Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Media Worlds

Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain

Faye D. Ginsburg
Lila Abu-Lughod
Brian Larkin
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 429
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Media Worlds
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking volume showcases the exciting work emerging from the ethnography of media, a burgeoning new area in anthropology that expands both social theory and ethnographic fieldwork to examine the way media—film, television, video—are used in societies around the globe, often in places that have been off the map of conventional media studies. The contributors, key figures in this new field, cover topics ranging from indigenous media projects around the world to the unexpected effects of state control of media to the local impact of film and television as they travel transnationally. Their essays, mostly new work produced for this volume, bring provocative new theoretical perspectives grounded in cross-cultural ethnographic realities to the study of media.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92816-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-36)
    Faye D. Ginsburg, Lila Abu-Lughod and Brian Larkin

    The questions this book addresses about the place of media in the world are not new; Raymond Williams, among others, wrote about them over a quarter-century ago. But the questions feel more pressing now because the ubiquity of media worldwide means that anthropologists encounter it in the diverse places where we work. This empirically driven sense of urgency led Arjun Appadurai to invent the concept of “mediascapes” in an article whose subtitle—“Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology” (1991)—deliberately recalls an earlier period of disciplinary self-definition in order to signal the centrality of mass media to life in...


    • 1 Screen Memories: Resignifying the Traditional in Indigenous Media
      (pp. 39-57)
      Faye D. Ginsburg

      In a familiar moment in the history of ethnographic film, a well-known scene in Robert Flaherty’s 1922 classicNanook of the North,the character identified on the intertitle as “Nanook, Chief of the Ikivimuits” (played by Flaherty’s friend and guide, Allakariallak) is shown being amazed by a gramophone.¹ He laughs and feels the record three times with his mouth, as if tasting it.

      We now recognize the scene as a performance rather than documentation of first contact, an image that contradicts Flaherty’s journals describing the Inuit’s sophisticated response to these new recording technologies, as well as their technical expertise with...

    • 2 Visual Media and the Primitivist Perplex: Colonial Fantasies, Indigenous Imagination, and Advocacy in North America
      (pp. 58-74)
      Harald E. L. Prins

      Striking images of tawny humans collaged with soaring eagles or some other form of wildlife, aesthetically photographed against a backdrop of pristine wilderness—such imagery is standard fare in visual representations of indigenous peoples. Based largely on the European primitivist stereotype of the “noble savage” as child of nature, this time-tested construct has long allowed the instant wrapping of the indigenous “other.”

      Beginning with Carpenter (1973), several anthropologists have recognized the destructive potential of such media “myths” on tribal communities (see also Biesele and Hitchcock 1999; Marshall 1993; Tomaselli 1996). More recently, some scholars have started to focus on the...

    • 3 Representation, Politics, and Cultural Imagination in Indigenous Video: General Points and Kayapo Examples
      (pp. 75-89)
      Terence Turner

      The global expansion of telecommunications, coupled with the availability of new and cheap forms of audiovisual media, above all video recording, has given rise within the past two decades to an unprecedented phenomenon: the appropriation and use of the new technologies by indigenous peoples for their own ends. This essay discusses a series of general issues related to the politics of representation, cultural “authenticity,” and the reimagination of social identity by indigenous peoples in contexts of interaction with state and global systems, with particular attention to the role of indigenous uses of video. The peoples most involved in this development...

    • 4 Spectacles of Difference: Cultural Activism and the Mass Mediation of Tibet
      (pp. 90-112)
      Meg McLagan

      Recently a friend of mine gave me a photograph taken in the Sixty-sixth Street subway station on the West Side of Manhattan. Someone had spraypainted “Free Derry” and below it “Free Tibet” on the wall, graphically linking these two modern-day anticolonial liberation struggles on different sides of the globe. At the same time, I remembered an advertisement I had seen around the city publicizing’s “free long-distance calling over the Internet,” which contained the phrase “Free Tibet” in large white letters against a black background and the suggestion, “Call your best friend in Lhasa for free while he still has...


    • 5 Egyptian Melodrama—Technology of the Modern Subject?
      (pp. 115-133)
      Lila Abu-Lughod

      Melodrama has been the subject of a great deal of literary and media theory. The touchstone is Peter Brooks’sThe Melodramatic Imagination,which makes a powerful case for the significance of melodrama as a literary/theatrical genre associated with the upheavals of the French Revolution and the onset of the crisis of “modernity.” Brooks (1976: 15, 21) argues persuasively for a particular definition and understanding of the melodramatic imagination—as concerned with the revelation of the moral order in the everyday in a “post-sacred era.” Most intriguing is his claim that melodrama is “the central fact of the modern sensibility.”


