Developmental idealism is a powerful cultural model specifying what development is, describing how it can be achieved, and framing it as desirable and good. Television is a key mechanism hypothesized to spread developmental idealism messages to remote areas that have previously been isolated from the outside world. Transcending traditional barriers of language and literacy, television introduces vivid depictions of modern family and modern society. This paper uses qualitative data from Vietnam to examine the expectation that ordinary citizens have for how television will influence their lives. Examining what local residents expect from television shows how pervasive developmental idealism is and how the developmental idealism model has already permeated thinking prior to television's arrival. Rather than television introducing ideas about modern family and modern society, village residents already had these ideas.
Developmental idealism is a widespread and powerful cultural model specifying what development is, describing how it can be achieved, and framing it as desirable and good (Thornton 2001). This widespread cultural model has spread not only to elite individuals and large international organizations, but also to ordinary citizen around the globe. The developmental idealism model generates goals, ideas, and aspirations for what individuals, groups, and nation-states should achieve. Ideas about development and what is modern and good, central tenets of developmental idealism, permeate the agendas of both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Agencies like the World Bank, UNICEF, and the International Monetary Fund specify global development programs with end goals and the pathways necessary to achieve these goals.
A key mechanism spreading developmental idealism is the mass media, and especially television. Specifically designed to transmit new ideas and information, television transcends traditional barriers of language and literacy and introduces vivid depictions of modern family and society to remote hamlets that were previously isolated. New models of economic and social arrangements, family structure, and lifestyles are introduced through television, and these new models are labeled as modern and good (Hornick and McAnany 2001). Comparisons of communities before and after the arrival of television in Brazil (Kottack 1991), India (Johnson 2000, and Canada (Williams 1986) report that television's arrival altered village life, weakening civic engagement and breaking down sex and age segregation in social activities. After television's arrival in India, women were less likely to say that spousal beating was acceptable and less likely to have a strong son preference (Jensen and Oster 2007).
This paper focuses on Vietnam and examines how television is used as a vehicle for achieving the country's development goals. Although the goals of the national and local government are covered, of greater interest are the expectations and desires of ordinary citizens. While a large research literature has examined the impacts of television using pre- and post-arrival designs, prior research has not examined what ordinary citizens expect from television, what changes they think it will bring, and whether they believe these changes will be positive or negative. This paper uses qualitative data from semi-structured interviews and focus groups to examine the extent to which developmental idealism has already influenced local citizens, and how they think television will impact their lives.
DEVELOPMENTAL IDEALISM AND GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT
Developmental idealism is a widespread and powerful cultural model that contains a set of beliefs and values about development, and that identifies the appropriate goals for development (Thornton 2005). The model includes beliefs about cause and effect, or the precursors needed to achieve certain goals, such as economic growth, educational improvements and achievements, health advancements, and political governance (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015). A central tenet of developmental idealism is the belief that modern social structures and modern family behaviors have reciprocal causal influences.
A growing research base has shown that the beliefs and values of developmental idealism have spread, not only to elite individuals and large international organizations, but also to ordinary citizens in countries throughout the world. While initial examinations focused on the impacts of developmental idealism on family life—changes in the age at marriage, children's role in mate selection, premarital sex, parental authority, changing relationships between men and women, and changing intergenerational relationships—more recent research has examined the impacts of developmental idealism on government, education, global hierarchies, and international relations (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015). The model provides guidance and motivation for decisions and actions and has spread widely throughout the world.
Like other cultural models, developmental idealism tells people how the world works and how they should live in the world (Vaisey 2009). These beliefs are taken for granted, are considered common sense, and go unquestioned. The model specifies desired end-states and how to achieve those goals (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015). Developmental idealism models generate aspirations for what individuals, groups, and nation-states should achieve, and influence decisions and behavior worldwide. Paramount in developmental idealism is the belief that modern society is good and attainable. The definition of a modern society includes concepts such as health and wealth, technological sophistication, industrial and urban society, free and open markets, an educated citizenry, democratic social and political institutions, individual autonomy, universalism, freedom, equality, human rights, secularism, scientific-rational decision-making, monogamy, free-choice marriage at older ages, gender egalitarianism, and self-expression (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015).
The reach, influence, and pervasiveness of developmental idealism are clearly seen in global development programs and the agendas of international non-governmental agencies like the World Bank, the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund. Common goals of global development programs and policies include national economic growth, increasing educational achievement, health advancements, population reduction, and promoting personal freedom and human rights (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015). The Millennium Development Goals provide clear outcomes that should be achieved. The Human Development Index uses a measure of societal development based on education, health, and standard of living to rank countries from highest to lowest, showing countries that are developed, or are progressing toward development, and those that are lagging.
