Anthropology and Mass Communication

Anthropology and Mass Communication: Media and Myth in the New Millennium

Mark Allen Peterson
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 340
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcnq6
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  • Book Info
    Anthropology and Mass Communication
    Book Description:

    Anthropological interest in mass communication and media has exploded in the last two decades, engaging and challenging the work on the media in mass communications, cultural studies, sociology and other disciplines. This is the first book to offer a systematic overview of the themes, topics and methodologies in the emerging dialogue between anthropologists studying mass communication and media analysts turning to ethnography and cultural analysis. Drawing on dozens of semiotic, ethnographic and cross-cultural studies of mass media, it offers new insights into the analysis of media texts, offers models for the ethnographic study of media production and consumption, and suggests approaches for understanding media in the modern world system. Placing the anthropological study of mass media into historical and interdisciplinary perspectives, this book examines how work in cultural studies, sociology, mass communication and other disciplines has helped shape the re-emerging interest in media by anthropologists.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-162-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Mark Allen Peterson

    I have dabbled in media at least since junior high school, when my father bought me a used 8mm movie camera. My productions were fundamentally intertextual, pastiches and parodies of the television and films I enjoyed viewing. They were also fundamentally social activities, ways for a loud, socially inept adolescent to bring together a group of male and female comrades, some of whom might not otherwise have wanted anything to do with me. I went to Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota, one of the first secondary schools in America to have a fully fledged television production studio, and at...

  5. Chapter 1 Mass Mediations
    (pp. 1-25)

    In the rainforests of Brazil, members of the Kayapo tribe are preparing for a ritual performance. The performers have shed their T-shirts and shorts and donned ceremonial garb while the musicians gathered their instruments and took their places. There is a brief delay while they wait for another necessary participant. Finally, he arrives, the son of one of the community’s political leaders, carrying a videocamera. He takes a position, looks through the viewfinder, and gives a wave. The ritual can now start. The tape of this ritual will join the others in the community’s video library of ceremonies.¹

    In Cairo,...

  6. Chapter 2 Whatever Happened to the Anthropology of Media?
    (pp. 26-58)

    In 1989 I took a short break from participation in Brown University’s Pembroke Seminar on “cultural literacies” to attend the American Anthropological Association meetings in New Orleans, where I was on one of three panels dealing with topics of mass media, then a record for the organization. On my return to Brown, one of the Pembroke fellows, a recent Ph.D. in communications from the University of Illinois, told me, “I hear the anthropologists have finally discovered the mass media.”

    The jest was both unkind and, unfortunately, true. The literature on mass media in mass communications, communication, sociology, political science, cultural...

  7. Chapter 3 Media Texts
    (pp. 59-85)

    When people read books, scan newspapers, or watch movies, it is the contentthe stories, the news, the spectacles—that usually draws them in and holds their attention. What people articulate of their experiences with the media is bits of information, stories, and dramatic scenes. In everyday social interaction, talk about the news we’ve read, the movies we’ve watched, and the TV serials we’ve viewed greatly exceeds talk about the press, about Hollywood or Bollywood, or about the television industry.¹ It is not surprising, therefore, that the study of content should be at the heart of most media analysis. Perhaps the...

  8. Chapter 4 The Power of the Text
    (pp. 86-104)

    That media texts affect us is plain from everyday experience. We can put a novel down to find ourselves momentarily disoriented, shifting from the storyworld of the narrative back to that of everyday experience. We can leave a movie theater feeling exhilarated or wrung out. The music we hear on the radio can invoke enthusiasm, nostalgia, or puzzlement. A news show can induce fear or relieve our anxieties. A key question for nearly all those studying mass communication is whether these shifts in mood and perception are momentary, or whether they have long-lasting effects on our thoughts and actions. To...

  9. Chapter 5 Media as Myth
    (pp. 105-121)

    Anthropological studies of media, as we saw in chapter 2, have not been accustomed to dealing with power in the same ways as the media and culture theories described in the previous chapter. For one thing, until recently, anthropology tended not to problematize the broader political systems that their own work often helped to shore up—colonialism, for example, or the centralized state power implied by many models of development. Furthermore, anthropologists’ models of power were derived from the study of non-state societies, so they often expected to find consensus rather than coercion. The absence of mechanisms of overt coercion...

  10. Chapter 6 The Ethnography of Audiences
    (pp. 122-160)

    Every few miles, it seemed, they passed the same huge poster on roadside hoardings, a photographic depiction of a rippling expanse of purple silk in which there was a single slit, as if the material had been slashed with a razor. There were no words in the advertisement except for the Government Health Warning about smoking. This ubiquitous image flashing past at regular intervals both irritated and intrigued Robyn and she began to do her semiotic stuff on the deep structure hidden beneath its bland surface.

    It was in the first instance, a kind of riddle. To decode it you...

  11. Chapter 7 The Ethnography of Media Production
    (pp. 161-198)

    Like consumption, media production is fundamentally a social and cultural act, involving not only the creation of media texts but also the generation of identities, interpretations, subjectivities, statuses, and meanings among the persons engaged in media production. When television producers imagine audiences who will enjoy viewing their new programs, they imagine others like and unlike themselves, (re)constructing their own identities in the process of constructing the imagined audience. When film directors see themselves as authors, they imagine something of themselves in the films they direct. Journalists who go out to “get the story” are engaged in the same kinds of...

  12. Chapter 8 Cottage Culture Industries
    (pp. 199-221)

    In 1966, Sol Worth, a professor at Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania accompanied anthropologist John Adair to Pine Springs, Arizona, a Navajo community. There they taught six Navajo how to use 16mm movie cameras and asked them to each make a film. They deliberately sought to avoid teaching them any of the visual aesthetics typically associated with conventional American film production: when and how to use close-ups, editing for continuity, and so forth. The goal was to see what kind of films the Navajo would make if left to their own imaginations, and particularly to test...

  13. Chapter 9 Mapping the Mediascape
    (pp. 222-249)

    Iran into Shanker as I was getting off the bus that took me from my flat in South Delhi to Connaught Place, where he worked. I had come up to see him. He greeted me with a “Ram Ram” and we proceeded toward his shop, where it had been agreed that I could interview him in between the press of business. We passed a newsstand and paused as Shanker considered the large display of newspapers. Apart from the dozen or so foreign papers aimed at the tourists who throng the heart of Delhi, there are more than forty daily newspapers...

  14. Chapter 10 Mediated Worlds
    (pp. 250-278)

    Our efforts to map the mediascape draws our attention to the wide variety of contexts from and through which media texts circulate, and the very diverse historical, economic, and social conditions that give those contexts shape and texture. Understanding the mediascape involves, in part, a shift of attention from texts to the processes of their circulation. We live in an age of instantaneous communication and rapid transportation that has condensed time and space in ways undreamed of by most of our predecessors. The termglobalizationrefers to this “intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a...

  15. References
    (pp. 279-308)
  16. Index
    (pp. 309-321)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 322-324)