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Paper: Reflections on media anthropology’s legacies and concerns

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Budka, P. 2016. Reflections on media anthropology’s legacies and concerns (in digital times). Paper at “14th EASA Biennial Conference”, Milan: University of Milano-Bicocca, 20-23 July 2016. Full Paper (PDF)

Why anthropology matters – an EASA statement as starting point

I recently came across a statement compiled by the Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) entitled “Why anthropology matters” (Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Anthropologists 2015). In this text, several distinct features or key terms of anthropology as academic discipline are highlighted.
(1) Cultural relativism as “methodological tool for studying local life-worlds on their own terms”;
(2) Ethnography as important tool in anthropological research and as main form of data collection which enables anthropologists to “discover aspects of local worlds that are inaccessible to researchers who use other methods”;
(3) Comparison as method to look for sociocultural similarities and differences to develop “general insights into the nature of society and human existence”;
(4) And finally, (social) context, relationships and connections as anthropology’s main concerns.

With these “tools”, the statement’s authors argue, anthropologists are well equipped to generate knowledge that “can help to make sense of the contemporary world” (Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Anthropologists 2015).

Even though one doesn’t have to agree on all of that in detail, the text very briefly discusses features or markers of the discipline of anthropology and consequently its subfields, such as media anthropology. I don’t want to discuss “why media anthropology matters” – I think this question has been, for instance, answered in the course of this panel – but rather build on selected aspects of the statement which I find particularly relevant for looking into media anthropology’s relevance, legacies and concerns (also in times of increasing digitalisation). I can, of course, only scratch on the surface here, leaving much for further debates and discussions.

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Seminar: Indigenous Media 2016

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Again, I have the pleasure to teach the Seminar “Indigenous Media” for the MA Program in Visual and Media Anthropology at the Free University Berlin. Find below a brief description of the course.

In the seminar “Indigenous Media” students get an introduction to indigenous media technologies. In ten seminar units selected questions, issues, and problems are discussed: How do indigenous people produce, distribute, and utilize audiovisual media? How has ethnographic and anthropological film making changed? What role do politics, power, globalization, and (post-)colonialism play in the production and use of indigenous media? How do indigenous people utilize media to construct and negotiate their individual and collective identities? How are indigenous cultures and languages represented through media? And how do indigenous people appropriate and (co-)develop digital technologies in times of increasing globalization?

We start with the contextualization of indigenous media within the framework of an anthropology of media. In the second unit students are introduced to selected debates about the meaning and relevance of (mass) media for indigenous people and their culture. We then discuss ethnographic film making and visual anthropology in the context of indigenous people’s changing role from “objects” for ethnographic films to partners in media projects. The fourth unit deals with the phenomena of (post-)colonialism and decolonization and their implications for indigenous media. This discussion leads us to the self-controlled production of indigenous media and its relevance for issues such as (self-)representation, appropriation, control, and empowerment. Globalization, modernity, and related questions of collective indigenous identity construction – “indigeneity” – are the topics of the next unit. The following three sessions are closely connected and discuss aspects of identity, community, networking, ownership, activism, empowerment, aesthetics, poetics, and popular culture in relation to indigenous media. In the final unit students learn about the importance of digital technologies and infrastructures for indigenous people, their activist projects, and networking initiatives.

Through several case studies students are introduced to the similarities and differences of indigenous media projects throughout the world. These case studies take us to different regions, countries, and continents: from Nunavut, Canada, and the US to the Caribbean, Guatemala, Mexico, and Brazil, to Nigeria, Myanmar, Australia and Finland. The seminar’s assignments include the reading of selected articles, the watching of films and videos, and the discussion of these in small essays. The online conference tool Adobe Connect is used to present and discuss aspects of texts, films, and essays.

CfP: “Media anthropology’s legacies and concerns”

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The EASA Media Anthropology Network is organizing a panel entitled “Media anthropology’s legacies and concerns” at the 14th European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) conference in Milan (20-23 July, 2016). Please find the detailed call for papers below. To propose a paper, please navigate to and
Deadline for paper proposal submissions is February 15th.

Media anthropology’s legacies and concerns
(Media Anthropology Network)

Philipp Budka (University of Vienna)
John Postill (RMIT University Melbourne)
Elisenda Ardevol (UOC, Barcelona)

In line with the theme of the 14th EASA conference the EASA Media Anthropology Network panel seeks to put fundamental concerns of media anthropology back into the centre of attention. Central themes of media anthropology have already been identified and discussed in earlier works: e.g. the mediation of power and conflict, media related forms of production and consumption, the relationship between media and religion, and the mediation of knowledge and forms of expression (e.g. Askew & Wilk 2002, Ginsburg et al. 2002, Peterson 2003, Rothenbuhler & Coman 2005). These topics can be connected to questions about hierarchies, power relationships, norms and political agency in media contexts; the materiality of media (technologies), exchange and reciprocity, media work; media rituals and the ritualization of media practices and events; the construction of histories and traditions in relation to media practices and the meanings of media communication for oral culture(s).

By (re-)focusing on such topics in a contemporary context, this panel invites contributions also to discuss broader questions. What has been “the point of media anthropology” as an anthropological subdiscipline and as an interdisciplinary field of research (Postill & Peterson 2009)? What are media anthropology’s legacies so far and what are its historical roots? What role does ethnography play in the anthropology of media and how has this relationship changed from a methodological and epistemological perspective? Thus, this panel contributes to the constitution of media anthropology as one of anthropology’s most thriving subdisciplines. Secondly, it adds to the understanding of media anthropology’s legacies, epistemologies, theories, methodologies and possible futures.