The development plans and goals of the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations are an important mechanism spreading developmental idealism, with their emphasis on mass education, mass media, family planning programs, foreign aid programs, civil rights, democracy, and women's equality (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015). Mass media, and television in particular, is explicitly designed to transmit new ideas and is very effective in spreading developmental idealism.
TELEVISION, DEVELOPMENT, AND DEVELOPMENTAL IDEALISM
Mass media is seen as a key mechanism spreading developmental idealism, and television is a central precursor to development. The World Bank (2017) states that electricity access is “vital for reaching all other United Nations Sustainable Development Goals” and for improving public health. The hypothesized mechanism though which electricity brings about development and social change is through television, the main domestic use of electricity. According to the World Bank (2008), “television is the channel through which electricity effects fertility” by “providing information on health knowledge.” Television is a particularly powerful agent for social change, and one whose impact operates primarily through ideational mechanisms (Barber and Axinn 2004). Ideation refers to a new way of thinking, and ideational change requires that individuals be exposed to ideas and information they had not previously encountered.
Television is specifically designed to transmit new ideas and information and is a particularly powerful source of ideational change that transcends traditional barriers of language and literacy. Television access has grown worldwide, and satellites now beam images into remote communities that until recently were relatively isolated. That television has effects is widely accepted (Kottak 1991). Television introduces very vivid depictions of modern family and society to areas where the local norms may be very different. As specified by the developmental idealism model, those modern images presented on television are good, desirable, and attainable.
Television content may promote change by informing, enabling, motivating, and guiding individuals. Television appears to be a particularly effective mechanism for transmitting new ideas to both elites and non-elites. Social cognition theories explain why television content is so powerful in influencing attitudes (Wyer and Srull 1989). In forming an attitude, the information that is the most accessible and vivid enters into the equation (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975). The most accessible concepts are those that have been viewed frequently and recently. Repeatedly viewing concepts on television (e.g., portrayals of small families, egalitarian gender relationships, consumption and consumerism, and youth autonomy) heightens their accessibility and makes them particularly influential in attitude formation (Schrum 2002). Television images are also very vivid (Bandura 1986; Schrum 2002) in that they are “emotionally interesting, concrete, and imagery provoking” (Nisbett and Ross 1980:45). Television also offers opportunities for social learning. By watching television, viewers can learn from the experience of others, and actors can be instructive by serving as transmitters of knowledge, values, cognitive skills, and new lifestyles and behaviors. Social models on television can also illustrate that individuals have the power to change their circumstances, and seeing characters succeed through their own efforts can motivate viewers. Television programs can also illustrate the rewards of certain behaviors and show how to translate a desired vision of the future into a set of achievable sub-goals (Bandura 1986).
The constructs and models shown on television that are frequent, recent, and vivid come from the West, and Western television dominates programming worldwide. Even when national programming is available, it reflects the viewpoints and images of the national capital or large urban centers and Western production norms. Imported models of family structure are prevalent on television, and television may offer radically different ways of imagining sex and gender relations. For example, images of romantic love widely disseminated by television have profoundly modified representations of love in societies characterized by an arranged-marriage system (Abu-Lughod 1989; Davis and Davis 1995; Locoh and Mouvagha-Sow 2007). Individual autonomy, egalitarianism, and independence of thought, what Inglehart and colleagues refer to as secular-rational or self-expression values (Inglehart 1997; Inglehart and Baker 2000; Inglehart and Welzel 2005), are also frequently presented on television. These constructs may lead to changing conceptions of youth autonomy and alter gender and intergenerational relationships. The Western/modern/cosmopolitan images and messages in television programs clearly illustrate and define what it is to be modern (Hornick 2001). Television portrayals of human nature, family relationships, social roles, power relations, and societal norms shape the public consciousness (Gerbner et al. 1994), and these images gain influence because people's social construction of reality depends heavily on what they see.
Associations between television and public health are plentiful. More than 50 years ago, the UN Statistical Yearbook data for 96 countries indicated that television availability was significantly associated with lower fertility (Williams and Singh 1976). In Brazil and Indonesia, timing variations in television's arrival were linked to within-country fertility variations (Cammack and Heaton 2001). Using data from 144 countries, television ownership was found to correlate more highly with fertility than female education or GNP per capita (Hornick and McAnany 2001). Television ownership was related to condom use in South Africa (Vundule et al. 2001), Bangladesh (Vundule et al. 2001), Brazil (Gupta 2000), Guatemala (Cornelius 1996), and Nepal (Boulay et al. 2002).
