On the Rhetoric of “Developmentalism”

What is propaganda? Our guest this week started her presentation with a clip of the Kony 2012 viral video (a great example of a piece of media that makes an emotional appeal to its viewer) but distanced herself and her organization from it. She followed that with a two-hour PowerPoint laden with facts and figures—a rational argument—in support of her organization’s work.

Our guest admitted that the most efficient way for orgs in Uganda to disseminate their message was via pirated Hollywood videos. But her organization refuses to do this out of fear of retribution from copyright holders in the US. However, her org shows no compunction about violating the copyright of Ugandan artists because they have no effective recourse through Uganda’s civil courts. Whether the Ugandan artists are happy with the resulting “exposure” from the nonprofit’s work is immaterial in my mind. Our guest is paid by her organization for her work; should not the Ugandans be paid for theirs? What Ugandan is going to turn down payment for the use of their songs or videos?

It’s easy for NGOs and other “development” orgs to employ certain kinds of rhetoric, invoking words like “participatory” or “horizontal” while criticizing “top down” approaches to development work. And it’s easy for us to sit there, stare at slideshows and believe them. But should we? Does the claim make it true?

It’s also possible that our guest’s organization does amazing work that has a real, tremendous benefit on the lives of Ugandans. I simply don’t know.

Links to some topics that the presentation brought to my mind and that may be of interest:

Video Slink Uganda, an art project that relies on pirated DVDs and black market cinemas to distribute short experimental films made by African American artists.



Some media coverage of GiveDirectly, a Western-based charity that gives beneficiaries (relatively) large sums of cash to do with what they like, instead of providing services or building infrastructure.


Light Industry in Greenpoint is hosting a lecture by Felicity D. Scott on the attempt in 1976 by the UN Conference on Human Settlements to use film as an “apparatus of developmentalism geared to managing environments and populations in the Global South.”



Term Project Outline – Nostrand and Chadha

Publicity and Society

Term Project Outline

by Christohper Nostrand and Rahul Chadha

Please feel free to leave suggestions or advice in the comments section.

Our idea is to focus on the culture of publicity surrounding smartphone technology today. The growth in attention paid to smartphones has been attended by the permeation of what Jen Schradie has described as “The Silicon Valley Ideology,” an extension of the ideas proposed by Barbrook and Cameron in their work “The California Ideology.” In its most recent iteration, the California Ideology has been exemplified by rhetoric advancing the ideas of technological solutionism, the idea that the Internet, the knowledge economy and the new mobile computing cultural artifacts are imbued with openness and transparency, providing us with a new means of curing the world’s social ills. In other words, it’s technological utopianism. The Silicon Valley Ideology posits the theory that smartphones and apps can, will and should solve all of our problems, often without regard or thought given to class divisions and racial and ethnic inequities in accessing these technological tools and/or creating them.


The rhetoric of technological solutionism has also been used to entrench capitalistic practices such as planned obsolescence. The marketing and publicity techniques used to sell smartphones are a perfect example of the use of tactics employed by corporations in the post-Fordian landscape, when the means of mass production allowed for the creation of a supply that far exceeds rational demand. Smartphone companies, in turn, have used advertising and marketing messages intended to tap into Freudian subconscious desires to create an artificial demand for products.


But tech publicity has evolved even beyond simple advertising messaging to give birth to a self-sustaining aspect of media that covers every nuance of software and hardware development. Device and software manufacturers have taken full advantage of these smartphone fiends, carefully orchestrating product and information leaks that are not designed to appear as such. An Apple software engineer “accidentally” left an iPhone prototype in a bar in 2010, spawning a slew of coverage on the new device and then another wave of coverage on the attempts by bloggers and others to recover the phone. It’s a prime example of Bernays’ notion of “jutting out” in order to create an event that receives news coverage.


Our basic premise is to follow the publicity trail from a certain point of action. We want to follow this effect flow to see what could actually happen at the end of this source action.  The discovered iPhone could become a news report, causing tech geeks to blog all day about this news. Eventually the technology is massed produced and makes it into a large portion of our households across the country.


Our creative approach for the project will be a hybrid documentary/fictional short film.  This technique enables us to look and explore the same messages and meanings a documentary would entail, but would further express these points in a more creative, artistic, and controllable way.  We feel narrative aspects of the film will greater engage our audience to learn about publicity and society through illustrative story lines rather than a talking-head documentary piece.


Layering on top of our narrative foundation, we are also open to the idea of interweaving in actual people in the world whom reflect our reality-based fictional plot which would mix together and make for a more hybrid doc/narrative piece if we can find the right real-life people.


Our project would consist of pre-production script-writing, casting, location scouting, shooting in production, and post-production editing culminating in what we think would be about a 10 minute film.


Some initial sources we plan on using:


Jen Schradie, “An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg: Is Facebook a Human Right?”



Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The California Ideology”



Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism



Gizmodo, “How Apple Lost the next iPhone”



The Verge, “Google Might Have Just Accidentally Revealed the Nexus 5”


Adam Curtis, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”