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Drama for Development

Afghan Archers

From rural Afghanistan to urban Nigeria BBC World Service audiences have been tuning-in to mass mediated drama with 'instructive' messages for many years. Each 'drama for development' reflects the interweaving of development goals, donor objectives, processes of cross-cultural translation, creative dialogue and debate between local and expatriate dramatists and, not least, the responses and interpretations of dramatic narratives by audiences. From such a perspective, organisations such as the BBC World Service Trust, the BBC World Service's charitable arm, can be seen to be actively engaged in crafting complex development concepts and issues into local frames by applying specific cultural, social and political filters to render these concepts and narratives intelligible.

BBC World Service Trust drama is informed by formative and ongoing audience research and evaluation that feeds into production in ways that enable audiences to play an active role in the evolving serial narratives.

For the past three years (2006-2009) a group of international researchers and the Research and Learning unit of the BBC World Service Trust have been engaged in a critical dialogue relating to the key research questions outlined below. This dialogue has yielded conference papers, forthcoming journal articles and book chapters, as well as a dedicated 'drama for development' volume Broadcasting Social Change: drama, development and cross-cultural translation that details the findings of this research and which, is to be published by Sage India in 2010.

Research questions

In assessing the scope of BBC World Service Trust drama this research attempts to understand:

  1. How trans-cultural creative processes work in practice?
  2. Which development concepts travel and translate with ease and which are difficult to translate or are even untranslatable?
  3. If and how production teams manage to avoid the pitfalls of ethnocentrism?
  4. How local dramatists and audiences resist or subvert attempts to integrate development narratives in popular dramas?
  5. What constitutes success for different actors involved in producing and consuming these productions?
  6. Can radio and television dramas, designed to promote development, change the social worlds of audiences?
  7. What are dramas for development trying to achieve?
  8. How are they understood and shaped by their audiences?
  9. What are the challenges facing producers who have to create strategic development narratives as well as entertaining dramas that can travel and translate across linguistic and cultural boundaries?

Theme convenor

Dr Andrew Skuse, andrew.skuse@adelaide.edu.au, +61 8 83034285 or +61 409 699305

Research data

A large repository of approximately 200 pieces of primary and secondary data derived from the BBC World Service Trust and relating to dramas produced in Afghanistan, Burma, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda can be accessed on request. Please contact Andrew Skuse for further details.