Demographic and Health Survey data from Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia, and Morocco) and South Asia (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) indicate strong associations between television exposure and contraceptive use, future intentions to use contraception, preferences for fewer children, later age at marriage, and the intention to stop childbearing (Westoff and Bankole 1999). Television exposure has also been linked to sexual attitudes and behavior. Exposure to sexual content on television was associated with more permissive attitudes to sexual activity outside of marriage, earlier sexual debut, and the increased risk of teen pregnancy (Brown and Newcomer 1991; Brown et al. 2006). Studies in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Guatemala, Peru, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Fiji, Thailand, and Vietnam report television as the most frequently mentioned source of information on contraceptives and HIV/AIDS (Cornelius 1996; Valente et al. 1996; Chaterjee 1999; Islam and Hasan 2000; Khawaja et al. 2004).
The explicit use of television to change attitudes and behavior is also common, and both governmental and non-governmental organizations spend billions of dollars annually on television campaigns to improve public health. For example, the UNFPA has provided substantial financial and technical assistance to over 100 countries on “information, education, and communication” (IEC) and “behavior change communication” strategies using television to promote family planning messages. USAID supports the world's largest family planning IEC television effort. Mechanisms to promote these goals range from short public service announcements to paid commercials and television mini-series. Uganda's Health Ministry credited an IEC campaign with achieving dramatic changes in sexual behavior, increasing knowledge of HIV/AIDS, and reducing the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections (Kiragu et al. 1996). After a series of mini-dramas were aired, Egypt's contraception rate was reported to have risen by 10% (Sadik 1995). Viewing a public service announcement on Islam and family planning in Mali was linked with a sharp drop in the proportion of women who believed that Islam was opposed to family planning, from 57% to 17% (Kane et al. 1998). In Brazil, vasectomy requests increased after a vasectomy television campaign aired (Kincaid et al. 1996). Zimbabwe credited IEC campaigns with increases in birth spacing and reduction of fertility (Guilkey and Jayne 1997).
Television's role in development is clearly assumed and advocated. However, while governmental and non-governmental organizations have specified the connection between television and development, little is known about how television's arrival at the local level is perceived. Do local government units and everyday people hold the same expectations of television as the World Bank? Do villagers in remote and isolated villages also think that television's arrival will herald changes in public health, family, and sustainable development goals? What do local villagers expect will happen when television arrives? While some ethnographic accounts are available describing village and family changes after the arrival of television, no information is available on the expectations that locals have about television before its introduction. This paper makes use of qualitative data (focus groups, semi-structured interviews), collected as part of a randomized experiment on the impacts of television, to examine local views and expectations about individual, family, and community changes resulting from television's arrival.
TELEVISION AND DEVELOPMENTAL GOALS IN VIETNAM
Emphasizing its view that television is necessary for development, the World Bank provided Vietnam USD 220 million for rural electrification projects, increasing coverage from 50% in 1996 to 79% in 2006. Although electrification has spread, along with television ownership, viewership, and access, further expansion will require electricity provision to remote and mountainous areas not easily connected to the national grid.
Despite the cost and difficulty of further electricity expansion in Vietnam, in 2012 the government explicitly stated its expectation that television would influence development when the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a decree that all villages must have television by 2018. Of particular interest is that the decree called for television, not electricity, the necessary precursor to widespread television access. At the time of the decree, about 82% of Vietnam's population had electricity. The remaining unelectrified areas were remote, mountainous locales primarily inhabited by ethnic-minority groups. That this goal would not be achieved due to the high cost and great difficulty of providing electricity to remote areas was widely acknowledged. But regardless of its practicality, this decree highlights the government's expectations that television can influence attitudes and behavior and assist in reaching development goals. Party officials stated that television could inform individuals living in remote areas about government policies and programs. Specifically, television could provide information on family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention, reduction of domestic violence, the avian flu, and directives on avoiding social evils (alcohol and drug addiction, gambling, crime, and prostitution).
This party decree calling for television in all villages continues a long history of Vietnamese government efforts to get news and information to all villages, no matter how remote. Ho Chi Minh founded and led the Communist Party in the late 1920s with independence and modernization as key goals. Ho Chi Minh believed that for the country to modernize, Vietnamese families needed to abandon feudal vestiges and resist bourgeois influences. From that time to the present, the government has continued to focus on family behavior as a crucial component of Vietnam's modernization efforts. Through decrees, laws, and propaganda, the government's goals for family behavior have been specified. Through mass organizations and state media these messages have been transmitted to families and individuals throughout society.
