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Media, knowledge production and the concept of culture

July 10, 2008

Spitulnik, D. (forthcoming) Thick context, deep epistemology: a meditation on wide-angle lenses on media, knowledge production and the concept of culture. In Bräuchler, B. and J. Postill (eds) Theorising Media and Practice. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

In this essay, Debra Spitulnik invites us to a thought experiment based on her media anthropological research in Zambia. Let us take a hypothetical group of young men ‘listening to the radio’ in a Zambian marketplace (cf. Couldry’s ‘watching the football on TV’ experiment, this volume). To analyse this practice we could either (a) take this to be a ‘core’ media practice and contextualise it through an ever-widening lens (youth culture, marketplace, Zambian modernity, etc) or (b) adopt a more reflexive, unbounded ‘rhizomatic’ approach to this practice (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Although Spitulnik favours option (b) she also aligns herself with Brightman (1995), Hannerz (1992) and other theorists who argue for the retention of the notion of culture, albeit in ways that are critical of cultural essentialism. This will allow media scholars who adopt a practice approach to undertake ‘more complex analyses of what is going on whithin so called ‘sets’ of meanings and practices’, including the radio example discussed earlier, inextricable from Zambia’s public culture at a specific historical juncture.

(NB to read other chapter summaries, see under “Media and Practice book” category)

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