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Introduction to Anthropology

15.1 Putting the Mass into Media

Introduction to Anthropology15.1 Putting the Mass into Media

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Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. 1 What Is Anthropology?
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Study of Humanity, or "Anthropology Is Vast"
    3. 1.2 The Four-Field Approach: Four Approaches within the Guiding Narrative
    4. 1.3 Overcoming Ethnocentrism
    5. 1.4 Western Bias in Our Assumptions about Humanity
    6. 1.5 Holism, Anthropology’s Distinctive Approach
    7. 1.6 Cross-Cultural Comparison and Cultural Relativism
    8. 1.7 Reaching for an Insider’s Point of View
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  3. 2 Methods: Cultural and Archaeological
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Archaeological Research Methods
    3. 2.2 Conservation and Naturalism
    4. 2.3 Ethnography and Ethnology
    5. 2.4 Participant Observation and Interviewing
    6. 2.5 Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis
    7. 2.6 Collections
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Bibliography
  4. 3 Culture Concept Theory: Theories of Cultural Change
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 The Homeyness of Culture
    3. 3.2 The Winkiness of Culture
    4. 3.3 The Elements of Culture
    5. 3.4 The Aggregates of Culture
    6. 3.5 Modes of Cultural Analysis
    7. 3.6 The Paradoxes of Culture
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Bibliography
  5. 4 Biological Evolution and Early Human Evidence
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 What Is Biological Anthropology?
    3. 4.2 What’s in a Name? The Science of Taxonomy
    4. 4.3 It’s All in the Genes! The Foundation of Evolution
    5. 4.4 Evolution in Action: Past and Present
    6. 4.5 What Is a Primate?
    7. 4.6 Origin of and Classification of Primates
    8. 4.7 Our Ancient Past: The Earliest Hominins
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  6. 5 The Genus Homo and the Emergence of Us
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Defining the Genus Homo
    3. 5.2 Tools and Brains: Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, and Homo erectus
    4. 5.3 The Emergence of Us: The Archaic Homo
    5. 5.4 Tracking Genomes: Our Human Story Unfolds
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  7. 6 Language and Communication
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 The Emergence and Development of Language
    3. 6.2 Language and the Mind
    4. 6.3 Language, Community, and Culture
    5. 6.4 Performativity and Ritual
    6. 6.5 Language and Power
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  8. 7 Work, Life, and Value: Economic Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Economies: Two Ways to Study Them
    3. 7.2 Modes of Subsistence
    4. 7.3 Gathering and Hunting
    5. 7.4 Pastoralism
    6. 7.5 Plant Cultivation: Horticulture and Agriculture
    7. 7.6 Exchange, Value, and Consumption
    8. 7.7 Industrialism and Postmodernity
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  9. 8 Authority, Decisions, and Power: Political Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Colonialism and the Categorization of Political Systems
    3. 8.2 Acephalous Societies: Bands and Tribes
    4. 8.3 Centralized Societies: Chiefdoms and States
    5. 8.4 Modern Nation-States
    6. 8.5 Resistance, Revolution, and Social Movements
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  10. 9 Social Inequalities
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Theories of Inequity and Inequality
    3. 9.2 Systems of Inequality
    4. 9.3 Intersections of Inequality
    5. 9.4 Studying In: Addressing Inequities within Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. Bibliography
  11. 10 The Global Impact of Human Migration
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Peopling of the World
    3. 10.2 Early Global Movements and Cultural Hybridity
    4. 10.3 Peasantry and Urbanization
    5. 10.4 Inequality along the Margins
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  12. 11 Forming Family through Kinship
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 What Is Kinship?
    3. 11.2 Defining Family and Household
    4. 11.3 Reckoning Kinship across Cultures
    5. 11.4 Marriage and Families across Cultures
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  13. 12 Gender and Sexuality
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Anthropology
    3. 12.2 Performing Gender Categories
    4. 12.3 The Power of Gender: Patriarchy and Matriarchy
    5. 12.4 Sexuality and Queer Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  14. 13 Religion and Culture
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 What Is Religion?
    3. 13.2 Symbolic and Sacred Space
    4. 13.3 Myth and Religious Doctrine
    5. 13.4 Rituals of Transition and Conformity
    6. 13.5 Other Forms of Religious Practice
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  15. 14 Anthropology of Food
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 Food as a Material Artifact
    3. 14.2 A Biocultural Approach to Food
    4. 14.3 Food and Cultural Identity
    5. 14.4 The Globalization of Food
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  16. 15 Anthropology of Media
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Putting the Mass into Media
    3. 15.2 Putting Culture into Media Studies
    4. 15.3 Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic Film
    5. 15.4 Photography, Representation, and Memory
    6. 15.5 News Media, the Public Sphere, and Nationalism
    7. 15.6 Community, Development, and Broadcast Media
    8. 15.7 Broadcasting Modernity and National Identity
    9. 15.8 Digital Media, New Socialities
    10. Key Terms
    11. Summary
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Bibliography
  17. 16 Art, Music, and Sport
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Anthropology of the Arts
    3. 16.2 Anthropology of Music
    4. 16.3 An Anthropological View of Sport throughout Time
    5. 16.4 Anthropology, Representation, and Performance
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  18. 17 Medical Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 What Is Medical Anthropology?
    3. 17.2 Ethnomedicine
    4. 17.3 Theories and Methods
    5. 17.4 Applied Medical Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  19. 18 Human-Animal Relationship
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Humans and Animals
    3. 18.2 Animals and Subsistence
    4. 18.3 Symbolism and Meaning of Animals
    5. 18.4 Pet-Keeping
    6. 18.5 Animal Industries and the Animal Trade
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  20. 19 Indigenous Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Indigenous Peoples
    3. 19.2 Colonization and Anthropology
    4. 19.3 Indigenous Agency and Rights
    5. 19.4 Applied and Public Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  21. 20 Anthropology on the Ground
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Our Challenging World Today
    3. 20.2 Why Anthropology Matters
    4. 20.3 What Anthropologists Can Do
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. Bibliography
  22. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define the basic function of media.
  • Distinguish basic media from mass media.
  • Describe the social phenomenon of technophilia.
  • Explain why culture is important to the study of media.
A collage of three images: (Top Left) a woman wearing a veil and face covering talking on a cell phone; (Top right) a man wearing Buddhist monk’s robes sitting cross-legged on the floor and talking on a cell phone; (Bottom) a group of 6 Ecuadorian people wearing traditional dress taking a selfie with a cell phone.
Figure 15.2 Technophiles of the world. Modern communication technologies are widely used in most cultures of the contemporary world. (credit: top left, “Sinaw, Bedouin Woman with Mobile Phone” by Arian Zwegers/flickr, CC BY 2.0; top right, “Kiwanja_Burma_Calling_17” by Ken Banks, kiwanja.net/flickr, CC BY 2.0; bottom, “©UNICEF/ECU/2020/Arcos” by UNICEF Ecuador/flickr, CC BY 2.0)

