Communication Studies, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Ronald Lee. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Getachew Dinku Godana


This dissertation interrogates “community participation” as an international, national, and local discourse and diagnoses the consequences of this discourse for the people living in rural Ethiopia. The analysis proceeds in two steps. First, I critically investigate “community participation” discourses of two purposely selected intergovernmental donors (the UN and the World Bank) and two international NGOs working in Ethiopia, namely Oxfam Great Britain and World Vision. Second, I study grassroots interactions between NGO staffs and the Ethiopian communities they serve. I conducted in-depth interviews with sixty-four members of communities, NGO staff and government officials to understand their experiences and local practices of public deliberation. Additionally, I observed nine NGO-community joint meetings on development issues. Findings of the study suggest different parties have different reasons for embracing "community participation." Adopting a postcolonial lens and employing ideographic criticism helped me illuminate how the rhetoric of "community participation" warrants Western organizations to do development in ways that advance their interests while still appearing to promote grassroots democracy. Findings of the study suggest that the communities I studied appear to be the least influential group, denied a real chance of discussing their own situations and influencing decisions. The results are discussed in terms of practical implications for dealing with multiple stakeholders and conducting grassroots deliberations that empower participants and seek collaborative solutions for development challenges. The study also has theoretical implications for communication-based theorization of participation, voice, empowerment and grassroots democracy.