The August Revolution of 1945 began the drive for fundamental changes in family behavior deemed necessary for Vietnam's modernization. Along with calls for freedom and independence from France, the 1946 constitution contained directives on family behavior, calling for later age at marriage, free choice rather than arranged marriages, and smaller families (Vu Manh Loi 1991). The 1959 Law on Marriage and Family was very clear on the family behavior necessary for modernization: gender equality, free-choice marriage, smaller families, and doing away with Confucian morality and ancestor-worship rites. Subsequent policies like the 1998 Marriage and Family Law and the 2010 Strategy for Family further specified the family behaviors needed for modernization. Modernizing the country remains a common refrain among today's government leaders, although the specific messages about modernization are changing. Rather than a family focus, modernization messages today are intertwined with ideas on economic development.
Vietnam has made dramatic economic progress since economic renovation policies calling for a transition from a centrally planned to a market-based economy were passed in 1986. Inflation fell from 400% in 1988 to 17% in 1994, and the country went from being a rice importer to the second-largest rice-exporting country in the world (Haughton, Haughton, and Phong 2001). The poverty rate declined from 58% to 10% between 1990 and 2010. News stories and the government proudly announced that Vietnam had moved from being one of the poorest countries to a lower-middle-income country by 2010, achieved the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and moved up in the Human Development Index, strongly illustrating international organizations' influence and the power of developmental idealism.
Although Vietnam has made tremendous economic progress and achieved many of its modernization goals, segments of Vietnam's population have been left out of these modernization efforts. Vietnam is a multiethnic society with substantial ethno-cultural diversity. The Kinh are 86% of Vietnam's population, and 52 different ethnic-minority groups make up the other 14%. The ethnic minorities have Vietnamese nationality and reside in Vietnam, but do not share the identity, language, and other cultural characteristics of the Kinh (World Health Organization 2003). The Kinh primarily inhabit the fertile delta regions and coastal plains, and with few exceptions their settlements are electrified. In contrast, Vietnam's ethnic-minority groups mainly reside in mountainous areas lacking electricity. Substantial disparities between the Kinh and the ethnic-minority groups are evident. Ethnic minorities account for 30% of Vietnam's poor, and about 75% fall below the international poverty line, compared to 31% of the Kinh (United Nations 2002). It is estimated that 4% of the Kinh cannot meet even basic nutritional needs, but this figure was 33% among ethnic minorities (Swinkles and Turk 2006). Ethnic minorities are less well served by the health care system (Desai 2000)—they are far less likely to receive prenatal care, to be assisted by a doctor, nurse, or midwife during birth, to consult a health care provider when a child is sick, or to vaccinate their children (Baulch et al. 2002). Poverty is highly concentrated in the remote and mountainous areas where ethnic minorities reside. In fact, the poverty rate increased in areas with a high percentage of ethnic minorities, rising from 33% to 57% between 1992 and 2006 (World Bank 2011). Similarly, ethnic minorities lag far behind the Kinh in educational attendance and completion, and, like poverty, this gap has grown in recent years. While Kinh fertility has fallen dramatically and is close to replacement level, fertility remains high among ethnic minorities, exceeding 5 for some groups (Amin and Teerawichitchainan 2009).
That ethnic minorities lag behind, and that the gap between the majority and minority groups is growing, is of substantial concern and explains the Communist Party directive to have television in all Vietnam villages. While policies and directives are effectively disseminated to its Kinh citizenry, they appear less effective in reaching ethnic-minority groups. Perhaps television, with its power to transcend barriers of language and literacy, will be a more effective dissemination mechanism for modernization and developmental idealism messages. The World Bank, the World Health Organization, other non-governmental organizations, and the Vietnamese government have clear expectations for what television will bring. Television is the mechanism through which modernization messages will be spread and adopted. While there is a large research literature on the associations between television and a host of variables associated with developmental idealism (e.g., poverty reduction, better education and health outcomes, lower fertility, egalitarian gender attitudes, autonomy and self-expression), less is known about what ordinary citizens expect from television, what changes they think it will bring, and whether the changes are positive or negative. What do ethnic minorities, who have been largely left out of Vietnam's economic progress, expect with the introduction of television to their villages?