    • 6 Epic Contests: Television and Religious Identity in India
      (pp. 134-151)
      Purnima Mankekar

      On January 25, 1987, the first episode of theRamayan, a serial based on an important Hindu epic, was shown on state-controlled Indian television. Spanning seventy-eight weekly episodes and produced and directed by a successful Hindi film producer and director, theRamayanreceived unprecedented ratings. Three years after its telecast, tensions between Hindus and Muslims, which had been exacerbated by Hindu nationalists’ attempts to “reclaim” the site of the Babri Mosque as the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, exploded into a series of riots all over the nation. In December 1992, Hindu nationalists stormed the mosque, precipitating one of...

    • 7 The National Picture: Thai Media and Cultural Identity
      (pp. 152-170)
      Annette Hamilton

      Although Thailand was among the first of the Asian nations to embrace new media—first film and radio, then television—as integral aspects of national development, this was not registered in anthropological research, most of which focused on “traditional” aspects of Thai society, especially “the village,” and ethnic minorities.¹ In the 1970s a new focus on the role of the state was evident (see Anderson 1978). Following his influential bookImagined Communities(1983), Benedict Anderson edited a volume concerned with literature and politics in Siam (Thailand) (Anderson and Mendiones 1985). Even so, the broader implications of the spread of new...

    • 8 Television, Time, and the National Imaginary in Belize
      (pp. 171-186)
      Richard R. Wilk

      Commercial broadcast television invites us constantly to think about the content of programs; this is part of the way we become an audience. Often, this is the way scholars approach television as well, by viewing programs and thinking or talking about the characters, formats, conventions, and plots presented. It is no surprise that the vast majority of television scholarship is concerned with content and genre, the way it is produced, financed, and transmitted, and its real or imagined effects on the audience (see, e.g., Schiller 1976; Burton and Franco 1978; Lee 1989).

      By studying the advent of television in the...


    • 9 Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis
      (pp. 189-210)
      Mayfair Mei-hui Yang

      In thinking about the history of the Roman Empire, Marshall McLuhan noted that writing and paved roads brought about “the alteration of social groupings, and the formation of new communities” (McLuhan 1994: 90). They enabled the formation of an empire that broke down the old Greek city-states and feudal realms in favor of centralized control at a distance. A similar process can be seen in the history of the Chinese empire, where writing enabled the bureaucracy to hold together diverse ethnic and linguistic groupings. However, it is with modernity and its new mass media that local and kinship identities come...

    • 10 A Marshall Plan of the Mind: The Political Economy of a Kazakh Soap Opera
      (pp. 211-228)
      Ruth Mandel

      “I am no longer ashamed to say that I write for a soap opera,” exclaimed a beaming Leyla Akhinjanova, the author of episode one ofCrossroads,the brand new Kazakhstani soap opera. It was 1995, and Leyla was speaking to a camera crew filming her, part of a BBC documentary recording the process of bringing British-style social realist soap opera to Central Asia.¹Crossroadswas no ordinary soap opera but an initiative of the British government’s overseas development plan designed to promote transition to a free-market economy. Behind Leyla’s statement lies a history of conflict and controversy between competing national...

    • 11 Mapping Hmong Media in Diasporic Space
      (pp. 229-244)
      Louisa Schein

      In this essay, I explore the contours of media production and consumption by Hmong refugees in the United States. I do so with an eye toward analytically situating these practices in transnational space. That Hmong Americans have migrated to the West only since 1975, and that they left their home country of Laos under involuntary conditions of political exile, means that they have continued to live out their lives and their identities in a diasporic space—one that involves travel back and forth to Asia for some, and participation in an imagined and highly media-constructed supranational community for many more....


    • 12 Putting American Public Television Documentary in Its Places
      (pp. 247-263)
      Barry Dornfeld

      Ethnographies of media production practices present both significant challenges and substantial possibilities for engaging with the circulation of media forms in contemporary societies, inviting us to rethink both the ways in which we situate ethnographic research and how we theorize media. What gets broadcast on television are texts produced in multiple places, in the profilmic locations represented on camera and in the occupational settings where the pre- and postproduction work takes place. And it is stating the obvious to note that these are not the places, for the most part, where television is consumed. Media researchers might, by design or...

    • 13 Culture in the Ad World: Producing the Latin Look
      (pp. 264-280)
      Arlene Dávila

      In recent years, Latinos have become one of the U.S. advertising industry’s most coveted market segments. Fueled by the “salsa beats ketchup” phenomenon, they are increasingly targeted by culturally customized advertising generating powerful representations of and for Latinos. This chapter examines the Hispanic marketing industry and the images with which it constructs and imagines the diversity of populations of Latin American background in the United States as a generic and undifferentiated “Hispanic market.” I explore this industry as a self-identified arena of Latino self-representation which, dominated by corporate intellectuals of Latin American background in the United States and directly tied...

