English version: "The Universalization of the Nation-State and the historical origin of its institutive order" Inicio      Agregar a Favoritos    Contáctenos    

Sobre el Colapso de los Imperios, la Fragmentación del Estado, y el Equilibrio de Poder y de Imaginarios Sociales en la Historia Mundial.
Origen y función legitimante de los Padres Fundadores en el itinerario sociopolítico moderno de los estados nacionales (1808-1989).
Por Joaquín E. Meabe, Jorge G. Paredes M., y Eduardo R. Saguier. Y la colaboración de Maximiliano Korstanje.


Interview with Dr. Jesús Martín-Barbero

May 1999


Jesús Martín -Barbero is considered one of the most distinguished scholars of communication in Latin America. He represents a tradition of discourse in communication and culture that challenges dominant thinking and paradigms. Jesús Martín-Barbero has articulated some of the key issues in Latin American communications thinking, placing communication and culture as essential pillars in any approach to change in Colombia and the region. Many of the people most centrally involved in communication and social change in Colombia, including many of those facilitating programmes profiled in The Drum Beat 21- Colombia - have been Mr. Martín-Barbero's students or followers of his thinking. In one of his many roles, Jesús Martín - Barbero is today Fundación Social's Consultant for their Communications and Politics Project. [see The Drum Beat - 21 - Colombia for information on the Fundacion Social].

Adelaida Trujillo talked with Dr Jesus Martin-Barbero in May 1999 on behalf of The Communication Initiative. Excerpts from other discussions with Dr Martin-Barbero, a bibliography of his writings, and a curriculum vitae profile follow this discussion. The discussion was conducted in Spanish and has been translated.


Full interview

The Communication Initiative: Is it possible to say that Latin American communication thinkers, those that are innovating in the field, have a more solid link to social change than those from a Northern, First World tradition?

JM-B: Yes, absolutely. This is one of the characteristics of communication thinking in the region, although it is not the only one. Ever since research in this field began, in the contemporary sense of the term, communication was really never the starting point. The starting point for scholars was a political project. And, what they all shared was a pioneering vision of the strategic and decisive place of communication processes in building democracy in these countries, both in political and in social terms.

I am talking about the seventies and thinking of the 'fathers' , like Luis Ramiro Beltrán in Bolivia, Mattelart in Chile, Pasqualli in Venezuela, Mario Caprún the Uruguayan, Hector Schmuckler in Argentina, Bordenabe from Paraguay, amongst others. Publications like 'Lenguajes' and 'Comunicación y Cultura' are practically political projects per se. So one can understand why Latin America pioneered in national communication policies. These first thinkers placed Latin America in the foreground in UNESCO. It is this region that originates the proposal of a new world order for information and communication, as it is recorded in the MacBride report (One World, Multiple Voices, Sean MacBride, UNESCO).

From the beginning, studies in communication were linked to politics in, let's say, two senses. What we valued in communication was its political content in the negative sense of domination, i.e., the GREAT instrument for control.... in such a way that when one spoke of cultural imperialism we also meant ideological imperialism, and communication was spoken of as the great tool for non-democratic policies. And in the other sense, from the scholars point of view, there was always a project that led to policies, to state cultural and communication policies. The vision was of 'policies' in the strong sense of the word... I recall the public debates that took place in the Venezuelan congress, and in the Mexican parliament. I won't forget the way in which Velasco-Ybarra, Perú's President, expropiates mass media and hands them over to the worker's union.

CI: You suggested earlier there might be more distinctive features?

JM-B: Correct. What I generally perceive in research and in theories that come from the First World, both the Anglo-Saxon and French tradition (and sometimes Italian), is some sort of belief that communication processes are the same all over. In Latin America we have been always aware, and this is the theme that I have worked on the most, that to be able to understand communication one can only do it from the specific culture of those that "do or make" communication.

From the beginning it has been clear that there is a very strong link to cultural history, to the history of anthropology, to communication and culture in the anthropological sense, not sociological. Communication thinking in Latin America is intricately linked to politics, and tries to influence national policies. Reception of media is conceived as always being linked to the social uses of communication - what do people do with what they see, read or listen to? This is, in very very simple terms, the basis of communication thinking in our tradition.

