The decades that immediately followed World War II witnessed the political independence of most of the so-called Third World from colonization and the birth of the United Nations, marking the formal beginning of development and directed social change to facilitate it. The role of communication in development (devcom) has evolved according to the overarching goals of the development programs and theories during each historical period since then. The process of modernization, in which devcom was initially nurtured, was influenced by quantitative and empirical social sciences theory, philosophy, and methodology; in particular, it had a strong economics orientation. It has been one of the most powerful paradigms in development study and practice to originate after World War II, with enormous economic, social, and cultural consequences. Concepts and theories that articulated the development of Western Europe and North America were used by sociologists, economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and others to generate development models for countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Mass media were accorded a central position in the modernization paradigm. The use of media for transmission of information and for persuasion, derived from World War II–related psychological warfare research in the United States, were transferred to areas such as extension education, instruction, agricultural, and health extension in development. By the 1970s, the concept of development and change expanded to include many more types of social change guided by different theories, disciplinary influences, geographical considerations, and methodologies. Change now included a widely participatory process of social change in a society and included social and cultural aspects besides the economic. While the participatory mode of communication for development programs and activities was a welcome addition to the devcom toolbox, the definitions of participation reflected a wide variety of approaches. In many contexts, the level of participation required by the people was low and perfunctory.
Toward the end of the 1980s, the concept and practice of empowerment expanded upon the earlier objective of participation in development communication models and practice. Broadly, empowerment is a process by which individuals, organizations, and communities gain control and mastery over their social and economic conditions. The concept and practice of empowerment posed a challenge to the identity and practice of development communication. It changed the way communication was conceptualized earlier and used in development and change work. At present, social justice within the processes of development and social change has gained traction and urgency. In the last 40 years, there has been a steep increase in income inequality and individual opportunity globally. Millions of people are still exposed to life-threatening diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and other debilitating conditions, and have very limited access to basic resources, such as education and healthcare. What are the progressive alternatives to the neoliberal model of directed change? What should be the place and role of devcom in alternative approaches? These concerns are addressed by anchoring ideas within a critical theory of social change for social justice.