication as persuasion

The bulwark of health communication is built on the premise of communication as a tool of behavior change. Since the invention of film, communication scholars, practitioners, and policy makers have been obsessed with the power of media technologies to transform behaviors of audiences that can be targeted through messages. Mass media as tools of propaganda are invested with miraculous powers of transformation. The power of communication to bring about magical transformations in the behaviors of those it touches forms the mainspring of the lay obsession with magic bullet theories of the media. The media effects literature over the last four decades has robustly debunked the magic bullet ideology. These magic bullet theories have been witnessing a catalytic return since the advent of social media in the form of the renewed interest in behavior change theories, now packaged in big data analytics, nudge, and behavioral insights. What these renewed fascinations with media technologies (in this case, with the latest version, digital media) often overlook is the empirical evidence that aptly captures the limited effects of communication technologies in bringing about behavioral transformations. Why then this ongoing obsession with health communication as persuasion? Amid the large scale global inequalities and the effects of these inequalities on human health, policy makers and academics in the status quo find in the premise of behavior change the hope for improving health while keeping the status quo intact. As long as communication technologies can nudge individuals to change their behaviors, large scale inequities and the structures that constitute these inequities can be left intact. In other words, the system can be left to perpetuate itself, maintaining the status quo to the extent that health outcomes can be framed in the premises of behavior change. Hence, the growing interest in these age old communication-driven persuasive processes in economics and business schools. Essential to the logic of behavior change is an overarching conservatism that reproduces the inequities in existing structural configurations. The moral question of inequalities in health outcomes is shaped by an emphasis on individual responsibility, placing the onus of health on the individual. Behavior change reifies the neoliberal ideology of health, where policymakers and health communicators continue to see health as a product of individual behavior. The neoliberal ideology of health communication fundamentally limits conversations with empirical evidence, with the body of work on media effects that is humbling in terms of the degree of faith we ought to put on the promises of behavior change. Economists and business researchers jumping into behavioral insights and nudge theories with gusto would do well to begin with the vast body of media effects literature instead of clinging to the seductions of an ideology that has largely proven detrimental to human health and wellbeing. By Prof Mohan J. Dutta

Intimate Sites of Violence in Yuppie Indian Cyber Cities

The Cyber sprawl of Yuppie hi-tech Cities across India is intimately marked by violence. Cities such as Noida, Ghaziabad, Cyberabad, and Bangalore narrate stories of violence, both in the expressions of everyday forms of violence that are narrated in the mainstream, and more powerfully so in the everyday forms of violence that remain hidden, tucked away under the glossy images of smart, green cities advertised in the brochures seducing non-resident Indians (NRIs). Often these sordid stories of violence narrated in the Yuppie media and shared in Yuppie networks, scripted as tales of rape, robbery, and murder obfuscate the violence of class, caste, and displacement that remain hidden from the everyday narratives of a Yuppie culture and the mainstream media that caters to this culture. The enunciation of violence, what gets talked about and what doesn’t, is a reflection of the overarching violence of social class and inequality written into the Yuppie City. The telling of these stories enunciate the anxieties of the elite, while simultaneously rendering invisible the profound loss and everyday emotional labour borne by the city’s poor. Violence is the foundation of Yuppie hi-tech cities in India, that have been designed and implemented through displacement. The usurping of farming lands, displacement of farming communities from these lands, and the disenfranchisement of the landless laborers that often tilled these lands are forms of violence that are routinized into the everyday assumptions of the mainstream. These displacements are carried out often through everyday acts of violence, realized through tools of threats, coercion, rapes, and murders. Land mafia, developers, and city planners work hand-in-hand to legitimize the violence of displacement as necessary for growth, and simultaneously render invisible these forms of violence. In the mainstream media of Shining India, these stories of violence are not newsworthy as they don’t draw in the audience of Yuppie viewers, and thus are not ratings-worthy. The poor, dispossessed from their sources of livelihood in a rapidly-displaced agrarian economy settle in make-shift colonies at the peripheries of IT-cities, tucked away beyond and behind the seductions of clean greenness. The manicured lawns, glass buildings, and paved highways make invisible these shanty towns. The everyday work of urban planning and city construction works incessantly to make invisible these warts and moles of the city, carefully sculpted into zoning, urban development, and slum rehabilitation policies.

