Professor Mohan Dutta has been named a Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA)
ICA is an international association which aims to advance the scholarly study of human communication by encouraging and facilitating excellence in academic research worldwide. Fellow status is a recognition of distinguished scholarly contributions to the broad field of communication, and is based on a documented record of scholarly achievement.
Professor Dutta, Dean’s Chair Professor and Director, Centre for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), says the honour is humbling.
Based on his work on healthcare among indigenous communities, sex workers, migrant workers, farmers, and communities living in extreme poverty, Professor Dutta has developed a framework called the culture-centred approach that outlines culturally-based participatory strategies of radical democracy for addressing unequal health policies. The culture-centered approach centres the voices of communities at the global margins.
“I see this as a recognition of the work of the culture-centered approach (CCA) in crafting out solidarities with communities at the margins in addressing entrenched injustices globally. The voices and struggles of disenfranchised communities for social justice forms the foundation of this work that our community-activist-advocate-researcher teams have been carrying out over the last two decades.
“Now more than ever, amidst racist processes of marginalisation, structural attacks on the poor, depletion of democratic spaces, challenges of climate injustice, and a pandemic that is further disenfranchising the poor and the working classes, I see the CCA as an anchor for a communicative register for care and equality across global struggles at/of the margins,” he says.
Professor Dutta has received over $6 million in funding to work on culture-centered projects of health communication, social change, and health advocacy. Professor Dutta has directed seven documentaries, run over twenty advocacy interventions, and guided the building of various wellbeing infrastructures from irrigation systems to health care systems. He has written and edited ten books and over 200 articles and book chapters. He has previously been recognised as an Outstanding Applied/Public Policy Communication Researcher of the ICA and Outstanding Health Communication Researcher of the National Communication Association (NCA).
Professor Dutta will travel to the United States to receive a plaque during the ICA presidential awards ceremony in May 2021.
CARE Director Professor Mohan Dutta participated in a call-in conversation, “Are we racist?” with Jacinta Parsons at ABC Radio Australia, discussing Black Lives Matter, racism, Whiteness, and the colonizing project.
“As tensions around race and racism boil over in America is it time for Australians to look closer to home?
Prof Mohan Dutta is Director of the Centre for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at New Zealand’s Massey University and he joins Jacinta Parsons and her listeners for a frank and illuminating discussion.
Duration: 24min 43sec Broadcast: Wed 3 Jun 2020, 12:30pm”
About the event: “#EndTheHate” is a campaign co-created
by a community of indigenous, migrant, and refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand. In
solidarity with the voices of #BlackLivesMatter activists across the globe, we
welcome you to this performative reading on racism, police violence,
incarceration, and Whiteness. Through this co-creative reading, we hope to
build a discursive register for voices that seek to dismantle the racist
structures of White supremacy. Please join with essays, poems, stories as we
create together registers for dismantling Whiteness.
Communication Inequalities and Discursive Erasures: The Fate of Migrant Labour during the COVID-19 Crisis in India by Prof. Mohan Dutta, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University, New Zealand Monday, June 01, 2020 / 12:00 PM
Abstract: COVID19 makes visible the deep inequalities that are written into the extremely neoliberal cities of the twenty-first century. The imaginaries of “smart” “future” and “digital” that punctuate the propaganda infrastructures of postcolonial urbanism are disrupted by narrative accounts of lived struggles with sustenance and survival at the subaltern margins. In this talk, drawing on my ongoing ethnographic work with the subaltern margins of urban India, and more specifically from in-depth interviews conducted with low-wage migrant workers expelled into the highways of death amidst the lockdown, I will theorize the normalization of hyper-precarity, discardability and death of the poor into the neoliberal propaganda infrastructure. Finally, drawing on the culture-centered approach, I will theorize the possibilities of a Left radical imaginary anchored in organizing hyper-precarious workers.
Mohan J Dutta is Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right. Mohan Dutta’s research examines the role of advocacy and activism in challenging marginalizing structures, the relationship between poverty and health, political economy of global health policies, the mobilization of cultural tropes for the justification of neo-colonial health development projects, and the ways in which participatory culture-centered processes and strategies of radical democracy serve as axes of global social change.
This year at ICA 2020 – 70th Annual Conference, #CAREMassey has 21 (approximately) papers/panels/presentations slotted. This is a great achievement for CARE which is made possible by the contributions of CARE’s hard working staff and dedicated researchers all across the globe, who have worked collectively to achieve this brilliance. Here are some of the paper presentations at this year’s ongoing 70th ICA Virtual Conference.
CARE is proud to share that our social impact in the communication field further complemented by the theoretical and empirical impact. This year at ICA 2020- 70th Annual Conference, CARE has 21 (approximately)papers/panels/presentations slotted. This is a great achievement for CARE which is made possible by the the contributions of CARE’s hard working staff and dedicated researchers all across the globe who have worked collectively to achieve this brilliance.
CARE would like to congratulate and wish you the best for the upcoming ICA Conference in May 2020.
New Frontiers of the Culture-Centered Approach: Interventions Disrupting Structures. Chairs(s): Christine Elers (Massey University) and Pooja Jayan (University) Discussant(s): Mohan Jyoti Dutta (University)
Culturally Centering Indigenous Voice Christine Elers; Mohan Jyoti Dutta; Pooja Jayan; Phoebe Elers; Terri Te Tau
The Culture-Centered Approach for Voice Infrastructures: The Poverty Is Not Our Future Campaign Steve Elers; Phoebe Elers; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
A Culture-Centered Approach to Health Intervention Amid Farmer Suicides in India Ashwini Falnikar; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Navigating Health in Low Income Suburban Sites: A Cultured-Centered Project in Aotearoa New Zealand Phoebe Elers; Terri Te Tau; Mohan Jyoti Dutta; Steve Elers; Pooja Jayan
Meanings of Health Among Migrant Indian Nurses in New Zealand Pooja Jayan; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Digital Media, Racist Networks of Hate, and Power Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Decolonizing Epistemicide: When Subaltern Communities Own Knowledge Production Infrastructures Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Land, Space and the Constitution of Poverty in Suburban Aotearoa New Zealand Phoebe Elers; Mohan Jyoti Dutta; Steve Elers
Health Misinformation: A Global Threat Chairs(s): Mohan Jyoti Dutta (Massey University)
A Culture-Centered Approach to Health Intervention Amid Farmer Suicides in India Ashwini Falnikar; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
A Community-Based Heart Health Intervention: Culture-Centered Study of Low-Income Malays and Heart Health Practices Satveer Kaur; Mohan Jyoti Dutta; Munirah Bashir
Meanings of Health Among Migrant Indian Nurses in New Zealand Pooja Jayan; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Theorising Māori Health and Wellbeing: Voices From the Margins Christine Elers; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Hindutva 2.0, Digital Transformation and the Re-Imagined Nation Bipin Sebastian; Mohan Jyoti Dutta
Since mid-March, Asadul Alam Asif has watched nervously as Singapore reported more and more COVID-19 cases in migrant workers’ dormitories like the one where he lives.
The 28-year-old Bangladeshi technician counted himself lucky each day that nobody was infected in his housing block, where around 1,900 workers reside in cramped conditions that make social distancing impossible. To relieve congestion, Asif’s company rehoused some people, which left half of the 16 bunk-beds in his small room empty.
But then, one day last week, seven people in Asif’s dorm tested positive.
He received a text message instructing all residents on the fifth and sixth floors—including him—not to leave their rooms.
“All of us slept very late that night, like 1 or 2 a.m.,” he told TIME by phone. “We were all so worried.”
Asif is one of the more than 200,000 foreign workers living in Singapore’s dormitories, where often 10 to 20 men are packed into a single room. Built to house the workers who power the construction, cleaning and other key industries, these utilitarian complexes on the city-state’s periphery have become hives of infection, revealing a blind spot in Singapore’s previously vaunted coronavirus response.
“The dormitories were like a time bomb waiting to explode,” Singapore lawyer Tommy Koh wrote in a widely circulated Facebook post earlier this month. “The way Singapore treats its foreign workers is not First World but Third World.”
As the coronavirus continues its insidious spread, Singapore’s outbreak suggests the danger of overlooking any population. Even when containment efforts appear to succeed in flattening the curve, keeping it that way remains a difficult, relentless endeavor.
“If we forget marginalized communities, if we forget the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated… we are going to continue to see outbreaks,” says Gavin Yamey, Associate Director for Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute. “This will continue to fuel our epidemic.”
