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Media anthropology, 15 years on (2)

June 17, 2008

By John Postill

One key ingredient of media anthropological research that I hope we’ll manage to retain in the coming 15 years is serendipity. A number of anthropologists who’ve studied media issues have reported that they first became interested in media when during fieldwork people suddenly started to literally turn their backs on them in order to watch their favourite television programme or engage in some other media-related practice (Daniel Miller and Mark Hobart spring to mind here). These researchers couldn’t help but turn to media.  A guiding principle of anthropological research is: “If it matters to the people I’m working with, then it ought to matter to me”. This means that in most cases it is best to leave open the question of which medium or media to concentrate on – if any – until one has been in the field long enough to gauge people’s present media interests and media practices. One beneficial by-product of this strategy is that it helps us broaden out the technological and thematic scope of media scholarship and avoid too narrow a focus on supposedly ‘cutting-edge’ technologies found in the affluent North.

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