People today live in an era of technophilia—that is, an age when people embrace technologies and incorporate them into every part of their lives, particularly their social lives. In contrast to the inert functionality of old-school cameras, watches, radios, and televisions, the new “smart” gadgets interact with their users, learn from them, make suggestions, and contact their friends and family members. Insofar as they facilitate users’ interactions with other people and the world around them, these smart technologies become part of their users, akin to an extra organ for sensation and communication. Insofar as they communicate with users, nudging and prodding them, they become like a friend or family member themselves.

Part of what makes these smart technologies so attractive (and addictive) is that they function as means of connecting people to one another, carrying messages and data to other individuals and groups. As instruments of communication, all of these technologies are forms of media. At the most basic level, media are tools for storing and sharing information.

In this basic sense, media have always been essential to the development and durability of human culture. Early forms of symbolic communication, such as cave paintings and ancient writing systems, can be considered media, as they provided people with ways of fixing meaning in material objects that could be shared with people in other places and other times. The scope of these early forms of media was limited, however, by their singularity. People could visit a cave painting, but they could not send a copy of it to their friends. A scholar could inscribe a story on a cuneiform tablet, but that tablet could not be reproduced for a wider audience without the painstaking work of inscribing copies one by one. Up until 1000 CE, scholars in many parts of the world specialized in manually copying books and pamphlets, sometimes using wooden block prints carved out by hand. These methods were so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford to buy written forms of media.

