In Conversation with Dr Sameer Deshpande

Sameer Anant Deshpande 2Joining us this academic year as Visiting Associate Professor is Dr Sameer Deshpande, from Canada. His research interests are in the fields of social marketing, health communication, advertising and culture. In this post, Assoc Prof Deshpande shares more about himself, his thoughts on social marketing, modern day health issues and causes he cares about.

Tell us a little about yourself – where you come from, what your research interests are and what brought you to NUS?

I am visiting from Lethbridge, Canada and was born and brought up in Mumbai, India. My research interests are in the areas of social marketing and health communication. In 1990s, there were very few schools in India offering courses in social marketing and health communication and that took me to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my MA and PhD. Since graduation, I have been with the University of Lethbridge in Canada for more than a decade and was keen to explore universities which had a strong research focus and that were closer to India, which led me to NUS. 

What modules do you teach?

This semester I am teaching two modules: ‘Corporate Social Responsibility – Research and Practice’ and ‘Managing Communication Campaigns’. NUS attracts students of high quality and this is evident in the class interactions with them. What brings joy to us educators, is the keenness and motivation to learn, and I am happy to see that with the CNM students. 

What got you started on your field of research and what is your approach to research?

My research focus as I mentioned earlier is social marketing – which is the application of marketing principles to change behaviours and that includes but goes beyond communication tools. I have used that hammer of marketing for past 15 years in a variety of public health and environmental fields and incessantly asked myself how my academic research can address real-life social problems. Being in the west, the over- and irresponsible consumption of alcohol that grapples the society has led me to work on related projects such as reducing binge drinking on college campuses, driving after drinking, and drinking during pregnancy. A few years back I was also approached by a unit of the Canadian government to advise on their efforts to promote physical activity amongst Canadians called ParticipACTION. I have been on their national advisory board, which has led to a lot of publications in that specific area. In the Indian context, I have worked on research on family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. 

What are some issues/causes that you care deeply about?

I care about these three issues:

Girl child education – According to Nobel laureate and the guru of developmental economics, Amartya Sen, educating the girl child is one of the most effective ways to achieve maximum social impact on the family and society in the long run. Governments, foundations and funding agencies need to pay more attention to this issue, especially in the low- to middle-income countries where literacy among girls remains low. 

Water Conservation – One cannot imagine a world without water. Countries and states within them, are increasingly fighting with one another for water rights. Farmers are committing suicides in India due to water shortage. These disputes and wars will only grow in the future. So, appropriate water management is a critical issue that everyone needs to be mindful of. It begins at home and with each individual. 

Mental Health – This is a pivotal challenge in the western world where the rates of depression are very high and they are on the rise now in other parts as well. Career-oriented outlook, nuclear families, loneliness, and reduced family time are some of the contributing factors. These issues cannot be and shouldn’t be fixed with just medications. It would mean that we better manage work-life balance and spend more time with family and less time at the office desk. I believe in Asia, family bonds are still strong. As a society, we should maintain these ties and ensure sound mental health.

Are there cultural differences in how policy makers view or approach research findings in high, middle and low-income countries?

While designing social marketing interventions, the policy makers in the west do a decent job in terms of research review, production, usage, and dissemination, whereas in a country like India the public sector lags behind on all of these fronts. In recent decades, the behaviour change efforts have been outsourced by the Government of India to the private social sector with funding from foreign funding agencies; as a result of international involvement, the social sector has witnessed a western style of research emphasis. However, both in the high- as well as low- and middle-income countries, the interest in knowledge documentation remains a problem. Projects are undertaken by a team that rarely documents its activities, experiences, and lessons learned. Unfortunately, once the project is completed, the team moves to a different initiative or leaves the organization and due to poor documentation, the knowledge is lost. 

