How does the format of ‘The Archers’, BBC Radio 4’s longest running radio soap opera, travel and translate across linguistic and cultural boundaries and why? Why has the Afghan Archers been so popular over nearly two decades? Can such radio soap operas, designed to promote development, change the social worlds or behaviour of their audiences? How are the narratives understood and shaped by Afghan radio audiences? What are the challenges facing producers and dramatists who are tasked with creating strategic development narratives as well as entertaining dramas?

This seminar will address questions that lie at the heart of a transformation in broadcasting that has accelerated over recent decades, namely, the blending of entertainment with education (edu-tainment) in pursuit, ostensibly, of specific development outcomes such as improved nutrition, conflict reduction or greater gender equity. The BBC World Service Trust, the international charity of the BBC World Service, has been at the forefront of these developments over the last two decades. However, their work in the field of drama for development has received little sustained academic scrutiny or critical appraisal from scholars or practitioners.

This presentation is based on a longitudinal ethnographic research by and with Andrew Skuse on New Home, New Life – a radio soap produced by the BBC and the Afghan Education Project. It presents a conjunctural analysis of representations of the state, tribe and citizenship in the radio serial in three distinctly different political moments in recent Afghan political history: Mujahideen rule (1989.–1996), the Taliban era (1997.–2001) and the post-Taliban democratic period of US/NATO influence (2002-2010). The seminar will explore how not just development goals travel and translate via the Afghan Archers. Modern, neo-liberal state practices and institutional arrangements have become part of the textual fabric of New Home New Life and both traditional tribal and non-tribal rural audiences in Afghanistan interpret these stories in their everyday lives, often in unpredictable ways. Edu-tainment soaps can be seen to function as a form of ‘soft power’ and a conveyor of western liberal values but they do not always have the effects intended by donors, development workers and dramatists.

Speaker: Marie Gillespie is Professor of Sociology at The Open University and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. Andrew Skuse is Professor of Anthropology at Adelaide University. Andrew undertook primary research on New Home New Life. He worked with Marie from 2006-11 on collaborative research with BBC World Service Trust and they co-edited a volume, with Gerry Power, entitled Dramas for Development:: Cultural Translation and Social Change published by Sage India. For more details of project see: