Words, images, sounds: Anthropology of Media


Co-taught with my colleague Dr. Bregje de Kok

Orientation module for BA students in Anthropology, University of Amsterdam (2023, 6 ECTS points)

This orientation module lays the foundation for students interested in media anthropology, audio-visual anthropology, digital anthropology and anthropology of language.

Social actors continuously co-create meaning through practices that involve various resources or ‘media’. Media here refers to meaning-making resources like the spoken and written word, sounds and music, the (moving) image, and what we know as ‘mass media’ (radio, television, newspapers, social media, etc.). This course introduces approaches to researching different media and media-making practices in relation to social dimensions like power, knowledge, culture and representation.

Next to thinking about media, we will also discuss how to conduct research with media. As stated by Atkinson et al., anthropologists “ought to analyse social and cultural life with a proper regard to the many modalities of action and organisation: sensory, discursive, spatial, temporal, and material” (2008: 2). Yet, these modalities that fundamentally shape the creation of social meaning are themselves bound to the possibilities and limitations of different media formats, which often do not feature in the anthropologist’s analysis. Instead, they are treated as detail, background or disappear as ‘context’.

In this course, we re-centre different media as ‘modalities of mediation’ by examining how different kinds of online and off-line media, from the spoken word to bodies to (moving) images, sounds and new immersive technologies, are adopted, adapted, and made use of in different socio-cultural and political contexts. We ask, what can ethnography contribute to a critical understanding of these media(ted) interventions in everyday life? How do social actors use different media to constitute meaning in the worlds they live in? In what ways do different media shape people’s social experiences, create ‘others’, and act as modes of resisting dominant regimes?

Selected Readings:

Faye D. Ginsburg, Lila Abu-Lughod & Brian Larkin (2002) Media Worlds. Anthropology on New Terrain. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Geismar, Haidy and Hannah Knox (2021) Digital Anthropology (2nd edition). London: Routledge.

Pertierra, Anna Cristina (2018) Media Anthropology for the Digital Age. Polity.

Miller, Danny (2016) Social Media in an English Village. Or how to keep people at just the right distance. London: UCL Press.

Wilson, Pamela and Michelle Stwart (2008) Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics by Wilson, Pamela and Michelle Stewart (eds.) Duke University Press.