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Radio Fields

Radio Fields: Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the 21st Century

Lucas Bessire
Daniel Fisher
Afterword by Faye Ginsburg
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Radio Fields
    Book Description:

    Radio is the most widespread electronic medium in the world today. As a form of technology that is both durable and relatively cheap, radio remains central to the everyday lives of billions of people around the globe. It is used as a call for prayer in Argentina and Appalachia, to organize political protest in Mexico and Libya, and for wartime communication in Iraq and Afghanistan. In urban centers it is played constantly in shopping malls, waiting rooms, and classrooms. Yet despite its omnipresence, it remains the media form least studied by anthropologists.Radio Fields employs ethnographic methods to reveal the diverse domains in which radio is imagined, deployed, and understood. Drawing on research from six continents, the volume demonstrates how the particular capacities and practices of radio provide singular insight into diverse social worlds, ranging from aboriginal Australia to urban Zambia. Together, the contributors address how radio creates distinct possibilities for rethinking such fundamental concepts as culture, communication, community, and collective agency.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6993-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction: Radio Fields
    (pp. 1-47)

    Radio is the most widespread electronic medium in the world today. More than a historical precedent for television, film, or the Internet, radio remains central to the everyday lives of billions of people around the globe. Its rugged and inexpensive technology has become invested with new import in places on the other side of the “digital divide,” where topography, poverty, or politics limit access to television, computers, or electricity. In metropolitan centers, radio also remains a constant presence, sounding and resounding in public space. It is broadcast from satellites into cars and jets, streamed through laptops and loudspeakers in shopping...

  5. 2 Aurality under Democracy: Cultural History of FM Radio and Ideologies of Voice in Nepal
    (pp. 48-68)

    The beginnings of FM radio in Nepal coincided with the emergence of liberal democracy and a radical reimagining of the state from several different and often opposing perspectives.¹ Prior to the democratic watershed of the 1990jan åndolan(People’s Movement), the “prehistory” of the FM was closely related to currents of liberalization and emerging initiatives in urban media generally and privately owned or operated radio in particular. The success of thejan åndolanof 1990 enabled a host of previously suppressed political parties to voice their demands in public, and the very idea of free speech quickly acquired social currency...

  6. 3 From the Studio to the Street: Producing the Voice in Indigenous Australia
    (pp. 69-88)

    To listen to Aboriginal radio in Australia is to hear a broad range of voices. Some speak Indigenous languages such as Anindilyakwa or Yolngu Mata in the Top End or Arrernte in the Central Desert. Many more speak in English, often refigured by Aboriginal English or Kriol syntax and peppered with Aboriginal English slang. And most also endeavor to move listeners, to make them laugh, to cajole, persuade, and inform. They may seek a phatic, affecting link between kin. Others work to establish a shared perspective with non-Indigenous listeners. Others still will ask listeners to watch what they eat, to...

  7. 4 Editing the Nation: How Radio Engineers Encode Israeli National Imaginaries
    (pp. 89-107)

    When I first started to write about Israeli radio and music broadcasting, I was not sure how to translate the Hebrew termorech musikali(literally, “music editor”). I noticed that most scholarly literature and general websites in English refer to the person who selects the songs to be aired by the radio station as “music programmer” rather than editor.¹ Following several years of studying the field, I came to realize that programming and editing reflect not only different models of music broadcasting but also different modes of engagement between radio music, the audience, and the national community. The concept of...

  8. 5 Reconsidering Muslim Authority: Female “Preachers” and the Ambiguities of Radio-Mediated Sermonizing in Mali
    (pp. 108-123)

    The political opening in Mali following the fall from power of President Moussa Traoré and his single-party rule in 1991 has generated unprecedented dynamics in the national media landscape. Following the granting of multiparty democracy and of attendant civil liberties, numerous private press organs were created along with more than 150 local radio stations that cover most of Mali’s urban and semiurban environments.¹ The proliferation of private media has been accompanied by the emergence of a broad spectrum of interest groups that intervene in public debate. Among them are various Muslim activist associations that rely on local radio stations and...

  9. 6 Community and Indigenous Radio in Oaxaca: Testimony and Participatory Democracy
    (pp. 124-141)

    In 2006, hundreds of women in Oaxaca, Mexico, took over state-owned public radio and television stations as part of a larger social movement driven by Local 22 (Sección 22) of the National Union for Educational Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE) and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO). The takeovers proved to be the tactical lifeline of the movement at the time and have since emerged as some of the most enduring legacies of the 2006 mobilization. After and partly because of the events of 2006, the...

