EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Media anthropology's legacies and concerns [Media Anthropology Network]
Location U6-26
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Philipp Budka (University of Vienna) email
  • John Postill (RMIT University) email
  • Elisenda Ardèvol (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The EASA Media Anthropology Network panel seeks to put fundamental concerns of media anthropology, such as the mediation of power, media related forms of production and consumption, the relationship between media and religion, and the mediation of knowledge, back into the centre of attention.

Long Abstract

In line with the theme of the 14th EASA conference the EASA Media Anthropology Network panel seeks to put fundamental concerns of media anthropology back into the centre of attention. Central themes of media anthropology have already been identified and discussed in earlier works: e.g. the mediation of power and conflict, media related forms of production and consumption, the relationship between media and religion, and the mediation of knowledge and forms of expression (e.g. Ginsburg et al. 2002, Peterson 2003, Rothenbuhler & Coman 2005). These topics can be connected to questions about hierarchies, power relationships, norms and political agency in media contexts; the materiality of media (technologies), exchange and reciprocity, media work; media rituals and the ritualization of media practices and events; the construction of histories and traditions in relation to media practices and the meanings of media communication for oral culture(s).

By (re-)focusing on such topics in a contemporary context, this panel invites contributions also to discuss broader questions. What has been "the point of media anthropology" as an anthropological subdiscipline and as an interdisciplinary field of research (Postill & Peterson 2009)? What are media anthropology's legacies so far? What role does ethnography play in the anthropology of media and how has this relationship changed methodologically and epistemologically? Thus, this panel contributes to the constitution of media anthropology as one of anthropology's most thriving subdisciplines. Secondly, it adds to the understanding of media anthropology's legacies, epistemologies, theories, methodologies and possible futures.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Excavating the centrality of materiality for a post-human 'anthropomediality': an ecological approach

Authors: Alberto Micali (University of Lincoln)  email
Nicolò Pasqualini (Università Ca'Foscari Venezia)  email

Short Abstract

The concept of ‘anthropomediality’ traces a new path for the anthropological study of media, moving towards the post-human. Matter is here central, signing the incarnated relations between humans and technologies. This paper suggests an excavation on materiality by following an ecological approach.

Long Abstract

The attempt to fill the illusory gap that traditionally distance human-animals and technical objects on an epistemic level has recently lead Othold and Voss (2015) to conceptualise 'anthropomediality'. In such a perspective, media technologies are reconceived from being mere extensions of the human to elementary components co-constituting her/his becoming - aligning with a post-human framework that is increasingly central in media and cultural studies (Braidotti; Hayles). Once humanist dichotomies, ontological hierarchies and the false metaphysics of representation are left behind, a vital perception of co-emergence surfaces, where media technologies incarnate via a slow sedimentation on anthropotechnic strata. Superficial strata are the point of departure for an excavation of materiality as a key aspect of processes of anthropomediation.

The objective of this paper is to put forward an ecological approach that will be capable of following the drill of a hypogeum media anthropological investigation. To concern with the complexity onto which anthropomediality operates, we suggest it is necessary to consider the media-human assemblage as being an integral part of the environment where he/she is situated and that 'enactively' contributes to determinate (Varela, Thompson and Rosch). To fully grasp the onto-epistemological 'hybridations' (Marchesini) innovatively continued by digital media technologies, we propose to depart from, and go back to, the incarnated and relational materiality that characterises anthropomediality. As such, an ecological approach is not a mere application of representations (metaphors): ecological are the relation in which both, anthropomediation, and the study of its ethical and political implications, are inescapably entangled through transformations (metamorphoses).

Media anthropology and the 'ludic turn'

Author: John McManus (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Media anthropology’s future should be based around the playfulness of media and media production. Drawing on the media practices of Turkish diaspora football fans, I argue for a conception of play as a disposition, and point to the power of such an analytic stance for anthropological questions more broadly.

Long Abstract

My paper argues that media anthropology's future should, in part, be based around the playfulness of media and media production. From video games to memes, contemporary media practices are frequently the best place to capture the increasing 'ludification' of social and cultural production (Frissen et al. 2015). Yet the playfulness with which we all - interlocutors and anthropologists - engage with 'media' frequently becomes buried under the gravity with which, naturally, we hold our research subjects and questions.

Drawing on the media practices of Turkish diaspora football fans, I argue the importance of play as an analytic category - not as a realm of experience dialectically opposed to 'work' but as a disposition, discernible and researchable in experience more broadly. Thinking in this fashion does not obviate enquiries into issues of power and inequality, questions which, as noted, have been central to much work within the media anthropology subdiscipline. Rather, the task at hand becomes tracking how the disposition of play has been turned into an 'object of institutional desire', how attitudes of indeterminacy, affective power and improvisation become coopted or denied, commodified and utilised in the media nexus by individuals and organisations alike (Malaby 2009, 216).

