What is media anthropology? (1)
By John Postill
Readers of this blog unfamiliar with the term ‘media anthropology’ may be wondering what this term actually means. This notion has two main acceptations: (1) the anthropological study of media, and (2) the public profile of anthropology, including how the news media report about this field. This blog is primarily concerned with (1), i.e. with research by anthropologists on the sociocultural uses of media such as radio, television, film, print media, the internet, mobile phones, and so on (for anthropology in the news follow this link).
Where can someone new to this area of scholarship begin to read about it? An ideal starting point is Debra Spitulnik’s (1993) groundbreaking survey for the Annual Review of Anthropology entitled ‘Anthropology and mass media’, published exactly 15 years ago and now freely available here. Then one could fast forward 10 years and consult an excellent book on the subfield by Mark A. Peterson published in 2003 as Anthropology & Mass Communication, followed by a close look at three readers published in 2002 to 2005, namely Media Worlds by Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod and Larkin, The Anthropology of Media by Askew and Wilk, and Media Anthropology by Rothenbuhler and Coman. As always with anthropological research, it is advisable to read full-length monographs (‘ethnographies’) in addition to article-length pieces to gain a deeper understanding of the social worlds under study. For more recent and ongoing discussions visit the Media Anthropology Network, and particularly its lively mailing list e-seminars, open to anyone with a genuine interest in this research area. See also their annotated bibliography.