  10. 7 The Cultural Politics of Radio: Two Views from the Warlpiri Public Sphere
    (pp. 142-159)

    Warlpiri people residing at the town of Yuendumu, central Australia, have been involved in a range of audiovisual media projects over the past three decades, from radio broadcasting through to film and television production and videoconferencing. In this chapter I consider two moments in this recent history with a specific focus on radio, as a way to reflect on the shifting relations between Warlpiri people and the Australian state. Warlpiri radio broadcasting reveals the distinctive cultural imperatives that may be observed more broadly in Warlpiri social interaction, but simultaneously broadcasting activity occurs against/in response to the demands of the Australian...

  11. 8 Frequencies of Transgression: Notes on the Politics of Excess and Constraint among Mexican Free Radios
    (pp. 160-178)

    I headed out on a chilly, gray afternoon through the overflowing streets of Mexico City, making my way to the studio where my new radio show was set to kick off later that day. I had recently arrived in this massive Latin American capital to study the links between media activism and autonomy and had eventually come across Radio Autónoma,¹ part of the city’s burgeoning free radio scene. As a free or pirate radio, Radio Autónoma eschews permits, operating outside the law. Nikita and Simón, two regular voices on the radio, had agreed to cohost a program with me, called...

  12. 9 “Foreign Voices”: Multicultural Broadcasting and Immigrant Representation at Germany’s Radio MultiKulti
    (pp. 179-196)

    In the wake of labor migration that brought large numbers of migrants from the Mediterranean region to Germany during the 1960s and ’70s, radio broadcasting emerged as the most important media technology to supply so-called guest workers with media contents in their native languages. During a period in which the development of information and communication technology did not yet allow for the transnational circulation of media contents, German public service broadcasters developed special foreign-language radio programs to service labor migrants as both orientation help and a “bridge to home” (Kosnick 2000). Over time, the purpose of this programming changed: with...

  13. 10 “We Go Above”: Media Metaphysics and Making Moral Life on Ayoreo Two-Way Radio
    (pp. 197-214)

    When dawn breaks or night falls over a village of Ayoreo-speaking people of the Gran Chaco, the arrival and departure of the day are accompanied by a series of iconic sounds: chopping wood, coughing people, chattering parrots, the changing rhythms of the forest. Now, this includes crackling static and voices coming over the two-way radio.

    The stream of voices in the unwritten Ayoreo language is constant, the use of these small, solar-powered shortwave community radios ubiquitous. Each of the three dozen Ayoreo settlements on both sides of the Bolivia-Paraguay border has a radio, as do the three Ayoreo tribal organizations,...

  14. 11 Appalachian Radio Prayers: The Prosthesis of the Holy Ghost and the Drive to Tactility
    (pp. 215-232)

    Academic accounts on the phenomenon of charismatic Christian radio in Appalachia often have approached radio as a passive technological medium for the transmission of a discrete, self-contained religious content (Baker 2005; Clements 1974; Dean 1998; Dorgan 1993; Rosenberg 1970; Titon 1988).¹ These scholarly accounts are governed by an imagined transparency of the technologies or instrumentality of the radio broadcast itself, understanding the effect and meaning of the religious message they carry as a mere epiphenomenon of its content and as not inflected in any essential way by the apparatuses through which it is transmitted. This chapter has a different point...

  15. 12 Radio in the (i)Home: Changing Experiences of Domestic Audio Technologies in Britain
    (pp. 233-249)

    Recently, I asked a group of four young British people in their mid- to late twenties about their personal perceptions of radio. They each spoke about radio as if its “golden age” had already passed. They reminisced about their parents’ listening and associated this with the soundscapes of their childhoods: “When I was growing up, the radio in the kitchen was always on” (Hannah, age twenty-seven). Teenagers in the late 1990s, these young adults remember listening to the radio as if it were a fixture of that time that is no longer present. In Hannah’s words: “I used to listen...

  16. 13 “A House of Wires upon Wires”: Sensuous and Linguistic Entanglements of Evidence and Epistemologies in the Study of Radio Culture
    (pp. 250-267)

    Media cultures are permeated by the twin discourses of technological mystique and no-nonsense technical manipulation. The idioms of the former: traveling voices and people, activated powers, transformed worlds, enveloped and transported selves. The voice of the latter: push here, move this, connect that, open, close, listen. The juxtaposition in the epigraphs of the personal, lyrical memories of a radio DJ with the dry, colonial voice of authoritative knowledge testing captures this tension between mystery and science, between creative world making and practical technology. It also provides a window into the multidimensional story of radio’s meanings in both contemporary Zambia and...

  17. Radio Fields: An Afterword
    (pp. 268-278)

    “Truly groundbreaking” is a much overused phrase, but in the case of this volume, I feel confident using it; it is the first to date to bring sustained attention to the innovative work being done on radio as an object of anthropological inquiry. Part of the excitement of this book is its rock-solid connection to the best of current ethnographic theory and method, while also showing the rich contribution that research on radio offers to people in neighboring fields such as media, communications, and sound studies, where scholars are less inclined to work outside their cultural comfort zones than are...

    (pp. 279-280)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 281-286)