Despite good research emphasis, the western countries continue to misconstrue the essence of social marketing. In fact, when it comes to social marketing, countries like India show much better understanding of this framework. In the west there is a perception that all that marketing does is communicate through mass and social media channels, without attempting to provide alternatives to carrying out the desired behaviours. This contradicts how the commercial marketing sector conducts marketing initiatives; they go beyond communication; that communication is part of a much bigger package that they offer to the consumer. The confusion of social marketing in countries like India is of a different kind. There social marketing is confused as a framework that can only promote contraceptives. In reality, social marketing can promote a wide variety of behaviours and address several kinds of social problems. I tried to quell this misunderstanding in my 2013 book titled, “Social Marketing in India” by highlighting case studies from several contexts.

Your thoughts on non-traditional media of social marketing such as movies, social media challenges such as the Ice Bucket Challenge or observing Earth Day. Do they contribute to sustained behavioural changes?

Social change on social media platforms is overhyped, although there are advantages; the message can be tailored to the audience; it is can be interactive and fun-filled; it can spread to millions within a short time span; and it can promote online engagement, but it does not necessarily influence offline behaviours. To evoke offline behavioural outcomes, you need to address both external and internal barriers that prevent behavioural adoption. It takes more carefully thought out environmental strategies in order to bring about a change in behaviour especially on a sustained basis. There have been certain situations where celebrity endorsements have had a role to play, but they are just the tip of the behaviour change iceberg. Mass media endorsement needs to be followed up by massive on-the-ground community-based interventions.

An aspiring researcher should…. 

Do research in the areas that interests him/her rather than constantly stressing over what areas of research will result in publications. Adopt methodologies and philosophies that he/she feels comfortable grasping and using and apply those to contexts that he/she enjoys. Trust your abilities and honour your interests; if you are naturally inclined to do better in qualitative research rather than quantitative research then go for it; when you are good at it, you will enjoy it more, you will work harder, and your research will very likely get published in high impact journals. Motivation, passion, and interest should drive academic focus.

And, what about Practitioners?

Most practitioners are not aware of social marketing or that they can use this framework to bring about social change, so the first thing would be to raise awareness about this profession. Secondly, practitioners need to undergo good training in this area and finally, they must get down to the ground and seek in-depth understanding of the social problems as well as the individuals who create those. Being aware, equipped with good training, and being exposed to social issues through first-hand on-the-ground formative research will help them become successful social change agents and lead them to design effective behaviour change solutions.

When you are not researching or teaching you like to….

…spend as much time as possible with our young children. Back in Canada I was advising the city’s municipal government on a behaviour change initiative to convince parents/guardians to have at least 3 meals a week with their family. Research reveals that meals consumed together promotes positive mental health among children and prevents potential drug-dependence. So, my wife and I are particular about spending as much time with our children, especially during breakfast and dinner time. These days in Singapore, every weekend we as a family turn into tourists and visit some cultural or touristy place or attend such events.

How has the Singapore experience been so far? 

Being in Singapore has been great so far, I am enjoying the climate which is very different from that in Canada, the multiculturalism and the exploration of diverse and fairly reasonably priced foods. It is satisfying to spend time in a research-oriented university like NUS and to share my knowledge with very motivated and smart students.

 

 

In Conversation with Dr Raka Shome

Raka Shome - Flyer CroppedThis academic year, CNM is delighted to host Dr Raka Shome who joins us as a Visiting Senior Fellow. Dr. 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.’  She will be giving a talk on Wednesday, 28 October at 3PM in the CNM Meeting Room.

Tell us a little about yourself – where you come from, what your research interests are and what brought you to NUS?

I am visiting from the United States.  My current research interests are in the related areas of  Media and Asian Modernities, transnational politics of knowledge production,  Transnational feminism,  Gender, Culture, and Migration,  Transnational flows of mediated cultures (especially towards and within the Global South);  New logics of postcoloniality; Cultural Studies (beyond the Birmingham framework).  I was attracted to NUS because of the vibrant and exciting work being done on media, and cultural studies, within an Asian framework.  And it is also a top university in the world –so I felt this exposure to a vibrant academic space in Asia would add a lot to my own current interests; so when I was offered this opportunity, I was delighted.  Teaching students in Asia is exciting because one (if you are coming from the Western academy) necessarily has to rethink many of one’s frames for engaging culture and media —if you want to be transnationally responsive and responsible.  In the past, I have held faculty appointments at London School of Economics and Political Science, Arizona State University, University of Washington and was an Endowed Visiting Chair at Villanova University.     

