Child of the Dark: What do we hear?

When thinking about how cultural representations of people in developing countries get transmitted to the developed world, one novel that bridges that gap is Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus.

Carolina Maria de Jesus is a literate woman with three children living in a favela in Brazil in the 1950s and ’60s. She yearns to escape the favela, and with great honesty writes about her daily struggles. Revealing her desperation, her hard work, and her simple desire to feed her children, Carolina shows the world how hard she works, and how often her work is futile and ignored. However, Carolina does not live in a culture of poverty; she is aware of bureaucracy, racial differences, and global issues. She fights the institutions/politicians who make big promises to the favelados, and attempts to have her voice heard by visiting the governor at his mansion. She has agency and voice.

Yet what makes her voice truly global is the publication of her diary. Does this monologic voice emerging from the favela constitute a form of development communication? Is the novel a form that induces change?

Mefalopulos defines Development Communication as a method to “support sustainable change in development operations by engaging key stakeholders.” Its main functions are to “establish conducive environments for assessing risks and opportunities, disseminate information, and induce behavior and social change” via two modes, monologic (one-way) and dialogic (two-way).

The monologic mode has its roots in modernization and diffusion frameworks, and is one-way, linear, often top-down, and it is used to “inform or persuade” via mass media. The dialogic mode has its roots in participatory frameworks, and is two-way, horizontal, and is used to “assess and empower” through investigation of issues and promoting participation.  Carolina reveals the disconnect of monologic communication from the top-down perspective. She notes how public health workers come into the favela and tells them to not wash their clothes in the river water, as there is deadly snail poop – they even show a video highlighting the dangers. That is it. The workers never asked, “Why do you wash your clothes in the river? What would a solution be?” There was no dialogic communication.

Carolina’s diary is a form of monologic communication that morphed into a dialogue. But when monologic communication occurs from the bottom up, instead of top-down, does this get represented in the development field? While Carolina was able to leave the favela due to royalties earned by her novel, what did the development field take away from the novel? Can development communication still only be defined from a top-down perspective? Is bottom-up communication still kept in the dark? Carolina’s diary reveals the necessity of participation and dialogue- but within the defined bureaucratic structure.

Reference: Paolo Mefalopulos. Development Communication Sourcebook: Broadening the Boundaries of Communication.  Washington, DC: The World Bank.  2007.

Colleen Valentine

Colleen is a former CCT Graduate Student.