Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty Profiles

National University of Singapore
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260

Appointment: HEAD
Office: AS6, Level 3
Email: cnmmohan@nus.edu.sg
Tel: 65168153
Fax: 67794911
Homepage: http://www.culturecenteredapproach.com/
| Brief Introduction | Teaching Areas | Current Research | Research Interests | Publications | Social Change Work in Communities

Brief Introduction Top

Mohan J Dutta is Professor and Head of the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore and Courtesy Professor of Communication at Purdue University. At NUS, he is the Founding Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), directing research on culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change. He teaches and conducts research in international health communication, critical cultural theory, poverty in healthcare, health activism in globalization politics, indigenous cosmologies of health, subaltern studies and dialogue, and public policy and social change. Currently, he serves as Editor of the "Global Health Communication Book Series" with Left Coast Press and sits on the editorial board of seven journals. Before arriving to NUS, he served as Associate Dean of Research in the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue University, a Service Learning Fellow, and a fellow of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy. Also at Purdue, he served as the Founding Director of the Center for Poverty and Health Inequities (COPHI).

Professor Dutta holds a Bachelor of Technology (Honors) in Agricultural Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, and a PhD in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota. He began his career at Purdue University in 2001, was tenured in 2005, and became Full Professor in 2009. In June, 2010, he was appointed as the Lim Chong Yah Professor of Communication and New Media at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and formally joined NUS as Professor of Communication in July, 2012.

Mohan Dutta's research examines marginalization in contemporary healthcare, health care inequalities, the intersections of poverty and health experiences at the margins, political economy of global health policies, the mobilization of cultural tropes for the justification of neo-colonial health development projects, the meanings of health in the realms of marginalized experiences in highly underserved communities in the global South, and the ways in which participatory culture-centered processes and strategies are organized in marginalized contexts to bring about changes in neo-colonial structures of global oppression and exploitation.

Based on his work on healthcare among indigenous communities, sex workers, migrant workers, rural communities and communities living in extreme poverty, he has developed an approach called the culture-centered approach that outlines culturally-based participatory strategies for addressing unequal healthcare policies and global disparities. The culture-centered approach uses a combination of postcolonial deconstruction, resistive strategies for performance and dialogue-based reflexive participation to create entry points for listening to the voices of marginalized communities that have historically been stripped of agency in modernization discourse and constructed as recipients of messages of development targeted by experts located in the global North. At the core of his research agenda is the activist emphasis on provincializing Eurocentric knowledge structures, and de-centering hegemonic knowledge constructions through subaltern participation. He has received over $4 million in funding to work on culture-centered projects of health communication and health advocacy. Currently, he is working on a $1.5 million grant funded by the Agency for HealthCare Research & Quality (AHRQ) to develop a culturally-centered health communication project on heart disease among African American communities in the Lake and Marion counties of Indiana. At NUS, he has received $1.9 million in funding from the Office of the Provost to run culture-centered projects of health in South Asia.

Mohan Dutta has published over 150 journal articles and book chapters, and was recently noted as the most published scholar in Health Communication. He has authored the book "Communicating health: A culture-centered approach" published by Polity Press, and co-edited "Emerging perspectives in health communication: Meaning, culture, and power" (with Heather Zoller) published by Taylor and Francis, and "Communicating for social impact: Engaging communication theory, research, and pedagogy" (with Lynn Harter & Courtney Cole) published by Hampton Press. He has recently written the book "Communicating social change: Structure, culture, agency" published by Taylor and Francis, and the edited book "Communicating healthcare disparities" (with Gary Kreps) to be published by Peter Lang Press. In August 2012, Purdue University has published his book "Voices of Resistance." For his scholarly productivity and contributions to health communication, Dr. Dutta was recognized as the Lewis Donohew Outstanding Scholar in Health Communication in 2006. At Purdue University, he was recognized as a University Faculty Scholar for his research productivity. Currently, he is working on the book "Globalization and Health Communication" to be published  by Left Coast Press.

