This study scrutinizes the trajectory of an international development communication intervention aimed at mediating, rendering public and mobilizing processes of reconnection among estranged citizens across the former Yugoslavia. The intervention, which took place between 2000 and 2005 in the wider context of post-conflict international development assistance and peacebuilding operations in the region, was known as the Videoletters project. Centered on a documentary TV series aimed at promoting the reestablishment of relationships among ordinary people affected by ethno-political divisions, Videoletters was adopted by European bilateral funders for large-scale implementation and categorized as a “tool for reconciliation”.
Starting from an understanding of communication as a right to which citizens are entitled, as a responsibility of practitioners and institutions, and as a capability that is socially distributed in unequal ways and has an ambiguous potential, the study looks into the contextualized potential and limitations of international development communication intervention to attend to the citizens that it is supposed to benefit. By providing rich empirical details about a process of intervention, the study argues in concrete terms for the study of development communication not as a presumably positive tool, but as an institutionally driven practice that may or may not strengthen conditions of justice, with consequences that will differ depending on the specificity of sociopolitical situations in time and space. Depending on contextual and institutional conditions and on the forms of mediation privileged/disregarded throughout the process, the deployment of a specific development communication intervention may/may not foster proper distance, and thus strengthen/weaken conditions of justice for the citizens under consideration, who are subject to the governance structure of international development assistance.
By linking the practice of international development communication to a framework of justice, the study brings the political and ethical dimensions of said practice to the fore and contributes to a critical agenda for theorization and research that takes accountability into consideration and puts citizens at the center.