CI: If one is to shortlist the institutions, which are developing the most innovative communication thinking in Latin America, who would you include? Or can we speak of trends identifiable in concrete experiences?

JM-B: There are three outstanding models, different from one another and very complementary. The model of the Fundación Social in Colombia, the model of Calandria in Perú, which is much more a grassroots idea, the communicators "up to their ears in mud", and the model of the research centres in Mexico. I have to stress that these are NOT in any way THE best projects, there are many, but these are good examples to follow.

The Fundación Social's model is very special and I would say almost unique in Latin America. This is a not-for profit organisation, the largest and oldest Foundation in Colombia, which receives all the net produce of a large consortium of for-profit organisations and businesses( Grupo Social). It intertwines communication as a fundamental component of all its activities, all its vice-presidencies and projects. The Foundation has an explicit objective of creating communication thinking and not using communication as something instrumental. Keep in mind that they have a very active Vice-presidency of Axiology, specifically dedicated to the concept of communication for change. The Fundación Social is a very solid political project, with a clear objective of triggering social change, and an awareness of the structural role that communication has to do with this.

Calandria in Perú is the result of Rosa Maria Alfaro's whole life dedicated to grassroot work in the barrios of Lima. She began many years ago in the "Barrios Jóvenes" of Lima (squatters' settlements), and her target group were women and the use of alternative communication. From very solid work on the ground using community media and other alternatives, Calandria begins to research into communication analysis, as well as production of information on communication issues in Perú. It is today a productive, self sustained centre of production, media information, theory production and analysis. It is without doubt, one of the most outstanding research-action (investigación-acción) centres in the continent.

Last but not least, I include two academic centres that deal with change, that are not involved in pursuing immediate activities, but which are linked to politics and policy-making. One is the research centre of the Universidad de Guadalajara, in Mexico, and the other is Nestor Garcia Canclini's group in the University of Mexico. The first one to my mind is perhaps the best of Mexico, and probably of the whole region.

CI: Do they do specific research in communication and change?

JM-B: In communication, culture and with respect to change. The idea of change in the academic world, of the leftist academics, was always linked to the idea of political action. But today, it is linked to culture, much more linked to culture, to cultural transformations, on how to get IN there. For example, one of the most beautiful things in Rosa Maria Alfaro's work, is that she was a pioneer of gender equity workshops in Latin America. She has been crucial in Perú's women's movement, and this is very interesting because it is a new approach to doing politics.

Going back to the University of Guadalajara, let me give you an example of how they link communication scholarship to culture and the need for change. Rosario Raguillo, one of the Centre's outstanding researchers, developed her doctoral thesis in anthropology at the Centre. The object of her study was the explosion that destroyed eight popular 'barrios' in Guadalajara some years ago...remember there were some gas and gasoline leaks thru the sewage system? Her thesis' name is Symbolic Construction of the City. And she conceives communication here as an event. The conception is 'communication-event'. So, based on a very rigorous recollection of printed press and magazine clippings that covered the tragedy, she begins an enquiry on what the event produced in communication, what is destroyed in daily life communication, and what it triggered: solidarity amongst the barrios, role and behaviour of local politicians and leaders, political opportunism, and those that DO realize what is going on. What the research reveals is that a whole communication fabric is created through an event.

There is other very interesting research going on: I have to mention Enrique Sánchez Ruiz and Raul Fuentes, for example. Rosario Raguillo is now working on youth issues and communication, with emphasis on how it can be applied to change in the future. So there is absolute clarity on the importance of communication for change and how crucial it is to produce accurate information for this purpose.

CI: Is the Fundación Social considering the production of communication thinking?

JM-B: All of us have always been linked to scholarship activity but the Fundación as an institution is thinking about creating a research centre, a think tank, so that we can support and create feedback with all the activities developing on the ground. We are doing it in a very discreet way.

One of the investigations we are pursuing is with the second group I mentioned coordinated by Nestor García Canclini, one of the most outstanding thinkers in communication on the continent. He has recently published (December 1998), with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, the book "Cultura y Comunicación en la Ciudad de México" (Culture and Communication in Mexico City). I contributed to this work and from there we have begun a comparative analysis of Mexico City and Bogotá, in the specific area of mass media and democratic culture. It goes beyond just the comparative study of two countries. We wanted to identify new ethical and political concepts in mass communication, for example, we will be looking carefully into the printed press' role in the construction of democracy.