The world’s estimated 164 million migrant laborers are particularly vulnerable both to the disease and to its economic fallout. Their risk of infection is compounded by factors like overcrowded living quarters, hazardous working conditions, low pay and often limited access to social protections.
“Migrants are likely to be the hardest hit,” says Cristina Rapone, a rural employment and migration specialist at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
For undocumented workers, the threat of the virus is even higher. “They might not seek healthcare because they may risk being deported,” Rapone says.
In the Gulf, a wealthy region dependent upon blue collar labor from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, the virus has also ripped through migrant worker housing. Figures from Kuwait, the U.A.E. and Bahrain suggest the majority of cases have been among foreigners, many of whom live in unsanitary work camps, the Guardian reports.
Migrant workers with insecure, informal or seasonal jobs also tend to be among the first to be let go in a crisis. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hastily announced an impending nationwide lockdown in March, hundreds of thousands of internal migrant workers suddenly found themselves unemployed and homeless, forced to flee the cities en masse. The arduous journeys back to their villages—some reportedly walking as much as 500 miles—were made worse by the stigma of being seen as both patients and carriers of the virus.
“There is increasing risk that migrants returning to rural areas face discrimination and stigmatization, because they are said to be carrying or spreading the virus,” says Rapone. FAO staff in Asia and Latin America have reported such cases, she adds.
Yet the spread of the coronavirus has also revealed just how much of the “essential work” depends on migrants, from the medical sector to deliveries to the global food supply.
In the U.S., about half of the farm workers are undocumented immigrants, according to the Department of Agriculture. Classified as essential workers, they continue to toil in fields, orchards and packing plants across the nation, even as much of the economy is shut down. Limited access to healthcare, cramped living and working conditions, and even a reported lack of soap on some farms can put them at high risk of contracting the virus.
“Globally, we’re very dependent on migrants to fill up jobs that are absolutely essential to sustain our economies,” says Mohan Dutta, a professor who studies the intersection of poverty and health at Massey University in New Zealand. He adds that health authorities need to do more to protect them.
A ‘hidden backbone’
Singapore’s outbreak highlights what can happen if some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable people in society go unnoticed during the health crisis. After reporting single-digit daily caseloads in February, the island nation of 5.6 million now has the highest number of reported COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia.
This month, cases began surging past 1,000 per day, and almost all the patients were migrant workers.
“The government was really focused on fighting COVID-19 on two battlefronts: community transmission and imported cases,” says Jeremy Lim, co-director of global health at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. “But it overlooked the vulnerabilities of this third front that’s now glaringly obvious to everyone.”
Singapore’s 1.4 million foreign workers make up about one-third of the country’s total workforce, according to government figures. Most of the low-wage workers are from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and other countries.
Advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) calls them the “hidden backbone” of Singapore society.
“Everything you see as development, [like] the building sector, the marine sector—all this depends very, very much on migrant workers,” says Christine Pelly, an Executive Committee member of TWC2. “Their contribution permeates throughout society in a very necessary and essential way.”
Migrant workers, Dutta adds, are an invisible community in Singapore. Their dormitories are located on the outskirts of the city and on their rest days, they congregate in districts like Little India and Chinatown, where ethnic food shops and money remittances are located. Due to fear of losing their jobs, many do not complain about their living and working conditions.
“Not only are they unseen, but their voices are also unheard,” says Dutta.
TWC2 says it has spent years trying to call the government’s attention to the cramped and dirty dormitory conditions that now pose a grave public health threat. Government regulations stipulate that each occupant be allotted 4.5 square meters (about 48 square feet) of living space, meaning that rooms for 20 people can be as small as 960 square feet, while facilities like bathrooms, kitchens and common rooms are shared.
Some dorms now have hundreds of cases. One of them, the sprawling S11 complex, has over 2,200. Nizam, a 28-year-old Bangladeshi, moved out of S11 after his roommate tested positive earlier this month. He was transferred to a quarantine center.
“One hundred and seventy people share [a] common washroom, kitchen and the room where we eat,” the construction worker says. “Everything is shared. That’s why the virus is spreading like that.”
Besides the dormitories, rights groups have also sounded the alarm on the trucks that ferry migrants to and from work in the gleaming city center. Workers, usually about a dozen or more, are typically packed shoulder to shoulder in the open backs of lorries.