EXPECTATIONS FOR WHAT TELEVISION WILL BRING
Although a substantial literature on television's effects exists, no research has focused on expectations of television and whether the expectations of ordinary citizens fit the developmental idealism model. Understanding what people expect from television, how they think television will change their lives, and whether these changes will be positive or negative provides valuable insight into the extent to which developmental idealism messages have already been adopted and whether they view television as an important vehicle for achieving their development goals.
These questions are explored using qualitative semi-structured interviews and focus groups with two groups living in remote, mountainous areas of Vietnam. Both groups are from the same ethnic minority group, and all individuals grew up in villages without electricity and television. The first group interviewed included district leaders living and working in district towns (capital of a district), which were all electrified. All had televisions in their homes. The second group included village residents in areas without electricity and television. That the former group had television while the latter group did not is likely to have influenced their expectations for what television's arrival would bring.
Given Vietnam's very effective policy dissemination network, district leaders are expected to toe the party line and emphasize television's impacts on specified government goals: fertility reduction, HIV prevention, and awareness of social evils. The expectations for television were clearly stated in Hanoi, and district leaders are likely to reinforce Hanoi's objectives. The district leaders also have televisions in their homes, know the program content, and are likely to emphasize the impacts of specific messages that align with developmental goals. Although local village residents have yet to receive television, and although the government wants television in villages to get its messages to local residents, it is very likely that developmental idealism messages have already been received. Although ethnic minorities, especially those living in remote, unelectrified areas, have been left out of Vietnam's dramatic economic progress, the policy dissemination network established by Ho Chi Minh in the 1930s will still have conveyed the government's directives. From Hanoi, the directives will reach the province level, and from there be sent to the district. Personnel from the district will have traveled to each village, conveying policy goals to each village head, and to village residents in village meetings. Even without television, I expect local residents to know that they need to reduce fertility, prevent social evils, and reduce domestic violence.
If the responses from village residents regarding what they expect television to bring are similar to those of village leaders, and convey developmental idealism principles, then prior studies may have over-estimated television's influence by under-estimating the extent to which ideas about development have already permeated local cultures. This paper uses qualitative data from a randomized experiment on television to ask about the expected impacts of television and assess the extent to which individual expectations align with the developmental idealism framework.
DATA AND METHODS
This paper makes use of qualitative data to examine what district leaders and local village residents expect from television in north central Vietnam. The data are part of a randomized experiment on television's impacts. Capitalizing on the decree calling for all villages in Vietnam to have television by 2018, a randomized experiment to examine the causal impacts of television was implemented in remote areas of north central Vietnam. Socioeconomic data gathered from commune records and spatial data were used to identify potential field sites based on two criteria: the village had at least 75 households, and was not within a short travel time from an electrified area. Sixteen villages inhabited by the Thai ethnic-minority group were selected, with eight randomly assigned to the control group and eight to the treatment group. After baseline data collection involving ethnographies, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews, and face-to-face surveys with all village residents 16 and older (n = 4,598), the treatment villages received televisions, along with gasoline deliveries and generators. The control villages did not receive television, generators, or gasoline. All villages lie at least 15 km from the district town, and road conditions and topography prevent frequent travel to and from the village to town. Also, although some of the villages appear close to each other, frequent travel between a treatment village and a control village is prevented by topography and road conditions.
This paper uses qualitative data from intensive interviews with district leaders (the districts in which the study villages are located) and focus groups with same-sex age groups in treatment villages. All interviews were conducted six to eight months before the introduction of television to the treatment villages. Interviews focused on the anticipated benefits and drawbacks of television. They were conducted by bilingual (Vietnamese and Thai) interviewers who were all members of the Thai ethnic minority. All interviewers were high school graduates and had some post-secondary education.
Transcripts of all interviews, as well as ethnographer notes, were translated into Vietnamese (when needed) and then reviewed by bilingual speakers. Once the Vietnamese translation was approved, they were translated into English and then reviewed for accuracy by staff who spoke both English and Vietnamese. English transcripts were then imported into R for qualitative data analysis with the RQDA package. Step 1 of the qualitative data analysis involved identifying central themes focused on the developmental idealism model, the expectations for television's arrival, and the benefits and disadvantages of television.
District leaders. District leaders are those in positions of authority in the district. Interviewees included teachers, district heads, health workers, and representatives to district committees like the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Committee on Education, and Committee on Ethnic Minorities. Fourteen interviews were conducted with district leaders. Eleven of these 14 leaders were ethnic-minority. Two non-ethnic-minority leaders chose to conduct the interviews in Vietnamese. The other 12, including one who was not ethnic-minority, chose Thai. Again, district towns have electricity, and all district leaders interviewed had a television in their house. Many had also seen television arriving in other villages in the district.
Treatment village residents. Focus groups were divided by age and sex and consisted of five to seven villagers per group. Focus groups in each village were conducted with (1) females 16 to 22, (2) males 16 to 22, (3) females 23 to 35, (4) males 23 to 35, (5) females 36 to 55, (6) males 36 to 55, (7) females 56 and over, and (8) males 56 and over. All focus groups were conducted in Thai. Although none of the villages had electricity, all the residents knew what television is. Many told stories of going to the district town and watching television through the window of the electronics store until the storekeeper came out and chased them away. Others had seen television when they visited relatives in electrified villages. A few had watched television when they migrated for work, to construction sites or on road crews.
DISTRIC LEADER INTERVIEWS
Interviews with district leaders focused on the perceived benefits and drawbacks of providing television to the treatment villages. All the district leaders were very enthusiastic about television's arrival in the treatment villages; none expressed any concern about potential negative effects. All the leaders echoed sentiments expressed in Hanoi that television would be an important tool to communicate government programs and policies. A 48-year-old male who was head of the Committee on Ethnic Minorities said, “They will learn about national policies and see that they must follow to be part of the country. They will see it is not just I am saying, do this. They will listen when they see it on television.”
District leaders also made strong connections between television and poverty alleviation. For example, a 34-year-old female district head said, “My district is one of the 62 poorest districts in Vietnam, with very high poverty. Television will benefit all the villagers by letting them access information and see models which teach them how to make wealth.” The view that television would provide models for “making wealth” referred to television programs focused on farming. News programs and television shows geared to farmers were believed to increase villagers' understanding of modern farming practices, pesticide use, weather conditions, and seed programs, all resulting in higher yield, which in turn would reduce poverty. Animal husbandry skills were also focused on, with television providing information on how to improve profits from animals, also reducing poverty.
Several leaders mentioned the educational aspects of television. Educational programming was viewed as beneficial to children, especially as programs are geared to different grade levels. Television was also expected to increase educational aspirations, attendance, and completion. “There are programs on science and technology that will be very beneficial to ethnic minorities. They will see the importance of education and see they must go to school and do well to live in this modern world.” Other leaders emphasized that “television has impacts on learning motivation by showing children the benefits of studying and doing well in school.” As a 42-year-old male stated, “I think I will witness many cases where a student just plans to finish lower secondary school, then come home and help their parents on the farm—but after watching shows with role models for studying, students will change their mind and finish the next level, high school. They will even hope that one day they have the opportunity to pass the entrance exam and have a seat at the university.” The head teacher in one district also viewed television as a motivator and role model, telling our interviewer, “Television will have a great influence on how students plan for their future career. Because of their circumstances, it is very hard for them to get advice from their parents, who are the old generation with limited knowledge. When television came to the district it was easier for children to open their minds and acquire ideas about their futures. Now children in the villages will also be able to think about their futures beyond farming.” A district health care worker expressed similar sentiments: “Television will motivate students to plan to go to work in more developed areas. They will learn new techniques and then come back home and help their village.”
Of the 14 leaders interviewed, one was a principal at the secondary school in the district town, and two were teachers. Both teachers also served in government positions in their districts (vice-head of cultural affairs, and chair of the Committee on Education). Interviewers pushed these educational professionals to consider whether television's arrival might negatively impact children's education. They maintained that the effect would be positive: “In my opinion, the programs on television widen the knowledge of the students and the ethnic people in isolated areas. They know about the general activities of the country and the world. When I ask them to tell stories or make sentences they will be able to, because they have a chance to see and hear things from television. Thanks to television, students can learn how to communicate, how to answer, how to greet people. This will be real progress.” And the district leaders involved with education were not alone in highlighting television's potential educational benefits. Other district leaders also expressed positive expectations for television's educational impacts.
Surprisingly, no district leader expressed concern that television would negatively impact education. Our interviewers pressed them, noting that time spent watching television could impede studying and homework completion. Two district leaders agreed that this was a problem in their own house with their teenage children. However, they did not consider it a serious concern for students in the treatment villages because they had been so isolated that awareness of and exposure to the outside world would motivate students to study. As one district head noted, students in the treatment villages would see how far behind they were and be motivated to study. Furthermore, he felt that students in the treatment villages would now see all the possibilities available to them through education and be further motivated by those possibilities.