So yes, we do want to open a specific space within the Fundación for this sort of thinking and research. That is, research linked not only to development - what NEEDS to be done - but also to what THINKING we need to go through. Thinking that triggers changes but has its own space.

But let me go back to the idea of academic thinking and its connection to change. For example, Nestor Garcia Canclini's group has received the most attention in the continent. And this is due in large part because he has managed to build a very strong presence at the decision making level, to place his thinking and research results inside cultural policies and national institutions. This has to do, in part, with Mexico having more funds available for research and a much stronger cultural tradition. He has influenced actions, programmes and activities of the state, and most important, long term policies on culture and communication as a whole. And this is where the concrete connection happens: communication-change-research-policies.

CI: Can one say that Mexico is a bit of an exception in their approach to larger, long term policies?

JM-B: Yes at the government, bureaucratic level, all over Latin America, there is really no continuity or awareness that actions, programmes and activities do NOT replace the need for solid policies in the culture and communication sphere. For example, the Interamerican Development Bank (IADB) organized a seminar on 'Development and Culture' in the context of their annual assembly in Paris, in March. It is the first time in the history of this Bank, dedicated to development, that they make this connection...first time!! And I have to say that there was no clear position whatsoever on what cultural policies are. The emphasis was again put on activities, actions and programmes.

When will we be able to convince institutions and politicians that the projects have to really belong to the people?

CI: What then is the element that brings all the three models outlined above together today?

JM-B: Well, I guess anyone involved in someway with communication (be it in the field or at the most sophisticated level of academic thought) has to keep in mind that a decisive shift has occurred in the emerging conception of communication as a trans-discipline. Within this new perspective the culture industries and mass communication are identified with the new processes of production and circulation of culture, which coincide with technological innovations but also with new sensibilities, forms of leisure and appropiation.

Remember that the expansion and inter-penetration of cultural studies and communication is not a fortuitous development. It responds to the centrality of communication within processes of cultural re-conversion associated to the new phase of modernization in our countries as well as the crisis of modernity experienced in the advanced industrial nations. One cannot comprehend this development in communication studies, much less work within its parameters, without an understanding of these crossroads.

There has been a rethinking of the relations between politics and culture, linking the question of cultural policies and the transformations in cultural politics at a time when the latter play a significant role in the constitution of social actors. In light of these developments, the study of mass communication is no longer a question of analyzing markets and consumption. Rather, it is conceived as a strategic site for the redefinition of the public and the construction of democracy.

Although our [Colombia] crisis is more linked to the 'debt' - and to the contradictions of a modernization designed by politicians and entrepreneurs than to the 'doubt' regarding modernity of concern to intellectuals, philosophers, and social scientists in Europe and the USA, the two crises are interrelated and complement one another. Somehow the resurgence of the modernisation project in our countries is the other face of the crisis. Our 'external debt' is tied to our 'internal doubt', since its development is part of our dependency. Confronting the crisis of modernity is an essential step in ensuring that economic and technological aspects of modernization do not supplant cultural modernity. What links this debate to our field is that communication emerges as a strategic theme/site.

CI: What then is the most immediate challenge then?

JM-B: Communication is at the center of philosophical, aesthetic and sociological reflection, and it is now the concern of other disciplines. So the challenge is to define the research questions of the discipline of communication within the context of the ongoing economic and political crisis and the reaction of our countries. How do we account for the social significance of the new communication technologies, their presence across everyday activities from the workplace to moments of leisure, from science to politics? How do we avoid technological determinism? How do we deal with questions of inequality and power, engaging them as challenges to communication thinking?

CI: And what is the essence of your contribution to this debate?

JM-B: Well, that is a very long story!! And it is the result, or rather 'is being' the result of years of research, as well as being connected to specific communication projects on the ground. I suggest we leave it to suggested readings...ha ha ! But in essence, what I am working on is framing the debate on 'modernity' in terms of a set of issues which articulate this debate to the reconfiguration of the field of communication from a Latin American perspective. The three issues are: national histories, urban sensibilities and cultural markets. But this would be too complex to go into now, so I will give you the basic bibliography!!

