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Media, cultural change, historical conjunctures

January 10, 2010

Browsing through the media anthropology reader, Media Worlds (Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod & Larkin, 2002) which I thought I knew reasonably well. Pleasantly surprised to find not present continuous of much ‘new media’ writing (“we are currently witnessing the swift proliferation of …”) but rather a great deal of historical information along with the ethnographic accounts. To mention a few examples:

* Chapter 1, Screen Memories (F. Ginsburg): 1980s-90s indigenous media in Canada (Inuit) and Australia

p. 41 Inuit Broadcast Corporation licensed in 1981, by 1983 distribution still problematic, in1991 satellite TV went to air, in 1999 national aboriginal TV network went to air in Canada, etc.

* Chapter 2, Visual Media and the Primitivist Perplex (H. Prins)

p.62 Native American ‘Red Power’ in 1960s

p. 62 indigenous film-making in N. America takes off in early 1970s

p. 63 Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium founded in 1976 – later became NAPT; explosive growth in 1990s; in 1992 joined higher education partners to create satellite network for native colleges across the US, etc.

* Chapter 6, Epic Contests: Television and Religious Identity in India (P. Mankekar)

p. 134 First episode of Ramayan shown on state-controlled Indian TV on 25 Jan 1987; communal violence rife in India since early 1990s; Ramayan came at ‘historical conjuncture’ when Hindu nationalists struggling to redefine India as a Hindu nation (late 1980s-early 1990s); they succeeded and Hindu nationalism became hegemonic, etc.

The reason I’m excited about these examples of media anthropological work is that I’m hoping to tell the global story – in very broad outline – of media and cultural change since the early 1980s from an anthropological perspective. These varied media historical conjunctures, I hope to show, tell us not only about small places but also about large issues (if I can borrow TH Eriksen’s phrase) to do with media and cultural change worldwide. The aim would be to organise these varied studies not thematically – as has been the practice until now – but rather chronologically (e.g. by decades): a grand narrative drawn from numerous small accounts (see also Postill 2009).

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