Smoke, mirrors and poverty: communication, biotechnological innovation and development

Chataway, Joanna and Smith, James (2005). Smoke, mirrors and poverty: communication, biotechnological innovation and development. ESRC Innogen Research Centre, UK.



Communication is essential to making biotechnology and genomics relevant to developing countries and poor people. Few would disagree with that. But many are sceptical about public relations efforts to impose inappropriate technological 'solutions' on developing countries. This paper is a partial reflection on how PR and advocacy 'mixes' can be understood and whether they can be useful to innovation in developing country contexts. This paper has several aims: First to consider why communication has become more important in the area of innovation and development; Second, we look at how two biotechnology related public-private partnerships have used public relations and advocacy to further innovation in development and pose some questions about complicated aspects of communication, technological innovation and development. We suggest that it is increasingly difficult to classify communication efforts associated with technology for development initiatives as PR or advocacy or according to the preconceived notions about who the messenger might be; Third we look at some of the methodological and theoretical implications of the analysis. Discourse analysis, which encourages us to unwrap layers of meaning in the text but which often treats texts in the abstract, unrelated to broader institutional developments or to ‘evidence’ of any kind, is of limited help in achieving a more grounded analysis of communication efforts. Communication and voice are essential 'capabilities' in development and we suggest that we need a more sophisticated approach to thinking about communication capabilities as technical, and social and political.

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