Even as the poor in the peripheries of the IT-city are displaced further and further from their sources of livelihood, other poorer classes of India, displaced from their sources of local livelihoods in a neoliberal economy, migrate to the peripheries of the IT-cities. They settle in the shanty towns in the periphery, seeking to find informal and unskilled work in the city, hoping to sell their labour to eke out a living. Their labor forms the backbone of the private infrastructures of Yuppie life in the hi-tech cities. Working as guards, nannies, domestic workers, gardeners, cleaners etc., the poor struggle to make a living at the seams of the city. Working as day-labourers at construction sites, they form the backbone of the cities. Their everyday work is the work of cleaning up, of doing the shining for Shining India. How this work is paid for or not paid for, however, depicts the violence of/in the city. Without union representation and without access to collective bargaining, the unskilled poor working in these sectors of the neoliberal economy have no social protections, no health insurance, no workplace insurance, and often no access to pathways of bargaining for a decent wage. Working in an informal economy, with no labour representation and no accessibility to collective mobilization, they often struggle with poor pay, long hours, and no workplace guarantees. For the informal labour in the yuppie city, there is no safety net. There are no leave policies and no days off during the week. From Monday to Monday, seven days a week, 365-days a month, the work carries on. The state offers no protection to these workers in its informal economy. Add to this everyday assault on the poor the attacks on basic human dignity that is experienced on a day-to-day basis. For the Yuppie, the poor must be rendered invisible. The work of making the poor invisible is the work of ritualized symbolic violence. The Yuppie-IT cities are built on dreams of a shining India. For the yuppies living in these cities, the poor are an unwanted but necessary paraphernalia. Necessary to take care of their children, do the domestic chores, and carry out the everyday work. Necessary to keep the appearance of the manicured lawns and the gyms equipped with the latest equipment. Necessary to do the dirty work so the city can shine. Unwanted as the sight of the poor disrupt the shining make-believe worlds the yuppies aspire to live in. The air-conditioned lobbies, lifts, and hallways, the decorated gardens, and spiffy swimming pools are carefully managed to keep out the sites of the working poor. Separate elevators for the maids, gardeners, and the many vendors that serve the city demarcate the spaces of the poor from the spaces of Yuppie comfort. Housing management develop policies of strict gate-keeping to render pure the spaces of Yuppie life, free from contamination by the poor. Swimming pools, gym areas, gardens are quarantined, outside of the reach of the poor.

Elaborate rituals of demarcation mark the bodies of the poor. In the intimate spaces of homes, separate utensils are kept for the domestic worker. The narrative of “hygiene” marks spaces of purity, uncontaminated by the poor. The rituals of boundary formation in everyday life mark the inside and the outside, carrying out the structures of caste in deeply internalized ways. The forms of communication further reproduce these boundaries. The lower caste poor, the domestic worker, the gardener, the guard, must be kept in check, must be disciplined and controlled. The worker must be managed. However, reflecting an inverted world that exists in opposition to the fun IT and finance-work-spaces emulating US-work cultures, the managerial discourses of domestic worker management are devoid of articulations of fundamental worker rights, protection from harassment at workplace, and access to workplace grievance policies.  The violence of everyday abuse is normalized. The violence in intimate spaces of Yuppie cities is a concoction of India’s caste structure, adapted to the workings of class-based inequalities and normalized in a narrative of growth, aspiration, and opportunity. By Prof Mohan Dutta

Prof Mohan and the Deconstruction of the News Hour Debate on Feb 10

So what makes up news? Prof Mohan analyses an episode of the “News Hour Debate” to address the role of the Indian media in cooking up the anti-nationalism debate in India. By providing a few points to lay out the criteria of what makes news, Prof Mohan then deconstructs the Feb 10 episode and goes on to highlight the role of the media in shaping the national conversation and in driving public opinion in a one-sided manner. He also addresses how the media here serve as propaganda tools of the state. Watch the clip below.

