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Local leadership and personal media: a practice-theoretical approach

November 29, 2008

Update 2 April 2009: I recently submitted this paper to a journal under the title “The weakness of weak ties: personal media and social leadership in a Malaysian suburb”

I recently announced the title and abstract of a paper I am giving at Sheffield Hallam University on Wednesday, 10 December 2008, at 4 pm, Furnival Building 9005, city campus.

Well, the title has now mutated from “The limits of networked individualism” to the markedly different title that heads this blog entry. The reason is that I realised – after helpful feedback from Barry Wellman on this blog – that I didn’t want the paper to end up being a polemic around the notion of networked individualism but rather a contribution to ongoing collective efforts at applying practice theory to a range of media questions. In this case, the question lies at the intersection between political anthropology and media anthropology, namely what significant difference, if any, new digital technologies have made to local politics. So the new paper proposal reads as follows:

In recent years a number of scholars have turned their attention to the possible uses of practice theory for media research and theorising (Bräuchler and Postill forthcoming). This paper extends this approach to a little explored research area: the implications of the rapid proliferation of digital media technologies for local-level politics around the globe (Oxford Internet Institute 2005). More specifically, the paper investigates the significance of the seeming ‘personalisation’ of the media landscape (email, laptops, Facebook, iPods, blogs, mobile phones, etc.) for local leadership. Based on anthropological research among internet activists in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), the paper develops a practice-theoretical model of local leadership and personal media that builds on the practice theories of Bourdieu, Giddens, Turner and Warde. The aim is both to avoid some of the conceptual muddles and hyperbole surrounding notions such as ‘networked individualism’ or ‘network society’ (Wellman, Castells) and to produce the outline of a comparative model for the study of local leadership and personal media.

And the outline goes like this (at least for now):

  1. Introduction
  2. Theorising media and practice
    2.1 What is practice theory?
    2.2 Practice theory and media research
  3. The model
    3.1 The field of residential affairs
    3.2 Field stations and field arenas
    3.3 Local leaders as leading field practitioners
    3.4 The field affordances of personal media
  4. Ethnographic case studies
    4.1 Research setting
    4.2 The politician
    4.3 The blogger
    4.4 The crimewatcher
  5. Discussion
  6. Further comparative research

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