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Social processes (no, they’re not always emergent)

March 3, 2009

We have a habit in anthropology of thinking of social processes as being always emergent, unfinished, work in progress. This is probably a legacy from the ‘writing culture’ 1980s in which blurred boundaries and fuzzy temporalities were in vogue. It is time to rehabilitate the old Manchester School notion of ‘processual form’ – the idea that all social processes (including social dramas and other political processes) unfold over a number of stages that are open to empirical investigation, preferably in real time.

In the particular case of media anthropology, we have quite a range of processual models we can borrow, experiment with and develop. These include Callon’s (1986) four-stage process of actor-network formation which he calls ‘translation’ (see Hinkelbein 2008 PhD thesis, this blog), Silverstone, Morley, and Hirsch’s (1994) model of ICT domestication in the volume Consuming Technologies, Bourdieu’s process of a field of media production’s gradual autonomisation or heteronomisation (Benson and Neveu 2005, Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field), Appadurai’s (1986) social life of things and their (de)commodification – this may include radio and TV sets, see Postill (2006, Media and Nation Building) -, the diffusion (Rogers 1995) and appropriation of media innovations (Postill 2006), the processual model of moral panics, or the process of small online world formation.

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