A Workshop with Professor Teresa Thompson

We were graced with the presence of Professor Teresa Thompson who shared with us her insights and experiences on various aspects of health communication. Spanning over 3 days, the workshop has given the participants a chance to interact with Professor Thompson and share their related experiences with her. If you have missed the workshop, here is your chance to catch up with what you have missed.


DAY 01 – Health Communication: Interdisciplinary, Multidisciplinary, Transdisciplinary Covering the history of the development of the field of Health Communication and the many perspectives that are brought to bear in the study of the interrelationships of communication, health, and health care delivery, this workshop will also emphasize relevant publication outlets and key trends in the field. Practical application and dissemination of research will be an important focus.


DAY 02 – Health Risk Communication: New Challenges for the World Health Organization The World Health Organization is undertaking the development of empirically-based risk guidelines for addressing health epidemics and natural disasters. This workshop will focus upon the directions this project is taking and how these guidelines will be used. DAY 02 – Health Communication Campaigns: Audiences, Messages, Effects Health campaign research has grown to be one of the biggest areas of areas of study in Health Communication. This workshop will emphasize theoretical bases for campaigns, the development and testing of messages, and implementation of change initiatives.


DAY 03’s session was not recorded as it was a sharing session between Prof Teresa and the participants.

[CNM-CARE Workshop] Dr Raka Shome

We have another workshop coming up from the 19th to 21st of October! Dr Raka Shome, who recently joined the CNM Department as a Visiting Senior Fellow, will be conducting the 3-day workshop to share her views on Postcolonial Studies. Please refer to the poster below for more information about the workshop. If you are interested to join us, please indicate your attendance by signing up for this workshop here! *Do take note that the readings for this workshop could be retrieved from the Library.
Here is a little bit about Dr Raka Shome:

Dr. Raka Shome writes on postcolonial cultures, transnational feminism, and media/communication cultures.  Her current research interests are in Asian Modernities, Transnational relations of India, Racism and Media in a global context, Transnational Media Cultures and Gender, and the Transnational politics of knowledge production as a communication issue. Dr. Shome has published numerous articles and book chapters in leading journals and anthologies in the field of Media and Communication Studies .  She is the author of Diana and Beyond: White Femininity, National Identity, and Contemporary Media Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2014)—a book that examines how new sets of postcolonial relations in contemporary western cultures are mediated through images of white femininity. Under her co-guest editorship, the first-ever special issue on “Postcolonialism” was published in the field of Communication Studies in the International Communication Association journal Communication Theory (August, 2002).  She recently also guest edited a special issue on “Asian Modernities” (2012) in the (Sage) journal Global Media and Communication, which included several articles focused on the question of what it means to be “modern” outside of liberal western frameworks.  She is finishing up another special issue as guest editor for Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies  journal on ‘Gender, Nation, Colonialism: Twenty first century connections.

Prof. Mohan’s Op-ed on Race and Multiculturalism in America

With recent instances of deaths of African Americans in the US at the hands of the police, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter offers insights into the violence being experienced by African Americans in the US. Videos and images documenting police atrocities have since surfaced and drawn attention to this large-scale racism in the American society. (Image by Reuters) Prof.

Mohan weighed in on this issue and penned his thoughts about how America should start looking at the ways other countries handle their racial issues to improve its own system. To access the article, click on this link.

Prof. Mohan on “Health Information Inequality”

In this video, Prof. Mohan addresses the issue of Information Inequality within the context of policies and agreements that impact human health. There are only certain information that is made accessible to the public regarding these policies and the decisions made within agreements usually involve very little public participation. Prof Mohan argues that these two elements have very important health consequences that are not being argued about, and thus the need for more democratic spaces.

[CCA Concept Series] Culture and Dialogue

In this video, Prof Mohan discusses how dialogue works in the context of culture. In the Cultured-Centered Approach, we need to consider how dialogue is used as a methodological tool to foreground culture. Culture is a site where there is a constant challenge, negotiation and reinterpretation of meaning where dominant conversations can open up to other voices. There needs to be some sense of revisiting and questioning of the tools and methods we engage in when collaborating with the communities.