Not so much an 'anthropology of play' to accompany an 'anthropology of media', then, but a playful anthropology that diffuses and shapes both. When assessing media anthropology's 'impact', arguably this playful disposition has much (the most?) to offer anthropology more widely, not least in giving knowledge's intrinsic indeterminacy and contingency the space to breathe.

Media anthropology's legacies and concerns in digital times

Author: Philipp Budka (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses selected aspects of media anthropology's legacies and concerns as well as its possible relevance in times of increasing digitalization.

Long Abstract

This paper reviews first selected issues and concerns of media anthropology that have already been identified and discussed in earlier works related to the anthropological study of media technologies. Research in this field has been, for instance, interested in media in relation to social change and development, the mediation of power and conflict, media related forms of production and consumption, the mediation of knowledge and forms of expression, and the materiality of media. In a wider anthropological context, these concerns are related to social hierarchies and power relationships, norms and political agency, economic exchange and reciprocity, ritualization and symbolism - all fundamental aspects of the sociocultural organization of human life.

In a second step, the paper aims at positioning selected subject matters - and media anthropology itself - in times of increasing digitalization. Thus it contributes to the discussion of the relationship between media anthropology and newly developed digital studies in anthropology such as digital anthropology. By taking a brief look at media anthropology's history and legacies while exploring possible futures for this sub-discipline, the paper connects to questions such as, What has been "the point of media anthropology" and what is its point in times of "the digital" (Postill & Peterson 2009)? What has been the role of ethnographic research and field work in media anthropology and how has it changed in respect to rapidly changing media environments? Which theoretical concepts and approaches hold the potential to contribute to the understanding of sociocultural phenomena in digital times?

In the intersection of anthropology's disciplinary crisis and emergence of internet studies

Author: Erkan Saka (Istanbul Bilgi University)  email

Short Abstract

Media anthropology as a sub-discipline emerged in such a moment that it offered a vitalizing power into the ongoing disciplinary crisis of anthropology. While doing this, it made anthropologists powerful scholarly players in the rapidly emerging field of social scientific studies of Internet.

Long Abstract

After 1980's fundamental and unintendedly destructive critique (like in "Writing Cultures"), Media studies was one of the major attempts in recalibrating the discipline in the study of modern society. With a dynamic rethinking of theoretical perspectives and methodological novelty towards mass media compared to other disciplines, I do believe Media anthropology not only refreshed and empowered anthropologists in crisis but began to offer novel approaches for Media Studies. At the same period, we have witnessed a rapid emergence of a new media starting by late 1990s: Internet. Social scientific study of Internet was a challenge for all disciplines but Media anthropologists were already dynamically involved in a quest to create a sub-discipline and unlike other disciplines, anthropologists did not imagine Internet as a totally new phenomena but could capture the very emergence of a new media (No need to mention much emphasis on "emergence" in early 2000s). Subjects of e-seminars in the Media Anthropology Network demonstrate how smoothly media anthropology began to cover old and new media and began to offer insights for both the discipline and the other disciplines interested in media studies.

Television culture and the myth of participation: (re)making media rituals

Author: Balazs Boross (Erasmus University Rotterdam)  email

Short Abstract

By following the journey of cast members of two reality formats into the world of television production, media participation as ritual practice will be discussed, as related to questions of empowerment, agency, and the perceived symbolic value of (participating) in the broadcast media in the new media age.

Long Abstract

The past decades have witnessed an increasing visibility of 'ordinary' people in the media, partly through the proliferation of - often controversial - formats based on 'true' experiences and emotions of non-professional participants. This development, with all its incarnations, has resulted in important debates concerning the broader consequences of the 'demotic turn' (Turner, 2010), yet empirical research into the actual experiences of taking part in production processes is relatively scarce. This paper presents two 'behind the scenes' ethnographies, based on in-depth interviews with cast members of the Dutch coming out reality programme Uit de Kast and the highly popular British disability dating show The Undateables. By tracking the experiences of the participants of these television programmes, the paper aims to challenge the dominant, text based discourses of empowerment versus exploitation, and deliver contextualized accounts of how participation as value and as strategy is tied into notions of selfhood, agency and the sense of being connected to the social world. Discussing these cases, the paper furthermore addresses how the symbolic power of central media is being reaffirmed, challenged or refigured under the current transformations of media landscape. To this end, the presentation re-visits the Couldrian concept of media ritual: by addressing media participation as ritual practice, questioning the mechanisms through which participatory spaces are formatted, mediated practices are formalized, and myths and realities of participation are constructed and experienced in television productions, the project will explore how media rituals are being (re)made for the current era of participatory culture.

