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What can popular media teach academics about poverty and development?

PopularRepresentationsOfDevelopment"An important milestone in development studies which shows how literature, film and other discourses need to be part of the mix when we try to understand how other people live.”
Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland and Turbulence.

“An essential analysis of the world of international development… and essential reading for rock stars everywhere.”
Richard Bean, author of The God Botherers and One Man, Two Guvnors.

What can the critically acclaimed television show The Wire teach us about development and poverty? Are popular novels Hard Times, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Quiet American contributing to a wider understanding of social deprivation as well as simply providing entertainment? Can we, in fact, learn more about poverty and development from novels, films and television shows than academic studies?

These are some of the questions explored in a new book, Popular Representations of Development (January 2014, Routledge), edited by academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of Glasgow and Harvard.

Through its 13 accessible and provocative chapters, the authors ask: How is development represented widely in popular media, such as novels, films, television and blogs? Do these sources of information in fact provide more genuine insights into the realities of global processes and poor peoples’ lives than academic papers and policy documents? Does popular media, through reaching so many people, shape public understandings of development in ways that challenge narrower ‘academic’ forms of knowledge?

LSE Professor David Lewis, co-editor of the publication, said: “Development is about poverty and injustice, and the policies and agencies that try to do something to bring about change. It is one of the key ideas of our time, but usually remains the preserve of dry academic studies, stodgy policy documents, and sensationalist press reports or sentimentalised charity fundraising leaflets.

“With this book, we aim to challenge received wisdoms about how people think about development and explore the ways in which the representation of poverty in popular media can help drive academic discussion on this key issue of our time. Rather than viewing popular media as mostly fictional entertainment, we argue that we can enrich understandings of development by widening discussion to include popular culture. Of course, not all depictions of poverty and developments move discussion on productively, with Live Aid, for example, unhelpfully perpetuating the status quo rather than moving discourse on in any meaningful way.”  

Popular Representations of Development Insights from Novels, Films, Television and Social Media is edited by Professor David Lewis, LSE, Professor Dennis Rodgers, University of Glasgow, and Michael Woolcock, Harvard University and published by Routledge.


To request a review copy, contact Professor David Lewis, 020 7955 6037, d.lewis@lse.ac.uk or

Jess Winterstein, LSE Press Office, 020 7107 5025, j.winterstein@lse.ac.uk

24 January 2014