Situating Organizational Participation, Discourse, and Development at Two Key Global Maternal Health Conferences: A Critical-Cultural Analysis

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This dissertation studied discourse produced by development organizations for and about the global maternal health problem (GMH). Discourse analysis was conducted to answer two research questions: How did distinctive organizations engage in the Women Deliver and Global Maternal Health conferences; and how did the organizations represent the problem of GMH at the conferences (Carvalho, 2008)? This analytic inductive study considered distinctions between GMH organizations and examined how organizations exhibited constitutive (reified) understandings.

The global development community has sharpened its focus on GMH due to the lack of progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.  Goal five (reduction of maternal mortality), is the farthest behind.  Estimates suggest that 1,000 women currently die during pregnancy and childbirth daily (WHO, 2011).  Correspondingly, organizations have publically expressed renewed commitments.

Organizational (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004), postmodern scholars (Holtzhausen & Voto, 2002), and critical global public relations scholars (Curtin & Gaither, 2007; L'Etang, 2005, 2010) claim that meaning production occurs through hegemonic public relations.  The purpose of this dissertation was to extend the field's understanding of manifestations of organizational power and discursive meanings.

In total, 72 units of data were analyzed from a purposive sample of six organizations.  Codes were assigned 1603 times and reduced using Charmaz's (2006) emergent coding scheme.  For validity, member check discussions were conducted with eight individuals.  Findings revealed that advocacy was woven into meanings at the conferences; seen through organizational identity, speaker identity, and conceptual identities.  Organizations sought recognition and legitimacy, and agreement with other organizations.  Power and hierarchy undermined messages of accountability, integrity, and rights.  

Significantly, development discourse was univocal, as suggested by symbolic representations of organizational roles and identity constructions.  Discursive themes of policy, progress, health, and measurement regulated representations.  However, divergent meanings did create contradictions between understandings.  Consistent with theory, meanings were fluid and unfixed, but had historical and political significance.  

This dissertation met the need for public relations theorists to embrace the circuit of culture as a means of capturing discrete meanings.  The study also offers a three-dimensional model to accommodate interactions by multiple consumers of communication patterns and articulations.