Dr. Mark Allen Peterson, formerly a working journalist for six years at Washington DC, is currently a professor of Anthropology at the University of Miami. His first visit to India was during 1990’s to study the contradiction of American and Indian Culture. The major development that garnered his attention during his revisit to India in 2004 was the immense metamorphosis that the media systems in India underwent. In an interactive session held at Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, JMI, Dr. Peterson elaborated on the nascent field of Media Anthropology.
The Anthropology of Media
With a brief introduction to the humanist orientation of anthropology as a discipline, he problematizes the immanent contradiction at the heart of anthropology: the problem of alterity, the construction of others as different from yourself. It is through the human component which is very crucial in the formation of media cluster in the society, the discipline of anthropology effectively and critically explores the emerging field of media. The human component attached to the media is further complicated by the existence of a technological domain. Anthropology of Media engages with this human-technology interface which suggests the human use of technology and its impact on the process of mediation. The pertinent question to ponder over is on the relevance of the anthropology of media.
The methodological nuances that the anthropology of media offer was largely contained in the presentation of his research on media anthropology, especially in the Indian Context over a period of fifteen years spanning from 1990 to 2004. The unimaginable transmutation of the media sector in India engendered a cluster of entertainment genres like soap operas and news telecast. As the human communication took its fleet, the vantage point which enables the study of media behavior becomes an imminent methodological issue to be addressed. Media itself is a formation of volumes of factors like location, demand, issues, political influence, economy etc. which necessitate an Ethnographic Approach, a long-term method. In the Indian context, as it witnessed a splendid growth in terms of the channels, this approach suggests evincing the causes that led to the sprouting of countless channels.
The problematic has to be addressed from the Holistic Perspective on media. As a dominant school of thought in philosophy and social sciences, this approach links the disparate parts of media which can only be rationally explained through its interconnections. His study on Pokemon exemplifies the representation of Global children culture. Surveys had made it explicit how globally pokemon had taken over the children world in the different forms like posters, toys, costumes, in play schools and also in technology for children. It was shocking to see the consumption rate rapidly grew at those times reaching to the global market creating a sort of holism.It is quite fascinating to know that all that happens while making a news story, goes under a lot of turmoil and sometimes even the motive is lost. So it is very necessary to bind the moving parts and bring to a holistic point of view.
The other specificity that could be identified is its global breadth. Furthermore, the question of the effective theoretical framework becomes another point of contention from the methodological perspective in explaining the functioning of media. The point of intersection between the cultural framework of the anthropologist and the host medium constitute a rich space in which the individual set of ideas of both cultures tend to differ or merge. This interim space is further corroborated by the several other factors like language, ritual, artifact and especially the mediation characterized by the technological advancement. What is more, the conceptual framework of media communication also undergoes deterritorialization as exemplified by the concept of culture which is being reconfigured eventually.
Situated in the larger methodological premise of traditional anthropology, this presentation, however, couldn’t address the changing dimensions of the techno-human interface nor contribute to the critical discourse of dismantling of the subject within the anthropological paradigm and larger theoretical domain. There were some critical interventions in this regard during the interactive session.
Compiled by Sristi Deb Barman