Deliberating Community Radio in South Asia: A Critical Policy Ethnography


Preeti Raghunath

PhD defended at: 

To be defended at the University of Hyderabad


The study of media policy has often been conceived of as an enterprise for traditional research, focused on straitjacketed narratives, technocratic practices, and top-down policymaking. This research endeavor seeks to go beyond such an approach, to make way for media policy studies that is rooted in practice, and is spread across multistakeholder policy sites. Conceived of as a policy ethnography, my doctoral research endeavor draws on critical media policy studies, to study the principles and performances of policies and policymaking for community radio in four countries of South Asia, namely, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. This it does, by focusing on the processes and practices of deliberation that go into them, across space and time, and the global-local spectrum.

This thesis argues that policies are made inside ministerial chambers and boardrooms, but also outside them, at a range of policy venues, by diversified policy actors who assume varied stances and roles in relation to the policy process at hand. By alluding to the ‘multiplicity’ of policy actors, my research endeavor seeks to unravel these various stances and roles, and uncover the many ideals, values, and norms that get embedded in the processes and practices that go into the making of community radio policies in the four countries of South Asia under study. By drawing on constructivism and critical theory, this thesis: (a) Delves into the constructions of the various aspects related to community radio and its policies, by various policy actors, and (b) Goes beyond the policy document to study such constructions, thereby contributing to a critical study of these policies, replete with the larger contextual attributes.

Drawing on Grounded Theory, this research project stitches together policy micro histories and ethnographic insights from policy ethnography conducted over three years, with close to 100 in-depth interviews and informal conversations with policy actors. The research is an effort in writing policy from the bottom as narratives interspersed with analytic comments. Using thick description in the way of Geertz, it presents insights as both, linear representations as well as constitutive moments that defy such linearity, to present complex narratives of policies and policymaking for community radio in South Asia, mirroring the complexity of the policy process itself. The thesis concludes by advancing and explicating the theoretical approach of deliberative policy analysis, as a way of conducting and contributing to critical media policy analyses and studies.