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Anthropology of media (also anthropology of mass media, media anthropology) is an area of study within social or cultural anthropology that emphasizes ethnographic studies as a means of understanding producers, audiences, and other cultural and social aspects of mass media.


The use of qualitative methods, particularly ethnography, distinguishes media anthropology from other disciplinary approaches to mass media.[1] Within media studies, media ethnographies have been of increasing interest since the 1980s.[2][3] However, as Stephen Putnam Hughes remarks in a recent review, these studies often do not engage in rigorous ethnographic fieldwork, ignoring or misapplying such landmark anthropological techniques as participant observation or long-term fieldwork.[4] Given such differences, anthropologists who take an interest in the media see themselves as forming a distinct subfield from ethnographic approaches to media studies and cultural studies.


The anthropology of media is a fairly inter-disciplinary area, with a wide range of other influences. The theories used in the anthropology of media range from practice approaches, associated with theorists such as Pierre Bourdieu, as well as discussions of the appropriation and adaptation of new technologies and practices. Theoretical approaches have also been adopted from visual anthropology and from film theory, as well as from studies of ritual and performance studies (e.g. dance and theatre), studies of consumption, audience reception in media studies, new media and network theories, theories of globalisation, theories of international civil society, and discussions on participatory communications and governance in development studies.

Ethnographic contexts

The types of ethnographic contexts explored in the anthropology of media range from contexts of media production (e.g., ethnographies of newsrooms in newspapers, journalists in the field, film production) to contexts of media reception, following audiences in their everyday responses to media such as newspaper cartoons (Khanduri 2014). Other types include cyber anthropology, a relatively new area of internet research, as well as ethnographies of other areas of research which happen to involve media, such as development work, social movements, human rights [5] or health education. This is in addition to many classic ethnographic contexts, where media such as radio, the press, new media and television (Mankekar 1999, Abu-Lughod 2005) have started to make their presences felt since the early 1990s.[6][7]

See also



  1. ^ Faye Ginsburg, Lila Abu-Lughod & Brian Larkin. (2002) Media Worlds: Anthropology of New Terrain.
  2. ^ David Morley. (1980) The “Nationwide” Audience: Structure and Decoding
  3. ^ Ien Ang. (1991) Desperately Seeking the Audience
  4. ^ Stephen Putnam Hughes. (2011). 'Anthropology and the Problem of Audience Reception', in Marcus Banks & Jay Ruby. Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology
  5. ^ Wortham, Erica (2013) Indigenous Media in Mexico: Culture, Community and the State (Duke University Press)
  6. ^ Deborah Spitulnik. (1993) 'Anthropology and Mass Media', Annual Review of Anthropology, 22: 293-315
  7. ^ Lila Abu-Lughod. (1997) 'The Interpretation of Cultures after Television', Representations, 59: 109-133