Changing conceptions of intermediaries in development processes: challenging the modernist view of knowledge, communication and social change

Published on 1 October 2006


Although modernist economic theories and policies are now widely considered to be invalid in achieving poverty reduction and lessening inequalities, the understanding of change and the epistemological assumptions that underpin the modernist framework continue to inform policy and limit the understanding of information and communication approaches in development today.

This paper examines the role of intermediaries – the actors who are involved in processes of generating, interpreting, organising or communicating information, within the modernist framework. It challenges the modernist assumptions that knowledge is objective and communication is a linear process of transferring knowledge, finding instead that knowledge is socially constructed and linked to people’s values, beliefs, cultural practice and experience. Whose reality and what knowledge is regarded as legitimate are determined by epistemological, methodological and power hierarchies which combine and sideline alternative perspectives.

This analysis makes it possible to distinguish new functions for intermediaries beyond disseminating information. These include providing a platform for alternative perspectives, facilitating discussion, advocacy and assisting in processes of learning. Intermediaries are recognised as political actors in the communication process who are able to empower different individuals and groups by providing them with a space to voice their opinions or research and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.