Participatory communication for social change : normative validity and descriptive accuracy of stakeholder theory.
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There is consensus in the development communication field about community participation being a holistic approach required to address social development challenges. Participatory development, also known as another development, is considered invaluable in the social change process. While participatory principles have enjoyed increasing influence over the work of development organisations, there is still confusion as to what participation really is and how it must be applied as an approach to social change. As a result, development in (marginalized) communities has remained what I would call a Sisyphean task despite tremendous funding and effort that is being put towards development. This study is motivated by three factors relating to the practical and theoretical issues characterising participation. First is the acknowledged lack of a consistent definition as well as inconsistencies characterising the application of participation. The second factor is the contention that participation has remained under theorised and the third is what can be arguably conceived as the influence of stakeholder theory on development communication discourse. The focus of this study is how a theory commonly used in the strategic communication field, the stakeholder theory, applies to deliberate development communication efforts, particularly how the theory sheds light on the concept of participation. It introduces and examines the relevance of Edward Freeman‘s (1984) stakeholder theory in defining and applying participation in social change initiatives. Three development agents namely OneVoice South Africa (OVSA), The Valley Trust (TVT) and Drama for Aids Education (DramAidE) are used as a case study of the concept of participation. The study begins with a critical exploration of the complex participatory communication for social change narrative discussing key ontological and epistemological assumptions as well as a pastiche of approaches often reified as participation. It goes on to present a comprehensive review of the stakeholder theory and its critique, followed by an exploration of how the three development agents develop, implement and manage their respective participatory programmes. It concludes by applying stakeholder theory to the analysis of these programmes to determine whether the theory can be conceived as an accurate descriptive tool of the participation process and if its normative tenets are valid to the process.