All of this changed with the invention of the printing press, first in China and then in Germany (Frost 2021). Around 1000 CE, the Chinese artisan Bi Sheng created a set of blocks out of baked clay, each one manually inscribed with a Chinese character. To publish a page of text, he arranged the character blocks on an iron frame that could be pressed against an iron plate to create a print. Around 1440, the German entrepreneur Johannes Gutenberg independently invented a similar system of movable-type printing. Gutenberg also created a set of blocks, each one containing a letter, but his were made of metal. He used his invention to print calendars, pamphlets, and 180 now-famous copies of the Bible. Within decades, the printing press had spread from Germany to France, Italy, Spain, England, and the rest of western Europe.

Video

To see how Gutenberg’s printing press worked, watch this video of a demonstration of the world’s most complete working replica at Crandall Historical Printing Museum in Provo, Utah.

If manual writing systems are basic forms of media, then mechanically reproduced forms of communication are forms of mass media. Whereas forms of basic media operate between one sender and a small number of receivers, forms of mass media operate through a sender, a machine, and a potentially very large number of receivers. Originating in books and pamphlets produced using the movable-type printing press, the category of mass media has expanded over time with the development of new technologies, including photography, radio, television, and the Internet. Mass media are forms of communication facilitated by technology, allowing for broad distribution and reception by large numbers of people.

When considered from this angle, it may seem that technology is the most defining element of mass media. As machines, communication technologies might seem to function much the same in any context. When European printing presses were brought to Africa in the 19th century, they were used to publish newspapers that bore a family resemblance to European ones. If someone enables their mobile phone to function in another country while on vacation, they can use it to call their hotel or hail an Uber in much the same way they would use their phone at home.

Because communication technologies seem to function in uniform ways across contexts, people often assume that mass media are pretty much the same everywhere. Some provide news on current events. Some provide diversion and entertainment. Some allow users to communicate with individuals and groups. In this case, the differences one might see in mass media forms across cultures would be differences in technological sophistication or penetration, the word media scholars use to describe how widespread a communication technology is in a certain context.

Have you ever seen a Ghanaian video film? These are low-budget Ghanaian movies shot on video camera, usually completed within a few weeks and aimed at local audiences. They deal with social themes such as witchcraft and corruption, often combined with Christian redemption. Such video films are frequently criticized (by locals and foreigners alike) for their rudimentary editing and poor production values. When compared to Hollywood blockbuster movies, with their multimillion-dollar budgets and complex technological production processes, African video films may seem like a poor replica of the American form.

Video

Watch Darkness of Sorrow to see an example of a Ghanaian movie.

But that is not how West Africans view locally made video films. While many Ghanaians enjoy watching American films from time to time, the themes and issues explored in foreign films fail to resonate with their own experiences and concerns. In contrast, local video films engage with the desires and fears of Ghanaians, reinforcing forms of social identity and echoing familiar norms and values. Even as many Ghanaians criticize the rustic editing and uneven sound levels, local video films remain enormously popular among West African audiences.

Anthropologist Tejaswini Ganti (2012) conducted ethnographic research on the film industry in India. She describes how Indian films developed from rustic, homegrown forms of local entertainment to technologically sophisticated spectacles, forming the globalized industry of Bollywood. Ganti situates this transformation in the larger economic shifts of the 1990s and the accompanying neoliberal emphasis on global trade and middle-class consumerism in India. While earlier films focus on themes involving working-class and marginalized peoples, later films more often dramatize the lives of the professional, highly educated, and affluent classes. Thus, Ganti links the themes, technologies, and economic contexts of these films.

While technology may seem to be the defining feature of mass media, it is the immersion of communication technologies in local cultures that produces the total experience of mass media. At heart, mass media are not just technologies but forms of communication—technological vehicles for conveying forms of cultural meaning from senders to receivers. The language, images, symbols, and sounds used to convey meaning are all elements of culture. The thematic content of mass media is also profoundly cultural, shaped by local contexts of production and reception. Ways of consuming and interacting with mass media are also heavily determined by local social norms.

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