Politics of meanings of gender violence in Brazil

Author: Heloisa Buarque de Almeida (University of Sao Paulo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses gender issues in Brazilian media, comparing on the one side, Globo’s (the hegemonic commercial TV network) teledramas throughout 1970-1990s, and on the other, a recent new rise of feminist movements both in mainstream media and in new circuits of production through the internet.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses gender issues in Brazilian media, comparing on the one side, Globo's (hegemonic commercial TV network) teledramas throughout 1970-1990s, and on the other, a recent rise of feminist movements both in mainstream media and in new circuits of production through the internet. This comparison intends to address how diverse modes of production and pressures from social movements affects the politics of meanings and notions of rights and violence. Taking from previous researches on telenovela, gender and consumption, in the 1990's (through audience ethnography), and from analyses of certain "feminist" series of the 1970's, it draws a picture of female ideals in Brazil. The main point though is to understand the current situation, when a new wave of young feminist movements (particularly in universities, and through blogs and sites) have reached new paths of production of content, also affecting how mainstream news (print, TV, internet) portray women and feminism.

Hegemonic TV constructed a certain ideal of working super consumerist women. Nevertheless, during some years when the feminist movement had more visibility (1975-83), although dealing with state censorship, TV dramas also dealt with certain feminist topics, as domestic violence. Nowadays, there are new issues being discussed, particularly around a category of violence that is still new and very contested: sexual harassment. I will focus on internet campaigns and how they have been spreading from feminist blogs and sites to mainstream commercial TV, analyzing circuits of production. The focus is to understand how categories of violence are socially built through media.

Moving image projection, sacred sites and marginalised publics: the ritual economy of outdoor cinema in Thailand

Author: Richard MacDonald (Goldsmiths, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents research on the ritual economy of outdoor film projection in Thailand. The paper addresses the way media technology, presentational repertoires and auratic sites come together to mediate between the human and supernatural realm.

Long Abstract

This paper presents research on the ritual economy of outdoor film projection in Thailand. It draws on observations in the field and interviews with projectionists conducted over a two-year period in multiple locations in the north east of the country and the suburban periphery of the capital, Bangkok. Here, outside the commercial mode of cinema distribution and exhibition, the ubiquitous multiplex cinema, exists a network of thriving itinerant projection businesses showing films at sacred and communal sites, the grounds of Buddhist temples and local spirit shrines. Embedded in diverse ritual practices these film shows are frequently contracted by individuals offering screen entertainment as a gift to shrine spirits in return for their beneficial intervention. The presentation reflects on the process by which the material technologies, infrastructures and presentational repertoires of seemingly profane projected screen entertainment acquire sacred ritual aura. Specifically, it considers the ambivalently public address of this ritually inflected outdoor cinema dispositif. These screenings possess a character of publicness through their choice of site and preference for large screens temporarily erected on scaffolding, overwhelmingly immersive sonic volume and high-resolution image quality, yet their primary address is to supernatural beings and for the agents who initiate and facilitate these events human spectatorship is incidental. In spite of this certain shrines with regular screenings attract a marginalised public of street vendors, motorcycle taxi drivers, weary day labourers and migrants, eager for screen entertainment yet long since abandoned by market provision as upmarket shopping malls became the exclusive public venue of cinema.

The politics of digital visual culture in Romania: from a digital ethnography to a historical media anthropology

Author: Jonathan Larcher (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

During the last decade, a new digital visual culture emerged in Romania. The ethnography of this political arena, shaped by “technoracist” sociabilities and cultural “digilantism”, represents an opportunity to think about the shared legacies of both historical and media anthropology.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on two research investigations: an ethnography of the visual and digital practices among a Roma community in Romania, and the analysis of a sexist and racialized visual imagery shared on the Romanian digital and broadcast media. Although these images of "Piţipoance" and "Cocalari" are similar in style with those of the respondents, there are no direct links between the images posted by them and those reposted - without their knowledge - by anonymous users. These uses could be described as cultural "digilantism" (Byrne, 2013), or "technoracist" sociabilities (Cervulle, Freitas, 2015).

These practices, despite their widespread presence on the Romanian Internet, surprisingly didn't create interest neither among scholars in Media and Communication - a strong academic field in Romania - nor among Roma activists. These missed opportunities for scholars and activists, considering their knowledge of critical theories (cultural/feminist/visual/ethnic studies), enlightens the theoretical and methodological specificities of media anthropology that analyses connected practices through "pragmatics" and a "thought of the traces" (Derrida, 1987). Unlike agent-based modelling and close reading approaches, a digital and multi-sited ethnography allows us to understand how digital practices and visual culture produce a "key arena for the thinking out of politics" (Pinney, 2004). This presentation proposes to sharpen our thinking on the mediatisation of anthropological knowledge - describing and revealing new social conflictualities, in particular for cultural activists (Ginsburg, 2011) - and about the shared legacies of both media anthropology and an historical anthropology focused on visual culture (Bartholeyns et al, 2008).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.