    • 14 “And Yet My Heart Is Still Indian”: The Bombay Film Industry and the (H)Indianization of Hollywood
      (pp. 281-300)
      Tejaswini Ganti

      In this essay, I examine why Tarun and his colleagues think Fatal Attraction cannot be remade into a Hindi film, to reveal how commercial film production is a practice imbued with a “difference-producing set of relations” (Gupta and Ferguson 1997: 46) between filmmakers and audiences. The Bombay film industry, one of the world’s largest commercial film industries, which is increasingly referred to as “Bollywood” within and outside India, is a notoriously appropriative industry constantly on the lookout for new talent, faces, and stories. Although the driving force within the Bombay industry is commercial success, it is a difficult goal pursued...

    • 15 Arrival Scenes: Complicity and Media Ethnography in the Bolivian Public Sphere
      (pp. 301-316)
      Jeff D. Himpele

      I was certainly surprised to see this preview for the evening broadcast ofThe Open Tribunalfollowing my first visit to its production earlier that day. Why feature me on a television program devoted to airing testimonials and resolving social problems for the more vulnerable people of La Paz? Whether I was aligned with these other participants seeking assistance from the Tribunal or whether my appearance privileged me to bestow its international significance, my image authenticated a rhetoric that had galvanized a neopopulist political party led by its host and network-owner Carlos Palenque. Seeing myself as an unwitting participant in...


    • 16 The Materiality of Cinema Theaters in Northern Nigeria
      (pp. 319-336)
      Brian Larkin

      “Drop me at the Plaza.” “Meet me at the El Dorado.” These casual directions highlight the role of cinema theaters as built spaces in the urban geography of Kano, Northern Nigeria. Large, hulking buildings punctuate Kano urban topography. There, buses stop, taxis load up, motorbikes deliver people in the daily circumambulation from home to work to market and back again. Most of these travelers have little interest in films or the theater but have internalized the demarcation of public space marked out by cinema theaters, mosques, the post office, the emir’s palace, and other institutions of the postcolony. Outside the...

    • 17 Mobile Machines and Fluid Audiences: Rethinking Reception through Zambian Radio Culture
      (pp. 337-354)
      Debra Spitulnik

      Over the past decade there has been a serious rethinking of the concepts of “audience” and “reception” within media studies.¹ Most significantly, this work has rejected the familiar assumption that “the audience” is a unified aggregate that receives a fixed message. Scholars have increasingly shifted their attention to the fact that peopleusemass media and thus are not passive receivers butactive participantsin ongoing communication processes. In supplanting a simple picture of the function of media as one-way message transmission from sender to receiver, such revisionist research has moved into a “post-content” or “post-text” era (as suggested by...

    • 18 The Indian Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Or, What Happens When Peasants “Get Hold” of Images
      (pp. 355-369)
      Christopher Pinney

      One of the achievements of Michael Taussig’sMimesis and Alterityis to rescue—through a creatively idiosyncratic reading—Walter Benjamin’s 1936 “Work of Art” essay from a utopian hypothesis about the consequences of mechanical reproduction (which all known evidence contradicts), in favor of a complex set of insights about the sensory procedures involved in “getting hold” of images. The stress on the new mimetic technologies’ creation of “an object-implicated enterprise” and on the eye as an organ of tactility (Taussig 1993: 24, 21) is a productive starting point for theorizing the impact of the first Indian-made films in the second...

    • 19 Live or Dead? Televising Theater in Bali
      (pp. 370-382)
      Mark Hobart

      Television has come to attract vast mass audiences in many Asian countries in the 1990s. Among the issues this popularity raises are what happens when “traditional” media, such as theater, are broadcast on television. Drawing on ethnography from Bali, in Indonesia, I consider some of the questions involved. Bali is a particularly good case study because few societies are as famous for their popular theater and also have been catapulted so abruptly into the world of electronic mass media.

      At first glance, the issue is fairly straightforward: how does a change of medium affect the performance, whether understood as the...

    • 20 A Room with a Voice: Mediation and Mediumship in Thailand’s Information Age
      (pp. 383-398)
      Rosalind C. Morris

      Somewhere, in Central Thailand, there is a spirit(phii)of such extraordinary power that it need not incarnate itself in order to be heard.¹ It speaks in a language that does not require any human to lend its voice.² It emanates from a room where mortals may go to be addressed, but it has no bodily location. And it leaves no trace. Or so the spirit mediums of Chiang Mai say. In the early 1990s they conveyed to me this fabulous rumor of a room with a voice, speaking with awe, and implicitly marking the limits of their own regionally...

    (pp. 399-402)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 403-413)