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In praise of specialisation

November 1, 2008

The EASA Media Anthropology Network e-seminar on Eric Rothenbuhler’s paper ““Media Anthropology as a Field of Interdisciplinary Contact” is currently under way and ends this Wednesday, 5 November 2008. 

A number of participants have called for interdisciplinary and/or transdisciplinary ways of studying media. Richard Wilk has gone as far as proposing a post-disciplinary world of networked knowledges (for he regards disciplines, like nation-states, to be the products of 19th century European forms of territorialism).

Whilst fully supportive of projects and networks – such as the Media Anthropology Network – that bring together different disciplines, I feel I have to put in a good word for the ‘normal science’ work that goes on within disciplines and their progeny: subdisciplines. This is no doubt partly a reflection of my own thorough disciplining in social anthropology (BA, MA, PhD) and specialisation in the anthropology of media. But it’s also a realisation of the advantages of mid-range specialisation, i.e. of specialising in a disciplinary domain of knowledge such as the anthropology of media that is neither too large nor too small, and then finding interesting questions to pursue in order to make a contribution to that domain/subdiscipline.

It is precisely because of the inevitable proliferation of academic specialisms that we need scholars who can work across these specialist domains. But we cannot do without the specialists.

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