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Media anthropology, 15 years on (3)

July 3, 2008

In this series of posts I’m thinking aloud about where the anthropology of media may (or should) be heading in the coming 15 years, in view of the rapid growth of this subfield since Debra Spitulnik’s often cited review published 15 years ago. I am hoping to be able to recruit guest bloggers for this endeavour once I get some time off in the coming months so we can make this a more dialogical session, but for now I’ll simply limit myself to some cursory opening remarks. (As always, comments and questions are very welcome, but do please bear with me if I’m slow in responding).

One area of media anthropology in which I’ve been involved in the past few years is organisation. In 2004 I set up with a small group of colleagues the Media Anthropology Network, European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA), during the EASA conference held in Vienna. The idea was to bring together anthropologists across Europe and beyond working on media issues; find out who they were, what they were working on, where they thought we ought to go with this relatively young (at least in Europe, but see Peterson 2003) area of research. In its first four years of life the network’s mailing list has grown from a small group to a large collectivity of almost 500 over 530 subscribers from dozens of countries.

I’ve used conventional English metaphors of movement twice already in this post to refer to the possible futures of the subfield (‘heading for’ and ‘where… we ought to go’). But do subfields of practice ‘go’ anywhere? Doesn’t this assume a very high degree of cohesion and common purpose of a loose assortment of scholars with widely differing agendas? And don’t the swift technological changes we are experiencing around the globe preclude any attempts at anticipating what new questions may be asked and investigated? I think I’ll have to give these questions a thought before proceeding.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. alex permalink
    July 5, 2008 11:52 am

    John, I’m interested in the problem of metaphor, particularly in relation to organization/management of an academic field. I got thinking about this in relation to the famous (but so-called) ‘linguistic turn’. Of course to any linguist, this implied that humanistic knowledge was a road, and then ‘linguistics’ appeared like a policeman or possibly even a bandit, requesting people to ‘deviate’,
    More broadly, do people think of their field in terms of a ‘road’; so are questions like ‘where do we go?’ the right ones?
    regards, alex

  2. July 6, 2008 1:17 am

    Hi Alex

    That’s a very good question, thanks. My own interest in this question comes not only from having been involved in organising the subfield of media anthropology but also from research among internet activists in Malaysia and related readings on mobilisation, ‘smart mobs’, action-sets, etc.

    The answer to your question is “I don’t know”. We’d have to hear from other media anthropologists about how they think and talk about the subfield’s future(s). Speaking personally, my ad hoc response to your question is that I tend to think about the future in terms of clock-and-calendar time (CCT), partly because I’ve written about the centrality of CCT among the Iban of Borneo. This reliance on CCT seems to almost call for metaphors of forward movement (see Anderson), eg Where do I/you want to be in 10 years time? (implicit idea of moving through socio-professional-physical space from A to B). However much we may wish to reveal and imagine plural, non-CCT, non-eurocentric forms of temporality (eg in the work of Barbara Adam) it seems to me that CCT has a firm hold on our individual and collective imaginations and agencies.



  1. Media anthropology, 15 years on (2) « media/anthropology
  2. John Hartley’s media studies « media/anthropology
  3. Media anthropology, 15 years on (4) « media/anthropology

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