Institutionalization and Implosion of Communication for Development and Social Change in Spain: A Case Study

  • Víctor Manuel Marí SáezEmail author
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This chapter offers an overview of the institutionalization of the academic field of communication for development and social change (CDSC) in Spain in the twenty-first century, following a period of neglect and marginalization. The ongoing expansion of this field in the Spanish context is understood as a process of implosion, i.e., an inward collapse deriving from the inconsistencies and weaknesses of its tardy and hasty institutionalization.

A triple methodological approach has been implemented in this case study: (a) an historiographical analysis of the field of the CDSC in Spain, (b) a bibliometric analysis of the papers published on this subject in the main Spanish journals between 2000 and 2015, and (c) four significant and relevant Spanish case studies in this regard.

The results of this research basically point to (1) a late consolidation of the field in Spain, which has led to its implosion during its expansion and institutionalization stage (2011–to date); (2) a marginal production of scientific papers in comparison with the general academic production in the field of communication in Spain; (3) a certain subsidiarity in other more closely related fields (e.g., education for development) which has covered existing gaps and lacunas; (4) the fundamental role played by Spanish community radio; and (5) the potential of virtual communication spaces such as those deriving from the experience of the “Indignados” or 15-M movement (2011).

Introduction and State of the Question

The strategic importance of communication in solidarity organizations has gradually gathered steam over the past three decades. Diverse technological, communication, social, and political processes, which currently enable us to understand communication as an essential dimension of social and solidarity organizations, have contributed to this situation. This progressive relevance of communication in the field of social action and development has been accompanied by a wide array of theoretical-practical approaches from which communicative action is conceived. The majority of these approaches are dominated by imaginaries (Castoriadis 1987; de Certeau 1984) in which communication is reduced to a mere transmission of information or modification of the conduct of citizens which, generally speaking, is limited to an audience and consumer dimension.

However, communication for development and social change (hereinafter CDSC) is apt to frame the communicative reflection and action of solidarity organizations in contexts more coherent with the social goals championed by them and which allow us to identify the strategic role of communication in the process of transforming reality. In line with Enghel (2011), we believe that communication for development (Servaes 2002, 2008) and communication for social change (Gumucio 2001; Gumucio-Dagron and Tufte 2006; Tufte 2017) constitute different approaches that can serve to designate and characterize a field relating to the role of communication in the strategic efforts to overcome collective social challenges and to advance toward greater social justice.

Based on these premises, this chapter aims to describe the institutionalization process of CDSC in Spain after a long period of neglect and marginalization. As will be seen in greater detail below, in the past 25 years CDSC has gone through three major stages. After an initial stage of neglect and marginalization (during the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s), it entered a stage of emergence (from the mid-1990s to 2002), followed by a stage of institutionalization and implosion (from 2003 to date). The initial hypothesis is that CDSC’ current expansion or boom in Spain can be understood as an implosion, namely, as an internal rupture, due to its inconsistent and weak development during the institutionalization stage.

Some of the questions underlying this research include the following: If CDSC emerged in Spain in the twenty-first century, what is the point at issue? Or, in other words, to what questions – which still have not been answered sufficiently or consistently – does the institutionalization of CDSC respond in the Spanish context? What continuities or discontinuities are there between the trends observed in the Spanish case and those inherent to the field at an international level?

Methodological Strategy for Studying CDSC in Spain

In order to study and analyze CDSC in Spain, we have implemented a triple methodological strategy. This responds to the criterion of methodological triangulation, aimed at making research more accurate and consistent by integrating qualitative and quantitative methods with a view to covering the different dimensions of the reality under study more comprehensively. We will now briefly describe each one of the methodologies used in our study.

Firstly, we have reviewed the literature in the field, following the keys proposed by authors such as Erlandson (1993), McDonald and Tipton (1993), for whom “documents constitute a third source of evidence” (Erlandson 1993:99). The historiographical perspective of our work assumes that the social sciences are historical disciplines per se (Mills 1959).

In social research, the use of multiple sources of evidence (Stake 1995; Yin 2009) allows researchers to reflect the complexity of a specific phenomenon or case study. The three most habitual sources of evidence (Erlandson 1993; Ruiz de Olabuénaga e Ispizua 1989; Vallés 1999) are observation (first source of evidence), interviews (second source), and documentation (third source). In this respect, Vallés (1999) regards documentation as a methodological strategy for obtaining information to supplement that of the other two sources of evidence, inasmuch as this enables us to perform research that addresses historical reconstructions. All these elements have been taken into consideration in our study when using documentary analysis to conduct a historiographical study of CDSC in Spain.

