Media Anthropology

Rebecca Pardo, Elizabeth ErkenBrack and John L. Jackson

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:
Media Anthropology

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Although anthropologists have long addressed topics related to media and communications technologies, some have argued that a truly institutionalized commitment to the anthropology of media has only developed within the past twenty years. This might be due, at least in part, to a traditional disciplinary emphasis on “primitive” communities lacking the ostensible features of modernity, including electronic forms of mass mediation. Thick description, a central aim of ethnography as touted by Clifford Geertz, was historically geared toward small-scale societies and precluded the study of contemporary forms of mass media in modern life. However, anthropologists have begun to develop productive ways of including mass mediation into their ethnographic accounts. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about cultural practices at all without some nod to the ubiquity of global media. From an anthropological perspective, it is important to consider varying cultural contexts of mass-media production, consumption, and interpretation. And this begs a question that several anthropologists have begun to answer. What is the most appropriate way to study “the media” as a cultural phenomenon? Content analyses of media texts? The measuring and identifying of media’s social effects and influence? Ethnographic studies of “reception” and “production”? Or something else entirely? Anthropologists engage in all of these and more. Additionally, new questions are emerging about how anthropology might best address digital media and online communities. There are multiple ways in which anthropologists have engaged with “the media” both as a tool of representation and an object of study. To outline some of those ways, it makes sense to provide a history of developments in the field, summarizing several thematic topics that have recently been of central focus to anthropologists of media, including religion, globalization, and nationalism. It also makes sense to think about approaches to studying mass media that other disciplines deploy—disciplines that are in conversation with anthropologists on this subject, including and especially media studies, communications studies, and cultural studies. The categorical divisions here attempt to reflect anthropology’s historical commitments to various analytical, thematic, and medium-based modes of inquiry.

Article.  11422 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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