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Media, practice and social change

January 6, 2010

A few thoughts:

1. Existing anthropological studies of media-related practices around the globe can shed light on processes of social change so long as we are quite precise about not only local context but also the specific historical moment. Kinshasa in 1986 is a very different research setting from Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

2. In activist and developmentalist parlance, social change often connotes social progress – this normative bias should be avoided in an academic study.

3. One way of studying the relationship between media adoption and social change is through a study of specific social practices, e.g. playing football, housework, karaoke singing, hunting, gathering, etc, at two different points in time.

4. Practice = embodied set of activities learned over time and performed with more or less skill, grace and motivation

5. Media practice = a practice that relies on one or more specific media for its performance

6. To gauge the extent and quality of a social change we need to establish the before-and-after of that particular practice. To what extent has the adoption of TV changed practice A, if at all? How has the incorporation of email into this organisation transformed practice B? What has CCTV done to practice C, if anything?

7. Avoid, therefore, the vague present continuous typical of the social technology literature (“we are increasingly moving towards…”). Replace it with the past tense and before-and-after sequences (“In the early 1980s, karaoke was not a local practice in […]. By the late 1980s, many local pubs offered regular karaoke nights and these were extremely popular”).

8. It is not all about existing practices and their descent with modification, though. We shouldn’t neglect new practices arising directly or indirectly from the adoption of a new medium. For example, new practice D (say, blogging) may have arisen following the acquisition of technology X (e.g. a wordpress account).

Continued here

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