Singapore is scrambling to neutralize the ballooning crisis by locking down the dorms and trying to space out residents.
“This is Singapore’s largest humanitarian public health crisis ever. So the logistics of moving thousands of people, feeding and separating them is not at all straightforward,” says Lim, who also volunteers to help migrant workers.
Around 10,000 workers have been moved out of their dormitories and into vacant housing blocks and military camps. Medical personnel have been stationed at dorms to carry out “aggressive testing,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an April 21 address.
Dormitory residents have been instructed to stop working. The government has said employers must continue to pay their migrant workers during that period, and that testing and treatment will be free.
While workers are being provided three meals a day and free wifi, they are completely dependent on handouts. Workers TIME spoke with say they have not been allowed to leave their dorms, not even to buy groceries or other necessities.
Their treatment also contrasts with the four and five-star hotels that the government has paid to house Singaporeans returning from overseas, fueling criticism of further inequities.
A warning from Singapore
As migrant workers endure the brunt of Singapore’s outbreak, observers say the situation should serve as a reminder for other countries to pay attention to vulnerable residents, especially those for whom social distancing is a luxury.
“They need to be spread out, but they also need to have access to basic infrastructures like ventilation, clean toilets, adequate supply of water, adequate cleaning supplies,” says Dutta, the New Zealand professor.
Seeking to blunt the economic repercussions of the pandemic, many countries are now rushing to restart their economies. Several states in the U.S. have started reopening this week, while in Germany and France schools and businesses are making plans to resume.
But Dutta cautioned against loosening restrictions before ensuring vulnerable groups have access to basic sanitation and decent accommodation. Infections among marginalized communities, if not properly contained, could increase the risk for the entire population, he warns.
“Inequalities are the breeding grounds for pandemics,” he says. “Countries absolutely have to learn [from Singapore] before it’s too late.”
Researchers from the Centre for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) have uncovered Singapore’s large migrant community is experiencing clusters of COVID-19, due to cramped migrant worker dormitories.
Professor Mohan Dutta has been conducting a digital ethnography (participant observations and informal interviews) in Bengali and English, supported by in-depth interviews with low-wage migrant workers. His research has found, although the dormitories are now in lockdown, the workers are unable to maintain physical distancing because of the cramped living conditions, leading to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Professor Dutta, who has been interviewed by The Guardian and the South China Morning Post about the issue, says the workers expressed anxiety about the rapid pace with which the outbreak was unfolding in their dormitories. Singapore’s Ministry of Health reported 1111 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, making a total of 9125, with the migrant worker dormitories emerging as the epicentres of the outbreak. Some 1050 of the 1111 new cases reported on Tuesday were among work permit holders residing in dormitories.
“My earlier work conducted with Singapore’s low-wage migrant workers highlighted the poor living conditions and food insecurity they experienced. These conditions, alongside the lack of worker rights and the absence of spaces for workers to voice their demands, are breeding grounds for the pandemic,” he says.
Singapore has 200,000 workers who live in 43 dormitories across the country, the largest of which holds 24,000 men. The dormitories have been declared isolation units by officials, making them more crowded than usual as only essential workers may leave.
One participant in the study noted they were unable to keep a one-metre distance from one another as their room has 20 people living in it. Another worker said, “They are saying you need to do those things, washing hands and not go outside together. There’s no point when there are so many workers in a room.”
The CARE research team is currently conducting a follow-up quantitative study exploring everyday experiences of health and wellbeing among low-wage migrant workers. The initial findings of this study, conducted with 100 low-wage migrant workers, further crystallise the qualitative findings regarding overcrowding, poor toilet facilities and lack of water. The study also reveals overarching feelings of fear and depression among the workers.
CARE is a research centre that uses participatory and culture-centred methodologies to develop community-driven communication solutions, and has been responding to COVID-19 through its community advisory groups, community workshops, and community researchers.
“The communities we have been working in have been creatively developing a wide range of interventions, community-based resources for support, community-driven advocacy and activist solutions addressing the political and economic challenges foregrounded by COVID-19,” Professor Dutta says.
CARE is also working with 27 communities in rural West Bengal to develop self-organised networks of mutual care. The community advisory group networks have identified the most in-need households in the communities, and have developed culturally-centred food packages (rice, potatoes and daal, considered staple food in this part of India) to be delivered to the most at-need households. The centre is also responding to the distribution of fake news circulated over digital platforms, with community advisory groups working with community researchers to debunk disinformation.