What modules do you teach?

An undergraduate module–Philosophy of Communication and New Media– and was also scheduled to teach a graduate course on Technological Embodiments 

What got you started on your research path and field of research?

My work broadly falls within Postcolonial Studies.  My own experiences of cultural (and national) marginalization –when I arrived first as a student in the US, and then beyond that—led to my often finding solace– and more important explanations– in postcolonial studies.   

What is your approach to research? 

Interdisciplinary.  The questions that usually inform my research traverse disciplinary boundaries, as they are broadly related to social justice.  I work through an approach that is called ‘Cultural Studies.’ 

An aspiring researcher should….

Have passion for your work.  The work should matter, think of your intellectual work not as a “job” but as a space through which you can perhaps make some changes–in people’s minds–towards a more humane world.  A tall order to be sure, but hold on to that. 

What are some issues/causes (could be outside your academic/professional interests) that you care deeply about?

I care about the fact–deeply–that today people are increasingly less educated–not just formal education, but less able to think critically about issues largely because we are constantly fed by so much information that there is rarely any access to deep knowledge; today there is an attitude that ‘ignorance is my birth right” and any opinion counts.  I worry about how due to corporate media power, and what are offered to people in the name of ‘information’ results in a rapid decline in democracy in most places in the world today.   

Tell us a little bit about your book ‘Diana and beyond….’

The book examines media images of celebrity white women, and focuses on how social scripts of white womanhood produces larger ideological structures of white femininity, that in Anglo dominant nations, that often function in the service of nationalism.  The book examines a host of media images of celebrity white women–Diana of course, but others such as Angelina Jolie, Cherie Blair, Sandra Bullock, Victoria Beckham, and many others.  

What are your thoughts on transnational relations and social media?

Social media such as Facebook, twitter, and so on, on the one hand enable certain transnational connections and hence transnational community formations.  Yet, on the other hand, as these become regular everyday spaces of communication, we need to remember who does not have access to these spaces.  We also need to recognize how social media –as data and information–is constantly used by data mining companies to categorize people and behaviours and needs.  This can have serious implications not just for privacy but also for the ways in which the populations of the world can be categorized, codified and so on, through the “information” that social media makes available to the owners of the sites.   

The modern Asian woman and feminism – almost there or a long way to go?

Every feminist movement–anywhere–has a long way to go.  We need to stay away from the (western created) idea that somehow Asian women have a long way to go.  The progress of women in Asia needs to be addressed in the CONTEXT of their societies.  WE do not want to use western notions of progress and advancement to evaluate gender in Asian contexts.    

When you are not researching or teaching you like to….

Watch movies–am a movie buff; love watching plays, and trying different cuisines, and traveling.  

How has the Singapore experience been so far? Sights, food, history, post-colonial Singapore, culture, arts…?

Am loving it. It is a fascinating place.  It is beautiful, and vibrant. I love the multiculturalism here.  It is a very different, and in many ways, a more ‘progressive’ (if one can use the term) kind of multiculturalism than what you see in many western countries.  Singapore also seems to be a wonderful meeting place for Asian and western cultural practices.   

To know more about Dr Shome, her research and her publications visit http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/cnmsr/

Launching soon – CNM’s Specialization programme on Coursera

CNM  is delighted to introduce a certification in Public Relations in Digital Media, which will be available online through Coursera from 15 September 2015. This online specialisation covers; basics of public relations, public relations research, public relations campaigns and public relations & social media. Students will also complete a Capstone Project.  Registrations are open and more details can be found here https://goo.gl/SElHbx

PR in Digital Media Final

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Civil Society in an ‘IT City’: Experiences of Civic and Political Engagement in Bangalore

Abstract:

This presentation reports on the main findings of my thesis, which examined the relationship between urban civil society actors and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the ‘technologising’ and ‘globalising’ city of Bangalore, India. The thesis moves away from the ‘spectacles’ of protests and other urban collective actions to examine the more routine, mundane—but no less important—instances of civic and political engagement. Employing a qualitative research framework, two case studies were chosen for in-depth examination: (a) environmental network and email discussion group, Hasiru Usiru, and (b) blog-based citizen-interaction platform, Praja.in (Praja). This ethnographic representation highlights the social innovations currently underway in Bangalore, and the impacts of the city’s IT base on civil society actions. At the same time, it dispels notions that ICTs are value neutral, and that civil society actors willingly and unproblematically embrace new technologies, despite their information-rich environment. Finally, the study point to the rise of a “new civil society” in India, consisting of new brand of ICT-enabled civic activism, as well as a “techno-middle class” that is focused on engagement, rather than activism. In distinguishing this “new civil society” from  “developmental” or “old civil society”, the thesis sheds light on the changing landscape of civil society in India and the significant role of new technologies in this evolution.

About the Speaker

Anuradha-RaoAnuradha Rao received her Ph.D. from the Department of Communications & New Media, National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2015. Her dissertation examined the relationships between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and urban civil society actors for civic and political engagement activities in Bangalore city, India. Her future research plans include an examination of technology use by marginalised communities in urban/digital fringes in technologising cities in Asia. She was formerly coordinator of the Right to Information programme at Public Affairs Centre (PAC), a not-for-profit organisation (NPO) in Bangalore, and provided consultancy to NPOs on public policy and urban good governance. She has a Masters degree in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), India.

Date: 09 September 2015

Time: 3.00 PM

Venue: CNM Meeting Room, AS6, #03-33

Researching, Writing, Evaluating, Mentoring: An Academic Journey

Abstract:

As academics, we spend large proportions of our work and leisure times in conducting research, writing up this research, evaluating our own work and the works of others, and mentoring others as we move through our academic journeys. In this talk, I will share some of the key lessons of researching, writing, evaluating, and mentoring that I have experienced in this journey, drawing on my own experiences through academia. Connecting these stories to current research on publishing and mentoring, I will share some of the common threads that run through the academic narrative.

Speaker: Prof Mohan J. Dutta, CNM Head

Date: 02 September 2015

Time: 3.00 PM

Venue: CNM Meeting Room, AS6, #03-33

CNM DOCTORAL STUDENT SATVEER KAUR AMONG THE BEST DOCTORAL STUDENTS CHOSEN GLOBALLY FOR 2015 NCA DOCTORAL HONORS SEMINAR

The National Communication Association (NCA) holds the Doctoral Honors Seminar (DHS) annually, to bring together doctoral students and faculty from the communication field to facilitate discussions in current topics in Communication. This year the DHS was hosted by the University of Missouri’s Department of Communication in Columbia, MO, from 16th to 19th July 2015.

The selection process for the doctoral students is highly competitive and this year only 34 students, from 21 different doctoral programmes from around the world were chosen to attend the seminar. CNM doctoral student Satveer Kaur was among the 34 students and submitted her paper “Meanings of Heart Health Among the Malay Community in Singapore: A Study of Cardiovascular Risk” for the discussion.

Satveer Kaur

Satveer Kaur

“Hosted by the National Communication Association (NCA), the Doctoral Honours Seminar titled “Solving Social Problems Through Communication Research” was a perfect fit with the area of communication research I am particularly interested in. Therefore, having been selected for the seminar was extremely beneficial in expanding my knowledge about the discipline, but also shaping the ways in which my research becomes meaningful in impacting praxis. I had the opportunity to present my dissertation research, as well as share insights and receive timely feedback on my work with other doctoral students from all over the US. It also gave me an opportunity to hear from important academicians on how I can better think about my research both theoretically and methodologically. The depth and breadth of feedback provided has helped me think about my current research in novel and insightful ways. I would highly recommend other doctoral students to consider applying in the upcoming years”, says Satveer.

DHS Group Pic

Satveer with other delegates at the 2015 NCA Doctoral Honors Seminar