Formulated under the framework of the culture-centered approach, Professor Dutta’s research program explores the interactions among structure, culture and agency in the co-creation of transformative practices for challenging marginalizing communication practices in healthcare settings. The goals of this program of research are to understand (a) the location of communication within the complex interplay of structure and culture, (b) the ways in which individual and collective agencies are enacted within and in resistance to structural constraints, and (c) the interactions of human agency and communicative processes in bringing about social change and structural transformation. These research interests suggest theoretical insights regarding the ways in which communication structures, practices, and messages participate in the marginalization of certain sectors of the population, and draw attention to the processes through which these silencing structures are resisted by those that are typically disenfranchised. Ultimately, these theoretical entry points provide pragmatic guidelines for engaging with problems of marginalization and disenfranchisement, fostering spaces for listening to those voices that have historically been rendered silent by the institutional practices of policymakers, interventionists, and program evaluators. The emphasis is on co-creating theoretically grounded spaces of change by working dialogically with subaltern communities through participatory communication strategies.
Research on the culture-centered approach to health communication explores the ways in which cultural meanings are co-constructed by participants in their interactions with the structures that surround their lives. It is through these co-constructions that subaltern participants discuss possibilities of resisting a healthcare system that continues to locate them at the peripheries of the mainstream, and co-create narratives of social change that transform the silences carried out by mainstream structures of knowledge production. Agency and context are two key threads that have flown through the research conducted in this area, utilizing combinations of ethnography, survey-based methodology and performance to engage with the symbolic and material spaces of social change across the globe. Scholarship focusing on the culture-centered approach has been published in Communication Theory, Health Communication, Human Communication Research, Health Education and Behavior, and Qualitative Health Research, in addition to being published as chapters in several books. The key concepts of the culture-centered approach are highlighted in the book “Communicating health: A culture-centered approach” published by Polity Press. Currently, Professor Dutta is working on the book Communicating social change: Structure, culture, agency” to be published by Taylor & Francis. He was awarded the Lewis Donohew Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award in recognition of this work. His most recent research involves a $1.5 million project funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ) to develop culturally-centered guides on heart disease for African Americans in the Lake & Marion counties of Indiana. Also, he has been working most recently on a global project of social change involving the health of migrant workers in the backdrop of neoliberalism. For information on the culture-centered approach, please check out the following blog: http://culture-centered.blogspot.com/.
In another line of research, Dutta examines the role of health orientation as a mediating variable explaining the disparate health outcomes experienced by the different genders, social classes, racial groups, and national communities, and situating within population dispositional variance in the backdrop of structural inequities. This body of research demonstrates systematic within-population variance in individual interest in health-related issues, and this variance is related to the demographic indicators. Studies have examined the role of health orientation in the realm of specific health behaviors such as eating fruits and vegetables, exercising and seeking health information; the use of media channels; the sources of health information; and the choice of communication appeals.
The research on communication technologies examines the differential patterns of technology uses in society and the creation of participatory spaces of technology for culture-centered processes of social change. Dutta proposed the theory of channel complementarity, suggesting that communication channels exist in complementary relationships in the realm of the functions and audience they serve. In addition, he extended the concept of complementarity to the realm of digital divide, demonstrating that new media use patterns mirror participation in traditional communication channels. Those that are communicatively marginalized have minimal access to a wide range of communication channels whereas those that participate in new communication platforms also have greater access to the typically traditional communication platforms. Individual-level inaccess corresponds with community level inaccess such that individuals with minimal access to a technology also reside in communities that have minimal access. This line of research has received considerable attention including top paper awards and high volume citations, and has formed the basis for the work on technology-based community capacity building directed at creating participatory spaces for structural transformations.