In addition to teaching, writing and conducting fieldwork, he enjoys spending leisure time with his wife and son, stimulating conversations with his advisees, organizing opportunities with grassroots groups, and participating in theater for social change. In his most recent performance work, he has served as the visiting artistic director for Rittwick, a grassroots group in West Bengal, India working on performance for social change. He has also directed the "Heart Health Indiana" campaign and the "Voices of Hunger" projects globally.

Teaching Areas Top

An award winning teacher at the graduate and undergraduate levels, Professor Dutta firmly believes that excellent teaching goes hand-in-hand with excellent research. His teaching is founded on the principles of dialogue, commitment, and intellectual growth. Philosophically, he notes that teachers are guides who catalyze our growth as human beings, and therefore grounds his pedagogy in an emphasis on growth, awareness, and self-reflection. Drawing upon the writings of Gayatri Spivak, he emphasizes the vital role of education is interrogating our privileges that both limit the possibilities that we can co-create with others and simultaneously open up new possibilities of transformations.

Professor Duttas modules embody the integration of theory and practice in the context of contemporary global problems. The emphasis on Critical, Postcolonial and Subaltern Studies theories is weaved through the courses taught by Dutta, situated amidst the articulation of entry points for structural transformations.

Therefore, there is a continuous interrelationship between theory and practice, with the goal of building higher order theory that is instructive in the co-creation of participatory spaces for listening to subaltern voices and for de-centering the West-centric hegemony of communication knowledge. There is a strong element of deconstruction that is built into Professor Duttas courses, coupled with an emphasis on reflexive and ethnographic methodologies for carving out spaces of solidarity with subaltern communities. The theoretical engagement with critical theory and the Subaltern Studies project creates an entry point for advocacy, politics of social change, and culture-centered praxis.

It is with this emphasis on advocacy and politics of change that Professor Dutta occasionally teaches service learning courses that engage undergraduate and graduate students in addressing the structures of inequity under neoliberalism.  Such courses result in projects of academic-community solidarity in addressing key policy and program issues faced by disenfranchised communities.

Current Research Top

Formulated under the framework of the culture-centered approach, Professor Duttas 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 Interests Top

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.


Professor Dutta has published the book Communicating social change: Structure, culture, agency in collaboration with Taylor & Francis, and more recently "Voices of Resistance" published by Purdue University Press. He was awarded the Lewis Donohew Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award in recognition of this work. Also at Purdue, he was awarded the prestigious University Scholar Award for his research excellence. 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, and a $1.9 million Center on the Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) funded by the National University of Singapore. 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.

Publications Top


  • Dutta, M. (2008). Communicating health: A culture-centered approach. London, UK: Polity Press.

    Zoller, H., & Dutta, M. (Eds). (2008). Emerging perspectives in health communication: Meaning, culture, and power. Taylor & Francis.

    Harter, L., Dutta, M., & Cole, C. (2009). Communication for social impact: Engaging communication theory, research, and practice. Hampton Press.

    Dutta, M. (2011). Communication social change: Structure, culture, agency. Taylor & Francis.

    Dutta, M. (2012). Voices of Resistance. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press

    Dutta, M., & Kreps, G. (Eds). (in press). Communication and health disparities. Hampton Press.


  • Dillard, S., & Dutta, M. J. (in press). Culture-Centered Engagement with Delivery of Health Services: Co-Constructing Meanings of Health in the Tzu Chi Foundation through Buddhist Philosophy. Health Communication.

    Dutta, M. J., Brockus, S., Vercler, L. (in press). Operation Iraqi Freedom: Frames that made news. Journal of International Communication.

    Dutta, M. J., & Pal, M. (in press). Engaging worldviews, cultures and structures through dialogue: The culture-centered approach to public relations. PRISM.

    Dutta, M. J., & Dutta, U. (in press). Voices of the poor from the margins of Bengal: Structural inequities and health. Qualitative Health Research.

