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Abu-Lughod (1997): The interpretation of culture(s) after television

April 9, 2010

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1997 The Interpretation of Culture(s) After Television. Representations 59 (Summer):109-134.

111 Faye Ginsburg (1994): anthros less ethnocentric, they recognise “the complex ways in which people are engaged in processes of making and interpreting media works in relation to the cultural, social and historical circumstances”

112 Challenge of TV: programmes no definite provenance, part of people’s complex lives. We have to include the various times and spaces — national, domestic, narrowcasting, broadcasting, scheduled, spontaneous (Silverstone 19nn) — but also we need to do textual analysis, studies of producers and interlink all these “nodes of the “social life of television”.

114 Author proposes a multisited ethnography of television (Marcus) where one can “follow the thing” like one follows commodities, a thick description (Geertz) to overcome the thin descriptions of media studies.

120 In Third World, TV is main instrument of ‘discourses of enlightenment’. Trouble is it can create feelings of inferiority among illiterate viewers.

121-23 Also ethnography of TV puts pressure on notion of cultures ‘as localized communities of people suspended in shared webs of meaning’ [as Geertz would have it]. TV produced usu. elsewhere but “inserted into, interpreted with, and mixed up with local but themselves socially differentiated knowledges, discourses, and meaning systems”

123 Watching rural Egyptians watching TV, author began to see them not as representatives of peasant region but as rural cosmopolites. More crude distinctions than urbans, but still there.

126 Rural women assert their sophistication by donning the veil, a sign of modernity and urbanity in Egypt since 1980s.

127 So we must study “discrepant cosmopolitanisms” (Bruce Robbins) and trace them to “particular configurations of power, education and wealth in particular places”.

128-29 TV allows us to work as intellectuals within national setting, so important today, eg to provide alternative account to urban scriptwriters who depict rurals as backward. Makes us write ‘against the grain’ for we have no choice but to incorporate people in distant places as part of our own ‘cultural worlds’.

128 “To write about television in Egypt, or Indonesia, or Brazil is to write about the articulation of the transnational, the national, the local and the personal”.

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