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Media and modernisation (Peterson 2003)

March 29, 2010

Peterson, M.A. 2003. Anthropology and mass communication. Media and myth in the new millennium. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.


35 By mid-1960s critiques of community studies commonplace within anthro

37 Singer (1960): argued that could understand dynamics between great and lesser traditions (e.g. in India) by means of cultural performances (among other things) – these are ‘the most concrete observable units of culture’

37 Studied cultural performances in Madras, namely bhakti performances (incl. from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas) and how appropriated and modified by mass media. [see Mankekar’s more recent work on reception of TV serials based on traditional genres by Delhi residents].

37 Of crucial importance, says Singer, is how mass media can produce discrete text that can be reproduced mechanically [see also Thompson 1995, social theory of media in Media and Modernity book]. This changes how audiences experience cultural performances: 1) dispersed audiences can attend identical performances, 2) repeat performances outside farming and ritual calendar can now be put on and commodified, 3) performances erode divides of sect, language, caste, etc.  prevalent in traditional ones, 4) texts sent directly from urban production sites to localities, bypassing cultural brokers.

38 For Singer, in India rise of urbanised media form has not led to secularisation, unlike in West. Instead process of democratisation and popularisation. Also in evidence strong selective pressures in favour of bhakti devotion (compatible with rationalisation, commodification and urbanisation) at the expesne of karma-marga and jnana-marga.

38 Singer’s acccount weakened by modernisation paradigm. But he wasn’t alone, distinction between tradition and modernity runs across entire social theory landscape, including founding fathers [same point made by Thompson 1995 early in the book].


39 Pioneering anthro to study media both as sign & vehicle of modernisation was Hortense Powdermaker. British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia [today Zambia], in Copperbelt mining community.

39 Africans consuming Western media confronted with more than one way of being in the world, began to reflect on own cultural worlds.

40 Media part of leisure time – less constrained consumption. Theory of play integral to Powdermaker’s account: during leisure time people do fundamental cultural work when they ‘play’. 41 Media consumption is a manner of ritual of integration, allowing people to feel “at one with the world” [see also my account of Gawai quiz in Sarawak 1997 as a ‘media ritual’].

41 Copperbelt Africans attracted and repelled by mediated Other in equal measure.

42 Trouble with Powdermaker’s project is functionalism and psychologism, she has ‘no real theory of how imaginative work gets translated into social action’ [cf. Silverstone et al’s notion of ‘conversion’ as part of their ICT domestication model].

42 ‘Abstracting voices from acting subjects, she can offer only a weak sense of media consumption as a practice’.

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