CI: On behalf of everyone involved in The Communication Initiative, partners and participants - many thanks.

Contact :

Dr. Jesús Martín-Barbero.
e-mail: jemartin@andinet.com

Address: Transversal 1A #69-25,
Bogotá, Colombia

Tels: (571) 217 4967 / 217 4987

Jesús Martín-Barbero is Doctor in Philosophy from Lovaina University (Belgium). Postgraduate studies in Semiotics and Anthropology, Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris. He has been the president (1978-80) of ALAIC (Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de Comunicación - The Latinamerican Association of Communication Research) and, during ten years (1975-85), Director of the Department of Communication Sciences of the Universidad del Valle (Cali, Colombia). He is a member of the Comisión de Políticas Culturales del Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (Commission of Cultural Policies of the Latinamerican Social Sciences Council) and of the Federación Latinoamericana de Escuelas de Comunicación Social (Latinamerican Federation of Social Communication Schools). He has been visiting professor at the University of Sao Paulo, University of Buenos Aires, University of Puerto Rico, Universidad de Lima, Universidad Iberoamericana de Mexico; Cátedra UNESCO de Comunicación, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona; Doctorate Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia de México. He is international consultant for the publications: 'Telos' (Madrid), 'Sociedad' (Buenos Aires), 'Estudios de Culturas Contemporáneas' (México), 'Diálogos de la Comunicación' (Lima), 'Travesía', Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies (London). Jesús Martín - Barbero is today Fundación Social's Consultant for their Communications and Politics Project.


Excerpts from Writings and Critiques

"...the recovery of the 'popular' is , in a sense , the key concern and object of enquiry in this tradition. The impact of globalisation , its reflection in local economic and political structures and practices, and attempts at the homogenisation of cultures, have led to the marginalisation of many communities ...urban and poor, ...black and indigenous....Mainstream social theory has been fundamentally unable to account for, theorise or evolve a strategy of political action rooted in an understanding of difference...the reality of both hybridity and differences defining marks of population and cultures , of 'mestizaje' identities and constant cultural transactions, are characteristics of life (in Latinamerica)...these conditions are a direct consequence of the tryst with 'modernity'..." Martín-Barbero's interpretation of this oppression is not rigid nor static, but rather "nuanced interpretations of both popular production and conssumption and of the multi-faceted workings of hegemony...."

excerpts from the editorial of Media Development, 1/1997 - Journal for the World Association for Christian Communication. Vol. XLIV

"Communication research and community development in Latin America is closely related. Critical media research in Latin America, which took off in the sixties, was quite strong given the concern about the anti-democratic character of communication structures. "At that time Antonio Pasquali, from Venezuela, was perhaps its main critic. Soon, others such as Paulo Freire began a search for models of 'horizontal and dialogical' communication...These concerns coincided with "the search for a new world information and communication order which has now been largely abandoned...Research that followed was trying to understand the meaning of communication itself; ...research that challenged the unidirectional and vertical 'classical' models in order to build horizontal, two-way models based on dialogue, with strong emphasis, among others, on the concept of communication as a social good and as a right....This led to the realisation that social praxis is much broader than the mass media and that there are wider cultural areas, like art and religion, where the popular classes find expression. The power of mass media was placed in perspective."

From: Communication and Cultural Identity, by Carlos A.Valle - Media Development, 1/1997

This was the result of concrete experiences of repression, dictatorship, exclusion and the struggle for liberation faced in the continent. Which is why Martín-Barbero says: "...communication began to be seen more as a process of mediations rather than of media , a question of culture and , therefore, not just a matter of cognitions but of re-cognition". A 'recognition of history', a Latin American modernity which was both of the time and out of time, discovering that " the term popular does not apply just to the indigenous or peasant cultures, but also to the thick layers of 'mestizajes' or mixtures and in that deformed evolution of urban , mass culture"

J. Martin-Barbero, 'Communication, Culture and Hegemony - From the Media to Mediations. London:Sage Publications. 1993, pp 2-3

Martín-Barbero speaks of a 'decentralised' communication which , begining with social practices, is divided into three: first, the 'communicationists' who want to summarise the whole social system; second the 'mediacentrists' who identify communication with media; third, the 'marginalised alternatives', which stand out as authentic communication "outside the technological/commercial contamination of the big media"

J. Martin-Barbero, "De los medios a las prácticas" in Las comunicaciones en las prácticas sociales, Iberoamerican University, Mexico 1990.

