Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Theorising Media and Practice

Theorising Media and Practice

Birgit Bräuchler
John Postill
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Theorising Media and Practice
    Book Description:

    Although practice theory has been a mainstay of social theory for nearly three decades, so far it has had very limited impact on media studies. This book draws on the work of practice theorists such as Wittgenstein, Foucault, Bourdieu, Barth and Schatzki and rethinks the study of media from the perspective of practice theory. Drawing on ethnographic case studies from places such as Zambia, India, Hong Kong, the United States, Britain, Norway and Denmark, the contributors address a number of important themes: media as practice; the interlinkage between media, culture and practice; the contextual study of media practices; and new practices of digital production. Collectively, these chapters make a strong case for the importance of theorising the relationship between media and practice and thereby adding practice theory as a new strand to the study of anthropology of media.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-854-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Birgit Bräuchler and John Postill
  5. Introduction: Theorising Media and Practice
    (pp. 1-32)
    John Postill

    This book rethinks the study of media from the perspective of practice theory, a branch of social theory centred on ‘practices’ rather than structures, systems, individuals or interactions. Practices are the embodied sets of activities that humans perform with varying degrees of regularity, competence and flair. Although practice theory has been a mainstay of social theory for nearly three decades, so far it has had very limited impact on media studies. By linking practice theory and media studies,Theorising Media and Practiceoffers media scholars and students – and indeed anyone with a professional or personal interest in what people...


    • CHAPTER 1 Theorising Media as Practice
      (pp. 35-54)
      Nick Couldry

      Media research has been a thing of fits and starts.¹ As we look back over more than a century of reflection on media, can we say the subject has now broken into a steady rhythm running in a clear direction? Not yet, because media research remains marked by its episodic history. The time is nonetheless ripe to attempt to formulate a new paradigm of media research that can draw together some of the more interesting recent work, but at the same time achieve a decisive break with the unprofitable disputes of the past. This new paradigm sees media not as...

    • CHAPTER 2 What Do We Mean by ‘Media Practices’?
      (pp. 55-76)
      Mark Hobart

      Who needs a collection on theorising media and practice, and why?¹ Except for the few malcontents who stray into academia, media practitioners and policy-makers are mostly too busy doing media to have time for scholars whose grasp of the intricacies of a fast-moving industry is often rudimentary. Have media and practice not been endlessly and largely repetitively theorised already? And has not the phrase ‘media practices’ been used so promiscuously as to be a cliché? Perhaps our time would be better spent doing something else.

      The frequency with which media practice is invoked though suggests that it is an attempt...

    • CHAPTER 3 Media as Practice: A Brief Exchange
      (pp. 77-82)
      Nick Couldry and Mark Hobart

      Mark Hobart’s comments greatly enrich the space of argument in which my original piece was situated. That piece, written in late 2003, was part polemic, part manifesto. I wrote it fast, because the then recent adoption of practice theory in sociology – in particular, social theory and the sociology of consumption – seemed to have urgent implications for the sociology of media, my own field. So while I was well aware of the deep philosophical currents swirling around the term ‘practice’, I deliberately stepped across them for my immediate purpose of disrupting current schemas for analysing ‘media’ and suggesting some...


    • CHAPTER 4 From Fan Practice to Mediated Moments: The Value of Practice Theory in the Understanding of Media Audiences
      (pp. 85-104)
      S. Elizabeth Bird

      In the last ten to fifteen years, ethnographically informed scholarship on media audiences has moved away from studies of direct engagement with texts toward a consideration of multiple articulations with media in everyday life (Bird 2003). In media studies, scholars have questioned the narrowness of studies based on the concept of ‘audience response’ to specific media, arguing that the complexity of media penetration in contemporary societies cannot be captured by such approaches (see Alasuutari 1999 for overview). At the same time, anthropologists have increasingly come to realise that cultures worldwide can no longer be understood without reference to the media....

    • CHAPTER 5 Thick Context, Deep Epistemology: A Meditation on Wide-Angle Lenses on Media, Knowledge Production and the Concept of Culture
      (pp. 105-126)
      Debra Spitulnik

      For some time now, numerous scholars of media from diverse disciplines – such as anthropology, media studies, communication and sociology – have been conducting their work with a wide-angle lens on media and media’s entanglements in people’s lives, social worlds, political processes and so on. Much of this work has called for decentring media as the core object of study and for recentring research on wider fields of practices surrounding and intersecting media. More recently, there has been a call to theoretically (and practically) shift the study of media to the study of situated practice(s), as many of the chapters...

    • CHAPTER 6 ‘But It Is My Habit to Read the Times’: Metaculture and Practice in the Reading of Indian Newspapers
      (pp. 127-146)
      Mark A. Peterson

      In January 1993 I interviewed Mr Kumar, a retired schoolteacher, about his newspaper reading habits. Mr Kumar had an extraordinary critical faculty. Not only was he keenly aware of every error of English grammar or spelling but he knew the names of numerous bylined reporters and correspondents and could rank them by the quality of their English and by what he saw as the related category of their ‘reliability’. Our twenty-five-minute interview consisted largely of an extended critique of theTimes of India, in which he outlined what he saw as its declining quality over the past decade and its...