    Dutta, M. J. (2012). Hunger as health: Culture-centered interrogations of alternative rationalities of health. Communication Monographs, 79, 366-384.

    Dutta, M. J., & Ban, Z. (2012). Minding their business: Discourses of colonialism and neoliberalism in the commercial guides for US companies in China. Public Relations Inquiry, 1, 197-220.

    Dutta, M. J., & Jamil, R. (2012). Health at the margins of migration: Culture-centered co-constructions among Bangladeshi immigrants. Health Communication.

    Koenig, C. J., Dutta, M. J., Kandula, L., & Palaniappan, L. (2012). "All of those things we don't eat:" A culture-centered approach to dietary health meanings for Asian Indians living in the United States. Health Communication.

    Pal, M., & Dutta, M. J. (2012). Organizing resistance on the internet: The case of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. Communication, Culture, Critique, 5, 230-251.

Social Change Work in Communities Top

As a three-year-old, I asked my uncle, a trade union leader in my hometown, if I could help him paint hammer and sickle on the red flags that were arranged in a long line on the roof of our house. My socially engaged joint family of political leaders and trade unionists taught me to believe in social change and to work for it. My father taught me the value of activism and of the intersections between academe and the politics of change. The abject poverty and the struggles of my people taught me that intellectual exchange is incomplete without engaging the real struggles of real people. Therefore, my scholarship to me is very real. Service keeps me grounded in this reality, and is integral to the work I do. In addition to direct action and participation in various performative avenues, I post my critical analyses on my blog as a way to open up discursive spaces for debate and dialogue on important social, political and economic issues. I also participate in several community-based projects that are driven toward the goal of creating participatory spaces for disenfranchised communities. In fact, participatory communication in collaboration with communities is the cornerstone of my research and scholarship.

The research I conduct and the courses I teach engage socially-relevant themes that have an impact. With a focus on developing creative social change interventions, I study communication theories and processes dealing with marginalization and disenfranchisement at individual, local, national, and international levels. Therefore, service is not only a pivotal component of my academic life, but the fountainhead of my scholarship. Positive social change is the heart and soul of what I do. The AHRQ-funded project is one such example, incorporating the elements of community organizing and community mobilizing in an underserved community through the lens of scholarship on the culture-centered approach. The currently funded Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) carries this line of work forward in developing partnerships with various community stakeholders in addressing social injustices and challenges.

As a technical adviser to the Minnesota Department of Health's anti-tobacco program, I participated in the different phases of development of the Target Market Campaign. Voted as the "Newsmaker of the Year" by the Minnesota Women's Press in January, 2001, the Target Market campaign is a unique example of effective media targeting and target audience involvement. Other engagement outlets include the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Purdue Student Wellness Center, Indiana Minority Health Coalition, Northwest Indiana Health Disparities Initiative, Indiana State Department of Health etc.

Since 2001, I have been offering workshops on evaluating quality of health information on the Internet to community organizations across Indiana. I have offered more than 100 such workshops to various community organizations. Organizations include the YMCA, YWCA, Hastings Cancer Center, local schools, public libraries, community organizations etc. The broader goal of this work is to foster information use capacities and information literacies among underserved communities

I have also engaged in and provided leadership to community-based projects such as theater for social change and adult literacy programs in the Santali areas of rural West Bengal. The adult literacy programs implemented in different rural areas of Bengal involved street theater on socially relevant subjects, classrooms for group instruction, one-on-one tutoring, and group discussions. I am starting to explore resources for generating a basic infrastructure for the Santali community in the villages surrounding the township of Kharagpur. I am also working on developing a study abroad program in collaboration with the Rural Development Center at IIT, Kharagpur. Recently, I returned from a 10-day workshop on theater for social change in West Bengal where I served as the creative director on a production. In Indiana, through the "Voices of Hunger" project, I along with a group of students have collaborated with food insecure community members in fostering spaces for their participation.

In recognition of my service and contributions to service learning, I was selected as a Purdue University Service Learning Faculty Fellow in 2005.

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