To this end, we have reviewed the academic literature and documents describing the advent and institutionalization of CDSC in Spain. This review has been supplemented by secondary data produced by social organizations such as the Coordinating Committee of NGDOs, the Red Estatal de Medios Comunitarios (State Network of Community Media – ReMC), and the Red de emisoras locales, públicas, alternativas y ciudadanas de radio y televisión de Andalucía (Network of local, public, alternative and citizen radio and television broadcasters of Andalusia – EMA-rtv). The purpose of breaking the development of CDSC down into stages has been to identify those institutions, research groups, researchers, and social organizations that have been capable of using the approach to CDSC in Spain to stimulate research, formation, and/or action processes.

Secondly, we have implemented a strategic bibliometric methodology for reviewing papers on “communication, development and social change” published in the top 10 communication journals in Spain. The timeline of the bibliometric study (2000–2015) is justified by the inclusion in this period of the two main stages of CDSC in Spain (emergence and institutionalization and implosion) in order to be able to determine and compare their influence on bibliographical production. The sample employed in this research comprises 3782 papers to which has been applied an evaluation sheet that uses preliminary studies, especially those performed by Martínez Nicolás and Saperas (2016), as benchmarks. A series of concepts that serve as filters to identify the link between the papers on CDSC have been established, based on the presence of the following terms in their keywords and main texts: (1) communication for development, (2) communication for social change, (3) solidarity communication, (4) NGO/NGDO and communication, (5) third sector/audiovisual third sector; 6) community/citizen/alternative media, (7) social movement/ICT/society of information, (8) citizen movement/ICT/society of information, and (9) social/citizen/ICT participation.

Lastly, we have conducted case studies of four particularly representative CDSC communication experiences in Spain, chosen on the basis of the field’s historiographical and bibliometric analysis. For the theoretical fundamentals of the case studies, we have resorted to Coldevin (1986, 2008), Eisenhardt (1989), Yin (2009), and Snow and Trom (2002).

The four case studies (see Table 1) meet the following requirements: (1) each one of the three stages in which the history of CDSC is divided in Spain is represented; (2) the diversity of the social actors that have promoted this field of research in the country (development research institutes, activist networks, scholars and NGOs, community media, and, more recently, the “Indignados” or 15-M Movement) is described; and (3) the communication practices fostered by the case studies encompass the publication of books (IEPALA), the production of radio programs (Onda Color), website design (Communication, Education and Citizenship Forum), and techno-communicative practices in the digital space (Grupo Comunicambio on Facebook).
Table 1

Case studies


Type of organization

Stage of CDCS in Spain


IEPALA (Latin America and Africa Political Studies Institute)

Development research institute

Pioneer stage (1980–1994)

Institution playing subsidiary role in development research in the Spanish case

Communication, Education and Citizenship Forum

Activist, academic, NGO and social movement network

Institutionalization and implosion stage (2003–to date)

First attempt to forge links between university experts and solidarity organizations in CDCS in Spain

Onda Color Radio

Community radio

Community media have been present during the three stages, so it would be a cross-sectional case

Community media are paradigmatic representatives of CDCS at an international level


Facebook group linked to communication, development cooperation, and solidarity organizations

Institutionalization and implosion stage (2003–to date)

Social network groups emerging from the “Indignados” or 15-M Movement (2011)

Source: Own elaboration

We will now take a look at the research results, setting out the different analytical techniques that have been implemented in chronological order.

Historiographical Analysis: The Stages of CDSC in Spain

For the sake of brevity, rather than offering a detailed description of the characteristic features of each one of the three stages of CDSC in Spain – (1) pioneers (1980–1994); (2) emergence (1994–2002); and (3) institutionalization and implosion (2003–to date) – we will provide a tentative overview (Table 2):
  1. 1.

    Firstly, the accent must be placed on the subsidiary nature gradually assumed by those institutions, fields of knowledge, and disciplines not directly associated with the epistemological framework created by CDSC at a global level, as in the case of institutes dedicated to issues such as international cooperation or education for development (including Hegoa, Etea, and IEPALA).

  2. 2.

    Secondly, what is remarkable is the décalage temporal of the introduction of the field of CDSC in Spain, compared with other geographically (Europe) or culturally closer (Latin America) contexts.

  3. 3.

    The absence of academic spaces per se in which to review international debates on CDSC, as well as the dearth of solid research offering an overview with which to reconstruct the field’s history in the Spanish context.

  4. 4.

    The tardy, sporadic, and weak ties with researchers and social activists promoting CDSC at an international level. Notwithstanding the multiple ties that would have made it relatively easy for Spanish research to accommodate the most representative authors in the field of Latin American communicology (Kaplún 1998; Luis Ramiro Beltrán 1980; Juan Díaz Bordenave 1976; among others), the truth is that their presence and influence have been tardy and marginal. The same can be said about the field’s key authors such as Servaes, Tufte, and Tacchi Servaes (2012, 2015).

Table 2

Stages of CDSC in Spain

Pioneer stage (1980–1994)

Emergence stage (1994–2002)

Institutionalization and implosion stage (2003–to date)

The NGO phenomenon: from marginality to popularization

Creation of the Institute of Communication (InCom) (Autonomous University of Barcelona – UAB, 1997) involving some of the field’s international experts (Thomas Tufte, for example)

Basic research into the field of CDCS in Spain (Javier Erro, 2003, 2004)

Emergence of the first CDCS experiences, albeit fragmented and disperse

First rigorous scientific communication and NGO studies (Sampedro, Ariel Jerez, López-Rey)

Founding of the Communication, Education and Citizenship Forum (2006)

First studies and publications dealing with solidarity communication

Galvanizing role of the EMA-rtv network (local citizen radio and television broadcasters of Andalusia) in promoting congresses and actions consistent with CDCS

Institutionalization of CDCS in the field of research (EMA-rtv Congress 25th Anniversary McBride, 2005; Congress of the Spanish Association of Communication Research, 2011, dedicated to these issues)

Source: Own elaboration

A Brief Look at the Bibliometric Analysis of CDSC in Spain

Based on the aforementioned criteria, and after performing an analysis of the 3782 papers comprising the sample, it can be observed that a total of 24 papers meeting the established requirements, plus another 19 only partially so, have been published to date. Of these 24 papers, 19 have appeared in 4 journals: Comunicar (3), Revista Latina de Comunicación Social (3), Telos (5), and CIC (8). Only the first three have a name for publishing research papers on CDSC. None of them have an editorial line exclusively or preferentially focusing on CDSC, although they do indeed show a great affinity for the subject, due to the fact that their key thematic areas are associated with fields close to it, as in the case of media literacy or political communication.

In relation to the authors of papers on CDSC published in Spain (see list in Annex 1), first and foremost, the scant presence of international researchers who have served as touchstones for the field’s construction can be observed. Furthermore, these authors include a significant number (7) of researchers linked to universities and institutions that have promoted and strengthened the field of CDSC in the country.

Bearing in mind the work of Jiménez and Arriola (2016), nonetheless, specific authors have indeed broached the field of development in papers on CDSC published in Spain. Based on the bibliometric research conducted by (Marí and Ceballos 2015), Jiménez and Arriola have performed a quantitative and qualitative study aimed at identifying which development theories and reference authors dealing with these subjects have been used by communication researchers to support their claims. One of their most noteworthy conclusions is that, as a rule, a sufficiently solid state of the question still has not been established. Most of the papers published to date have lapsed into what we could call a post-modern fragmentation when framing their objects of study in the field’s historical and research context. On the whole, such a contextualization has not been performed or has been fragmentary and deficient at the very most.

When reviewing the authors working in the field of development listed in Table 3, it is possible to detect a clear bias toward those linked to the post-development (Rist 2008), degrowth (Latouche 2010), or good living (Acosta 2011) currents, while at the same time, other theoretical positions and perspectives forming part of the field’s history have been disregarded. For example, these omissions include the dependency theory originally developed by authors like Cardoso and Faletto (1979) and Baran (1957), to name but a few. Similarly, although the most cited authors include eminent international researchers (Servaes), there are also important oversights (Tufte 2006; Tacchi 2013; Wilkins 2013; and more besides).
Table 3

Development researchers cited more than once in papers on CDSC published in Spain


No. of citations

No. of cited publications

No. of publications citing them

Jan Servaes




Rosa María Alfaro




Raquel Martínez and Mario Lubetkin




Javier Erro




Jo Ellen Fair




Gilbert Rist




Amartya Sen




Alberto Acosta and Esperanza Martínez




Anthony Bebbington




Serge Latouche




Paolo Mefalopulos




Source: Arriola and Jiménez (2016)

The Four Case Studies

Lastly, the third research technique that we have employed to analyze CDSC in Spain has been the case study. The most significant results obtained from the four case studies performed here are as follows:
  • On the whole, in all four cases, the pioneering social actors have implemented communication practices and initiatives with a far-reaching social impact in terms of promoting development and social change, although the theoretical frameworks in which they are grounded (journalism, dissemination, or public relations, for instance) have not allowed their inherent transforming potential to be fully leveraged.

