Welcome to a K3 seminar with Veera Virmasalo, PhD student
in Media and Communication Studies.
The title of the talk is:
Practices of framing middle class civic ideals in Namibia. How to be a
good privileged citizen in a deeply unequal society
It will take place on Wednesday,
September 25 at 10.15-12.00 in The K3 Open Studio, NIC 0541,
This will be Veera’s 50 percent PhD seminar. Florencia Enghel, Senior Researcher in Communication for Development, K3, will function as discussant.
you will find an abstract for the talk. If you would like the complete text,
please mail Veera (email@example.com).
This is the 50% seminar for my PhD research in Media and Communication
Studies. The research is situated in Namibia, a deeply unequal southern African
post-apartheid society, which has been my home for much of the time since 2007.
My discussant in the seminar is Florencia Enghel, senior lecturer in
Communication for Development. With her help, I will try to understand what –
out of all the things described in the long abstract below – might reasonably
fit in one PhD thesis and what else might have to be included.
The research aims to add to the understanding of cross-class societal
solidarity as an area of interest in the fields of media and communication
studies and development communication. Solidarity across class lines within a
society has for long been a largely neglected topic in media and communication
studies, as in many other academic disciplines.
In particular, I am interested in how middle classes see their roles
vis-à-vis socioeconomic inequalities, how communication work done by a variety
of societal actors interacts with their understandings, what else influences
that communication work, and how the communication work perhaps influences the
middle class understandings and potentials for the kind of societal solidarity
that could contribute to equitable social change.
In societies throughout the world, there exists a range of societal
actors who try to speak about socioeconomic inequalities to the middle classes.
They preach different civic ideals, urging the middle classes to engage in a
variety of very different activities in the name of equality, solidarity,
social justice, poverty reduction or charity. For example, the middle classes
are encouraged to protest, vote, donate, volunteer or consume in particular
ways. In the recent years, the activities towards the end of the list – such as donating money and volunteering –
have probably become more pronounced than earlier as various social projects,
faced by cuts to the role of the state, now need to attract private funding and
other private resources for their operations. The research is interested in the
contradiction inherent in this arrangement: On the one hand, the support is
sorely needed. On the other hand, the communication work that aims to attract
support may enforce stereotypes and practices, which in fact obstruct the kind
of societal solidarity that could contribute to equitable social change.
Theoretically, the research looks at communication work and the ‘doing
of middle class societal solidarity’ by individuals as a set of social
practices, which lead to particular framings of issues and solutions with
classed underpinnings. In line with practice theory, the research suggests that
civic ideals are fluid and constantly emerging, their framings depending on
what is available in terms of material, what people consider important to do in
their sociocultural context, what they know, and what they can do.
To explore how societal solidarity is understood and communicated in
Namibia, I have conducted a year of practice-based research in and around a
technology innovation hub project in the Namibian capital of Windhoek. My role
in the tech innovation hub is to help the hub in the communication work they do
to attract the local private sector and middle class individuals to support
inclusive innovation – a variety of technology innovation processes, which are
aimed at empowering people from marginalised backgrounds through
techno-entrepreneurialism. Part of this work is formed by rather mundane
communication work of organising events, writing press releases and posting on
social media. Another part is a more unusual undertaking, which uses a series
of co-design activities and exhibitions to try understand what the powerful
think, what the relatively powerless want to say to them and how to communicate
this. These workshops have resulted in an installation, which is a room built
of two walls and uses augmented reality technology to communicate things that
cannot be seen in the physical room itself.
Parallel with my communication practice in the tech innovation hub, I
have conducted interviews and observations of other societal actors who
communicate towards the same target audiences, also seeking for their support
in various social issues. This work suggests that the middle class civic ideals
the tech hub is appealing to are not that different from those referred to by
organisations that are seemingly very different from the hub. All construct
their ideals from a mix of ‘African’ and ‘foreign’ elements, in a way that in
many respects resembles the appropriation of feminist ideas and politics for
I also keep an autoethnographic journal to reflect on personal
experiences that are relevant for societal solidarity in the context of
communication work, and especially in the context of development communication.
Firstly, my experiences shed light on the role of outside people and
ideas in development communication. Development communication often is, in a
variety of ways, connected to the international development industry. Its
policies and funding decisions are regularly made by people who come from
settings that are very different from the settings where they are implemented.
The implementers, too, are often foreigners to the local setting where they
work. I am an example of such an implementer. I live and work between Nordic
societies (Sweden and my native Finland, where I grew up in the heyday of the
Finnish welfare state) and Namibia (and before Namibia, Zambia). Even after all
these years, I cannot but look at Namibia with my Nordic glasses and with my
Nordic expectations of what societal solidarity should look like. Dynamics like
this are an important factor in the practice of development communication.
Secondly, my experiences shed light on different traditions within the
field of development communication. In
the past twenty years, I have worked a variety of jobs that could all be
described as development communication. This is the first time that I am
involved in something that focuses on entrepreneurialism, private sector, and
technology – all the latest buzzwords in international development policy. Does
this work differ – and how – from working in contexts that have been
journalistic or where the main goal has been to get the government(s),
international organisations, or civil society organisations to do something or
to ensure public support for their work?
Thirdly, my experiences also shed some light – although distorted by my
being outsider – on what it is like to be a middle class Namibian. In many
ways, I am a Namibian middle class person in-the-making, and even more so is
the Namibian–Finnish daughter I am raising.