Jesús Martín-Barbero's book 'Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations (1993, London, Sage) has been taken as a benchmark of an important shift of focus in Latin American cultural research. "..Its' underlying political message is that there are neglected modes of participation in everyday life, and these forms of action offer points of entry into the dominant culture and power structure, by subverting it if necessary, and by appropiating it to other uses..... ....Martin-Barbero signalled a break with concerns about the homogenisation of culture due to its transnationalisation. He also queried the very categories of the nation and the state... he offers a broad conception of communication going well beyond a concern with the media themselves to a proposal that "mediation" become a central category for analysis. This entails looking at how culture is negotiated and is an object of transactions in a variety of contexts, ranging across the cinema, the popular press, radio , television, the circus, musical performance, and much else besides. He suggests that for Latin America the syncretic nature of popular practices is quite central. These practices contribute both to the preservation of cultural identities and to their adaptation to present-day demands. At the heart, therefore, the concern with 'mediations' is a discourse on the making of identities....

.....In a series of subsequent writings , Martin-Barbero 'argues against a mediacentric viewpoint, suggesting that processes of communication be addressed from the standpoint of social movements rather than beginning with assumptions about media power...The proposal is that we attend to the mediations -not the media or the text - namely that we analyse how the popular classes interpret symbolic products. In short, meanings are not simply decoded accrding to the intentions of the dominant culture...In the field of popular culture, music is perceived as a key form of expression, one that has migrated and recombined....he also notes the important role of radio in sustaining an everyday sense of collective identity for the popular classes in urban society. Television is a medium that is intimately linked , particularly through the telenovela, to "lives, fears and hopes of the people"

Martín- Barbero, J.1993b in "Latin America: Cultures in the Communication Media". Journal of Communication 43(2) 18-30)..." Excerpts from "Cultural boundaries : identity and communication in Latin America," by Philip Schlesinger and Nancy Morris in Media Development, 1/1997



Some publications by Jesús Martín Barbero:

  • Martín- Barbero, J. 'Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations (1993, London, Sage)
  • Martín- Barbero, J.1993b in "Latin America: Cultures in the Communication Media". Journal of Communication 43(2): 18-30).
  • Martín- Barbero, J.1993/4. "La Comunicación, centro de la modernidad: Una peculiar relación en América Latina' in Telos: Cuadernos de Comunicación, tecnología y sociedd 36, Dec.1993-Feb.1994 :39-46
  • Martín- Barbero, J.1996 . 'Cultural Decentring and palimpsests of identity' . Paper prepared for the colloquium on 'Cultural Boundaries: Identity and Communication in Latin America' in Media Development, 1/1997 - -Martín- Barbero, J.1998. 'Heredando el futuro. Pensar la educación desde la comunicación / Inheriting the future. Thinking education from communication. In Cultura y Educación, 9, pp 17-34. Madrid.
  • Martín- Barbero, J.199- ' Paradojas de la alteridad y desafíos a la comuncación' en Separata de Comunicación y Pluralismo. Actas del I Congreso Internacional. Facultad de Ciencias de la Información- Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca.
  • Martín- Barbero, J. 1997. - 'Teenagers as Social Agents' in Peace Review

    9:4, pp.475-480
  • Martín- Barbero, J. 1997. - 'Understanding Society from a Communication Perspective: A Strategic Site for Engaging the Debate on Modernity' in Organization, Volume 4(4): 479-486 . (c) Sage (London, Thousand Oaks and New Dehli).
  • Martín- Barbero, J. 1998 - 'Penser la Societé a partir de la Communication' in Loisir et Societé / Society and Leisure . Social Communication Theories and Communicational Theories of Society.Volume 21, número 1 , Spring 1998, p.145-172. (c) Université du Québec.
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