  • In two of the case studies (Communication, Education and Citizenship Forum and the community radio station Onda Color), however, it has indeed been possible to identify a number of communication, development, and social change theories associated with the field’s tradition (Servaes, Beltrán, Bordenave, etc.), to wit, as a social process affected by diverse mediations and linked to culture, with a marked pedagogical-liberating dimension (Freire 1970).

  • All the cases have had strong ties with local and specific historical contexts of social change. In this connection, it could be claimed that, following the scheme of McQuail (1994), they are cases closer to social centrism than to media centrism. Thus, the centrality of the process in the history of each case has been crucial, this being understood in communicative, political, and educational terms (Barbas and Postill 2017).

  • The Internet has been used in all four cases, although the strategies of technological appropriation employed have been patchy. This has meant that it has been impossible to reach intensive use levels of what Hamelink (2000) calls “informational capital” in all the cases. For him, this technological appropriation culminates when ICT and digital communication practices lead to the creation of knowledge that serves to transform reality. From this perspective, the highest levels of informational capital have been observed in the case of the community radio station Onda Color which has leveraged the Internet to foster media literacy processes, as well as establishing channels for dialogue and citizen and audience participation.

Discussion and Conclusions

In light of the above, the time has now come to discuss the research results and draw a series of conclusions. To this end, in relation to the objective of identifying the relevance of CDSC in Spanish research, we believe that it is more convenient to talk about an implosion than a boom. According to the Oxford Dictionary, an implosion is “an instance of something collapsing violently inwards,” which to our mind better describes the current situation in which the field’s internal dynamics are weaker than its external ones.

Specifically, we have used the term “implosion” here on several occasions to refer to the theoretical inconsistency and shortcomings of the field of CDSC in Spain. Consequently, now at a moment of relative expansion, its present and future substantiation and consolidation lack firm foundations. This can be seen in several aspects of which we will highlight two. On the one hand, there is the structural weakness of the elements defined by Martínez Nicolás (2016) which would put a field in the process of being institutionalized on a firmer footing: the institutional context of production (universities, research groups, research networks) and the epistemological context (a field’s substantiation and delimitation).

On the other, the rationales of academic production prevailing in the field of CDSC in Spain involve the subjugation of scientific production to commodity logic and to the intensive exploitation of the productivity of researchers in the short term. This second trend has a negative impact on knowledge construction processes and the theories sustaining them, since it ultimately favors those elements of reality that are easily measurable, in line with mainstream thought. In pragmatic terms, from a quantitative point of view, this had led to the predominance of metadata analyses in the case of bibliometric studies, which are necessary but insufficient if the intention is to identify the reading, comprehension, and citation rationales that we have analyzed here. Moreover, these dominant dynamics in contemporary academic production ultimately favor the use of functionalist theoretical frameworks in which the empiricist principle of analyzing what is “easily measurable and observable” displaces and marginalizes that of theories and methodologies that are more useful for critically analyzing the contradictions of reality, power structures, or the rationales of domination or submission in a specific academic field.

Furthermore, CDSC poses a great paradox. On the one hand, it is an approach whose terminology (development and social change) is insufficient to deal with problems of a sociopolitical nature. However, despite these difficulties, the theoretical and practical background of CDSC enables us to claim that this framework offers more possibilities to think about communication sociopolitically than other approaches to the study of third sector communications, such as social marketing and public relations, understood at least in conventional terms.

As has been seen, by comparing the structure of the field of CDSC in Spain with international trends in this regard, it can be noted that there has been a décalage temporal with respect to the introduction of the discipline’s key authors and concepts. It has also been observed that this albeit tardy introduction has been patchy. Key international authors in the field do not appear in the theoretical references of the studies on CDSC that have been conducted in the Spanish context.

In short, CDSC has reached a critical point in Spain: even though it has developed, this growth is not sufficiently grounded in scientific production, institutional advancement, and epistemological development. How this critical situation is tackled through research, theorization, and practical action will have a crucial impact on the future success or failure of CDSC in Spain. There is potential for change: the ongoing cycle of social mobilizations commencing with the “Indignados” or 15-M movement in 2011, and worldwide with movements such as Occupy Wall Street, provides an opportunity to build significant bridges between researchers and activists – that is, an opportunity for praxis.



This chapter forms part of the R&D project “Evaluación y monitorización de la Comunicación para el Desarrollo y el Cambio Social en España” (MINECO, España) (CSO2014-52005-R) (2015-2017), funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competition.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Communication and Social SciencesUniversidad de CádizJerez de la FronteraSpain

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