Although it was not mentioned as frequently as the ideas of television improving policy communications, poverty alleviation, and education, a few leaders highlighted health benefits. Leaders in Hanoi felt television could improve health by educating individuals on disease prevention (sanitation and clean water; fully cooking river crab to prevent worms), increasing knowledge and awareness about HIV and its prevention, and providing information on the avian flu. These are frequent topics on Vietnamese television, through news coverage and public service announcements. Given the prevalence of health information on television, it is surprising that potential health benefits were not mentioned as frequently as poverty alleviation and education.
Responding to the health benefits of television, a district head of public health said, “I think that one of the core benefits that television will bring us is in health. In the past, whenever a person was ill, their family member called the sorcerer. When television came to the district, people changed, and they now go to the health clinic. It will be the same in these villages. After watching television and seeing programs about modern medicine, they will not turn to the sorcerer when they are sick. They will come to the modern clinic and use modern medicine.” Some of the other leaders that mentioned health benefits emphasized that television would provide information on how to live healthier. As one education minister stated, “Smoking, drinking—television has information on why these are bad. People will learn this and change their behaviors.”
District leaders focused their comments on television's arrival improving the understanding of government policies, reducing poverty, improving education, and improving Vietnamese-language development. When specifically asked, they did mention television's anticipated impacts on family. Many of the leaders felt television would “change their [villagers'] perception about the family relationship”; they would “learn how to treat family members in a different way.” A female, 30-year-old teacher told our interviewer, “People need to live in the modern life, and lacking television is really inconvenient for learning about the modern family. Without television, people treat each other like they did 50 years ago. It is not modern. When they get television, they will see how husbands and wives treat each other, how parents treat children. They will see it on television and make better families.” Particular emphasis was given to domestic violence, physical punishment of children, and unequal husband–wife relationships. Television, it was believed, would lead to less domestic violence and physical punishment, and to wives having a greater role in family decisions.
No district leader mentioned the drawbacks or negative effects of television. When pressed, several gave responses similar to a teacher at the secondary school in the district: “Negatives? I think television does not have any negative effects.” A few were able to come up with negative aspects after much prodding by the interviewer. These centered on its impacts on adolescents. One said, for example, “Besides many useful channels, there are still some channels that are not good for teenagers. Young girls and boys are easily affected by foreign trends. Some of them dress quite sexily, which is not suitable for our culture.” Another commented that “young people will get some bad ideas from television and try to act like those in other countries, ways that are different from our culture. Some of what television will show them will be bad.” When asked to elaborate on these bad aspects, the district leader focused on the lack of respect for elders, and peer relationships surpassing family relationships. Dating and interactions with the opposite sex were a particular source of concern.
Still, as a district health clinic director said, “Television will be mainly good. People will watch and see it is important to get immunized, to use medicine when you're sick, to use contraception. Some of the younger people may learn bad habits. They will see programs showing young people using drugs, drinking, gambling. They might learn social evils from television. But the parents have to counter that.”
FOCUS GROUPS IN VILLAGES
Residents of the treatment villages were very excited about the upcoming arrival of television. When asked why television's arrival to their village was desired, villagers responded that television would help them become wealthier, healthier, and more knowledgeable. The influence of developmental idealism is clearly illustrated in one 27-year-old woman's response: “Television will show us modern ways of doing things and modern ways of thinking, and we will become modern.” Village residents' expectations for television clearly show that ideas about developmental idealism were already well entrenched, prior to the arrival of television.
There was substantial enthusiasm about television's impeding arrival, and all focus groups eagerly described how television would improve conditions in their village and help them improve their lives. Younger respondents emphasized that television would teach them new ways of doing things that would be better than what they currently know. As one 21-year-old female participant said, “Most of what is on television shows Hanoi and foreign countries that are much richer than us. We will watch how they do things, and we will follow and become better.” A 39-year-old man said, “We will see on television what not to eat and what is better for us, and we will become healthier.” He went on to describe the benefits of television for the elderly. When visiting his brother, he had seen that the elderly on television are more active and healthier, so the elderly in his village “will watch television and see the benefits of exercise and start exercise clubs.”
Most participants focused on the educational aspects of television: how agricultural programs would increase their productivity, how educational programming on television would improve their children's knowledge, and how health programs would improve their health. One 27-year-old woman said, “Television will show us modern ways of doing things and modern ways of thinking, and we will become more modern.” Many viewed television as necessary for development. For example, a 42-year-old man said, “We are a very poor village. We cannot compare favorably with richer areas. When we get television we will get information on how to be better, and we will develop and become richer.”
While district leaders focused on the educational and poverty-alleviation benefits of television, villagers were quick to point out the positive impacts television would have on health. Television would provide information that would lead to better health outcomes. Expectant mothers would learn about the prenatal care they needed. Young mothers would learn about vaccines their children needed. People of all ages would learn about signs of diseases and how to prevent them. In particular, knowledge about family planning, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases would improve.