In New Zealand, CARE has developed a network of community support in Highbury, Palmerston North, to address the needs of community members at the “margins of the margins”. It has identified the most in-need households in the communities and developed culturally-centred food packages to meet community needs. The advisory group meets digitally to develop strategies and solutions.
CARE also created the Manawatū Health Information Hub to provide information and raise key information gaps in the community. The information gaps uncovered so far include the availability of testing, financial support and pricing, and have shaped CARE white papers, contributing to its advocacy work. Currently, CARE is collaborating with the Health Hub Project New Zealand to develop a culture-centred, community-grounded framework for community testing.
Singapore, praised for its gold standard approach to tracing coronavirus cases, is facing a surge in transmission linked to its cramped migrant workers’ dormitories, where thousands more infections are expected to emerge.
The health ministry reported 728 new cases on Thursday, the biggest rise in a single day, as medical teams raced to test and isolate workers living in vast dormitory blocks.
While Singapore has been lauded for its rapid and comprehensive approach to contract tracing, officials have been accused of overlooking the dormitories, where thousands of workers live in close quarters and between 12 and 20 men might share a single room.
In March the campaign group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) urged officials to make plans to protect workers, warning: “The risk of a new cluster among this group remains undeniable.” Authorities are resorting to moving men to multi-storey car parks, military camps and floating hotels in an attempt to reduce crowding.
Mohan Dutta, a professor at Massey University in New Zealand, who has interviewed 45 migrant workers in Singapore since the outbreak began, said many feared an outbreak was inevitable due to the conditions.
“Participants told me that even up until Monday they don’t have access to soap and adequate cleaning supplies,” he said. While migrants were being served food so that they did not use shared kitchens, the quality of meals was poor and lacking in nutrition. In some cases 100 men were sharing five toilets and five showers.
Nine dormitories, the biggest of which holds 24,000 men, have been declared isolation units by officials, while all other buildings accommodating the city-state’s 300,000 workers have been placed under effective lockdown. The restrictions, an attempt to reduce further transmission, have left the dormitories even more crowded than usual as only essential workers are permitted to leave.
One construction worker, from Bangladesh, told the Guardian there were long queues to use shared bathrooms which often did not have enough water for the showers or toilets to function.
No one in his dormitory had yet tested positive, he said, but some people had temperatures of 38C. “In my room and other rooms also there are many [with] symptoms, some feel [they have] no energy, someone has body aches,” he said. “We are frightened.”
The government said it had increased cleaning services in the dormitories, which are usually privately operated, and was providing meals to workers and moving people to alternative accommodation.Advertisement
Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant in infectious diseases at Singapore’s National University Hospital, said medical teams had moved from hospitals to test people on site quickly. “If we don’t stop it there the hospitals will get overwhelmed.”
It was likely that thousands more cases would be discovered, Fisher said. “[The men] are all 30 to 40 years old, which is good, but still when you’re dealing with these massive numbers you’re going to get a good number of sick 30 to 40-year-olds.
“The risk [relating to migrant worker dormitories] is completely different and the preparation and the anticipation wasn’t there.
“The message to other places is, if you have an overcrowded setting it is just so vulnerable,” Fisher said, pointing to slum areas in countries such as India. “When people say India’s shutdown has been extended – I can’t think of anything other than shutting down. It’s like the only defence you’ve got.”
The second wave of cases in Singapore has brought the total number of infections to 4,427 including 10 deaths. Fisher said he was not aware of any fatalities among migrant worker clusters but these typically were not recorded until a later date.
Singapore’s migrant workers, who are largely from India and Bangladesh, are an essential part of the work force. Many toil for long hours on the country’s construction sites, building its skyscrapers and shopping malls, so that they can send money to relatives back home.
It is not uncommon for workers, who have temporary contracts and are dependent upon their employers for work permits, to be paid less than promised. Workers might be promised as much as S$1,200 per month, but typically receive anything between S$500-750, according to Dutta. The workers pay large sums in agency fees to work in Singapore and are often reluctant to complain for fear of being deported.
Workers’ dormitories are on the outskirts of the city-state, which, Dutta said, “makes them in many ways invisible to the landscape of Singapore”.