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Media geopolitics

November 6, 2009

Still thinking aloud about what a geopolitical anthropology of media may look like, most recently in discussion with a colleague via email. To recap an earlier blog post on this subject, I’m starting to think about the relationship between geopolitics and media. One idea would be to look at how the major powers (EU, US, China, etc.) compete and cooperate, if at all, over emerging media technologies, infrastructures, etc, especially in the global South.

I’m interested in the nexus between geography, power and media. For instance, I understand China’s recent economic forays into Africa and South America have the European and American governments worried. What are the media dimensions (investments, PR, industrial secrecy…) of these power games, say in Africa or Latin America? Quite a lot has been written about the strategic importance of oil and gas pipelines, water resources, transport networks, etc, but I get the impression that we know much less about the geopolitics of broadcast media or internet and mobile networks.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2009 3:09 pm

    Are telecomms generally regarded by the major powers as being of less strategic importance than oil, gas, water, transport, etc?

    • November 6, 2009 4:08 pm

      No, not as far as I can tell. The infrastructure you describe is usually referred to as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). These are largely dependent on Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) for correct and reliable functioning. Breakdowns in CII affect the ability to deliver CNI, with possibly severe consequences.

      Next week, the UK is holding a large, multi-stakeholder, red team exercise, Operation White Noise, in which the scenario being played out is the total collapse of the public-switched telephone network (PSTN). How resilient the other CII and CNI networks will be under those conditions is what they hope to discover.

      Similar issues are being debated at the moment at European level, in a House of Lords select committee, and is the hot topic – after Afghanistan – in Washington, DC. I’m happy to take this discussion further, on- or off-blog, John, so fire away if I can help out.

  2. November 6, 2009 5:45 pm

    Thanks Tim, this is all both fascinating and unfamiliar territory for me. I can see I’m heading for a steep learning curve!

    I suppose I’ve been influenced by having just read The Second World by Parag Khanna, on world geopolitics, in which the focus is on transport, oil and gas, trade, etc, but not so much on information.

    I’ll get back to you shortly with some questions.

  3. November 6, 2009 8:46 pm

    Have you read Saskia Sassen and Paul Adams?

    • November 6, 2009 9:54 pm

      I’ve read a bit about Sassen (on global cities?) but not Paul Adams. Which of their works would you suggest re: media geopolitics?



  4. November 6, 2009 10:12 pm

    Paul Adams is a geographer. I recommend his book Geographies of media and communication.

    And, about Saskia Sassen, yeah, she has a lot about global cities; yesterday I read a chapter, “Materialidades localizadas que abarcan un espacio universal”, in Sociedad on-line, Internet en contexto, edited by UOC.

    Greets from Mexico.

  5. November 7, 2009 8:37 am

    You could also look at Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection.

  6. November 7, 2009 1:56 pm

    Thanks again Tim. I’ve read Tsing’s previous ethnography. This book has been on my reading list for a long time, not least because I too have worked in Borneo. So now I’ve got another good reason to get hold of it. Is there a media dimension to this monograph?

    • November 7, 2009 3:40 pm

      Good point. Not that I recall, to be fair. Think I might have been going off half-cocked there. I tend to think of most things as having a media/communicative element …

  7. January 3, 2010 7:37 pm

    Age of cyber warfare is ‘dawning’

    • January 5, 2010 9:36 am

      Hmm, yes, I remember that BBC article well. The press reporting of the McAfee report was a bit misrepresentative. I wrote a response at the time, and referenced an earlier op-ed I had in The Guardian on this issue.

      In the couple of months since I wrote those pieces, industry has become even more vocal, and I would now be more critical of their role in what is shaping up to be a major budgetary battleground in 2010. It’s not that I wasn’t before, just that things are approaching such an hysterical level in the US that the discourse has lost any semblance of self-awareness. It’s in an epistemological cul-de-sac, and if ‘cyberwar’ really is ‘here’ then industry will be as culpable in bringing it into being as any government or military.

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