Village residents struggled more with thinking about television's impacts on families. At first, many were at a loss as to how television could impact their families. One 62-year-old man, however, said television could provide him with more common ground with his grandchildren. The grandchildren and grandparents could watch television together, and, after having viewed the same program, they would have things to talk about. Most groups expressed strong sentiments that families would be better because of television. When the moderator asked for specific examples of how families would be better, or what aspects of families would be improved, no specifics were provided. Common responses were “we will be better through knowledge,” “television will show us how to be good families,” and “families on television are modern, and we will learn to be better families.” In contrast to the district leaders' descriptions, specific issues focused on by the government—reducing domestic violence and physical punishment of children, and promoting more egalitarian gender relations—were not mentioned.
Those in the 16-to-22 groups were particularly excited about television's arrival and all they would learn about relationships between men and women. A few of the female group participants shyly talked about “seeing on television what boys and girls do together.” One 18-year-old female explained that “nobody talks about topics like dating, how to kiss, what to do, how to act. We can see on television, and learn.” While district leaders were optimistic about the educational benefits of television, adolescents themselves did not comment on that. A few in the older-age focus groups did mention educational benefits, highlighting programs on farming and health. That television would motivate young people to study and expose them to more opportunities was not mentioned.
That television's arrival was seen as good is clearly illustrated by how strongly all the villages in the sample wanted to be selected as a treatment village. Prior to randomization into treatment and control villages, resident ethnographers in all villages reported receiving much cooperation and support from the village shamans. This was very surprising, since our ethnographers' prior experiences with shamans was that they would remain distant and aloof throughout the study. Our ethnographers discovered that the shamans had had a substantial increase in requests for their services and thus enjoyed more income as a direct result of the study. Village residents were going to their shamans and requesting special ceremonies and rituals to increase the chances that their village would be selected to receive television.
Even when pressed by the moderator, village residents had a hard time imagining what the potential negative aspects of television could be. Even though the young people were eager to “see on television what boys and girls do together,” the older generations did not express concern about television negatively influencing youth. Even when pressed, they insisted that television would impart knowledge and information that youth would benefit from. All the moderators prompted them with a version of, “Very few things in life are all good or all bad. We have talked a lot about the good things that will happen when television arrives, but what are some of the bad things?” Long silences followed. After much prompting, a few groups came up with two potential problems: too much television-watching might hurt people's eyesight, and some people might neglect their farming or other work.
The responses from both district leaders and village residents highlight three main findings: television is viewed as an important mechanism of development; ideas about developmental idealism were firmly established prior to television's arrival; and the perceived benefits of television far outweigh the potential negatives. These findings highlight how widespread, pervasive, and powerful a cultural model developmental idealism is. Local district leaders were very explicit that television was needed to communicate aspects of modernity and development to local ethnic-minority residents. However, interviews conducted with local residents prior to television's arrival clearly show they already had ideas about modernity and development. Despite the remoteness of these villages, and despite language barriers with the rest of Vietnam and the world, local residents used developmental language to discuss their expectations of television.
Both district-level leaders and local residents used language directly from developmental idealism to discuss the impacts television would have: the words modern and progress were frequently mentioned by district leaders. District leaders also said that television would show local residents how to reduce poverty, that it would advance education, show children a future beyond farming, lead to health improvements, and illustrate how to become a modern family. Further illustrating developmental idealism, the anticipated impacts of television were clearly labeled as desirable and good. Even when pressed by the interviewer to discuss the possible negative aspects of television, district leaders struggled to come up with any.
The residents of remote villages also viewed television as necessary for development. Although a primary motivation for expanding electrification was television access to further development goals, the interviews made clear that the residents were already well aware of developmental idealism and were eager for television to arrive. They also identified television as a critical mechanism for development. Even more than the district leaders, they found it hard to imagine any negative impacts.
Examining what district leaders and local residents expect from television is important because it illustrates how pervasive the central concepts of developmental idealism are. Although television can be a very powerful disseminator of these concepts, it is clear that leaders and residents already have powerful ideas about developmental idealism. That district leaders tie television to development is not surprising given the government's expectations for television and that they live in electrified areas with television. What is surprising is how strongly residents of remote areas without television echo the same ideas about television and development. The developmental idealism model has already filtered into their lives. Rather than television introducing ideas about modern society and family and labeling these as good and desirable, village residents already had these ideas.