    • CHAPTER 7 Embedded/Embedding Media Practices and Cultural Production
      (pp. 147-168)
      Ursula Rao

      This chapter investigates an emerging culture of local news production in India. It is set against the background of a profound transformation of the Indian news-making business that among other things has led to a rapid expansion of local news-making since the 1990s (Jeffrey 2000; Rao 2010a). The growing availability of space for local information is welcomed by citizens who actively engage with editorial personnel and push their concerns, hopes and achievements into newspapers. In this chapter I will focus specifically on the way aspiring local leaders appropriate news production in order to create fame. In this process a politics...


    • Chapter 8 Communication, Cognition and Usage: Epistemological Considerations of Media Practices and Processes
      (pp. 171-190)
      Guido Ipsen

      This chapter focuses on media practices and processes as two aspects of the same sphere, namely the domain that encompasses human cognition and communication by making use of technical means. In doing so, I concentrate on epistemological questions concerning the meaning of media. How can semiotics, as a discipline concerned with the processes of cognizing and interpreting signs (Nöth 2000), contribute to the questions raised by Couldry (this volume) about media practice as a new research paradigm? Semiotic theory, as understood in its pragmatist tradition on which I shall focus here,¹ is a fundamental approach to studying the ‘formation of...

    • CHAPTER 9 Language-games, In/dividuals and Media Uses: What a Practice Perspective Should Imply for Media Studies
      (pp. 191-212)
      Jo Helle-Valle

      ‘Practice’ has been a buzzword in social theory for more than thirty years (see, e.g., Bourdieu 1977; Ortner 1984). But despite this relatively long history we are far from anything that might be called a paradigm of practice theory. As several commentators have noted, ‘practice theory’ covers a wide array of perspectives (Warde 2005: 132). This can be seen from reading the works of theorists that are often mentioned in connection to practice theory: Bourdieu, Garfinkel, Latour, Butler (Reckwitz 2002: 144). This variation in theory need not bother us if we argue that the term can serve as something ‘good...

    • CHAPTER 10 A Barthian Approach to Practice and Media: Internet Engagements among Teleworkers in Rural Denmark
      (pp. 213-232)
      Jens Kjaerulff

      The Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth is not widely recognised as a proponent of practice theory. His most famous publications are without question his contributions toEthnic Groups and Boundaries(Barth 1969) and the essays collectively known asModels of Social Organization(Barth 1966). In wider circles at least, these writings have probably earned Barth more of a reputation as a proponent of transactionalism (and, in a more derogatory tenor, of methodological individualism and economism) than of theorising practice. However, much of Barth’s oeuvre has emerged during the forty years sinceEthnic Groups and Boundarieswas published, and while Barth’s wider...

    • CHAPTER 11 Can Practice Theory Inspire Studies of ICTs in Everyday Life?
      (pp. 233-256)
      Toke H. Christensen and Inge Røpke

      In recent years, rich countries have witnessed a proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in everyday life. The mobile phone has been adopted by almost all age groups, computers are found in most households (often more than one), ‘old’ analogue television and radio equipment is being replaced by digital equipment, and the stock of music centres, videos, camcorders, answering machines, digital cameras, printers and so forth is exploding. ICT equipment is thus one of the fastest growing categories of consumer goods. In addition, microprocessors are increasingly integrated in many other categories of consumer goods, giving rise to the expression...


    • CHAPTER 12 Playful Practices: Theorising ‘New Media’ Cultural Production
      (pp. 259-280)
      Elisenda Ardèvol, Antoni Roig, Gemma San Cornelio, Ruth Pagès and Pau Alsina

      The aim of this chapter is to contribute to the current debate on media practices specifically focusing on changes regarding the spheres of production and consumption in the context of new media. We will draw on Schatzki’s theory of practice in order to approach cultural production as a ‘field of embodied, materially interwoven practices centrally organized around shared practical understandings’ (Schatzki 2001: 3). In particular, we will argue that Schatzki’s notion of practice – as a set of actions that entails ways of doing and saying – allows one to ask questions relating to what people do with media for...

    • CHAPTER 13 Theorising the Practices of Free Software: The Movement
      (pp. 281-302)
      Christopher M. Kelty

      This chapter is excerpted from a larger study that discusses the five core practices that make up free software (Kelty 2008). By ‘practice’ I mean something roughly similar to the definitions given by Couldry (this volume) and Swidler (2001), where the question of what free-software hackers and users are actually doing with the tools and infrastructures they use and create is central to the analysis. In the book, I approach the significance of free software as the creation of ‘recursive publics’ – publics which emerge precisely through the active creation of new technologies, new tools and new means of communication...

    • CHAPTER 14 Cinematography and Camera Crew: Practice, Process and Procedure
      (pp. 303-324)
      Cathy Greenhalgh

      The thoughts expressed here derive from my experience as a practitioner, teaching cinematography practice, my own work as a cinematographer and ethnographic work with feature film cinematographers conducted over many years. I have found it necessary to find a way of coming from practice towards useful theory to make sense of my profession and art form. I will argue that empirical work observing and experiencing the precise character and operations of practices brings dimensions to consider which are difficult to theorise. I organise this argument by using two examples of practices in the film industry which are picked up by...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 325-330)
  11. Index
    (pp. 331-352)