Askew, K., Wilk, R. (eds.) 2002. The anthropology of media: A reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Ginsburg, F., Abu-Lughod, L., Larkin, B. (eds.) 2002. Media worlds: Anthropology on new terrain. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Peterson, M. A. 2003. Anthropology and mass communication. Media and myth in the new millennium. New York & Oxford: Berghahn.
Postill, J., Peterson, M. A. 2009. What is the point of media anthropology? Social Anthropology 17(3): 334-344.
Rothenbuhler, E., Coman, M. (eds.) 2005. Media Anthropology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Seminar: Media & visual technologies as material culture – students’ projects

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The following joint student projects are conducted in the seminar “Media and visual technologies as material culture” at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna:

  • Team A: Non-Use of Smartphones
    -> Which impact does the non-use of smartphones have for the private and working life? Why do people decide against using smartphones?
  • Team B: Meaning of Cellphones for Refugees
    -> What is the meaning of cellphones for refugees in Austria?
  • Team C: Crowd-sourcing & Labor
    -> How are subjective meanings of “team work” shaped by the inter-dependencies between freelancers and the website Capacitor?
  • Team D: Sharing of Visual Media, Art & Cultural Identity
    -> In what aspects have the Japanese art forms of dance and painting changed through the sharing of visual media/material?
  • Team E: Access to Internet & Power Relations within the Family Home
    -> What are the effects of internet usage on children and young adults in respect to power relations in the family home?
  • Team F: Conversion/Discussion about Digital Content
    -> What is the difference between usage of commentary sections of Serbian and German online newspapers?
  • Team G: Self-Identification through Visual Communication & Social Media
    -> How do people identify/define themselves through visual communication via social media (websites (blogs), video blogs and Instagram)?
  • Team H: Ayahuasceros – Making of Ritual Community on Facebook
    -> What is the relevance of Facebook in the community building process of Austrian Ayahuasca ceremonies?
  • Team I: Bicycle Movement & Digital Media in Vienna
    -> How are digital media technologies utilized in relation to the social network BikeKitchen?

Review: Europäisch-ethnologisches Forschen. Neue Methoden und Konzepte.

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Budka, P. 2014. Review of Hess, S., Moser, J. & M. Schwertl (eds.). Europäisch-ethnologisches Forschen. Neue Methoden und Konzepte. Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2013; 332 pp. Anthropos, 109.2014/2: 694-696.

Mit dem Sammelband „Europäisch-ethnologisches Forschen. Neue Methoden und Konzepte.“ ist es den HerausgeberInnen und AutorInnen gelungen eine wichtige, und wie ich finde längst überfällige, Sammlung rezenter Methoden und theoretischer Konzepte nicht nur für die Europäische Ethnologie/Volkskunde zusammenzustellen. Auch wenn der Titel ein Naheverhältnis des Bandes und seiner Inhalte zur Europäischen Ethnologie nahelegt, ist dieses Werk durchaus auch VertreterInnen anderer kultur- und sozialwissenschaftlichen Disziplinen – von Kultur- und/oder Sozialanthropologie bis Soziologie – empfohlen. Insgesamt 17 AutorInnen geben in 12 Beiträgen einen einführenden Überblick zu methodischen und methodologischen Überlegungen sowie Konzepten, die in den letzten Jahren im einschlägigen wissenschaftlichen Fachdiskurs massiv an Bedeutung gewonnen haben: von Ethnographie und Feldtheorien über Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie bis hin zur Analyse visueller und materieller Kultur. Im Folgenden will ich mich einer subjektiven Auswahl an Buchbeiträgen widmen, um so zu versuchen die Bandbreite dieses Werkes und seiner Inhalte darzulegen.

Continue reading Review: Europäisch-ethnologisches Forschen. Neue Methoden und Konzepte.

Concept map: Communicative ecologies

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This map visualizes the concept of “communicative ecologies” as introduced by Tacchi, J., Slater, D., Hearn, G. 2003. Ethnographic Action Research: A User’s Handbook. New Delhi: UNESCO, It was done by using the free CMap Tools (click to enlarge).

concept map

Ethnographie als theoretischer & epistemologischer Ansatz

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Ideen und Anmerkungen zur Ethnographie als theoretischer und epistemologischer Forschungsansatz, die im Rahmen eines Jour Fixe der Gruppe Internetforschung am 09.01.2012 diskutiert wurden. Dabei wurde vor allem der Frage nachgegangen wie Ethnographie in der Internetforschung Verwendung finden kann.

Ethnographie ist eine Theorie des Beschreibens (Nader)
→ Kontext
→ Holismus → Imagination von Gesamt- oder Ganzheit

Ethnographie ist keine Methode (Ingold)
→ Ethnographie = beschreibende Integration (durch Kontextualisierung)
→ Ethnographie = Praxis verbaler Beschreibung

Praktische Aspekte / Probleme einer Ethnographie
→ Prozess der teilnehmenden Beobachtung
→ Inklusion der Forscherin / „Wir & die Anderen“
→ Wandel in Zeit & Raum
→ Hierarchien von Kontexten

Ethnographie & Interdisziplinarität (Strathern)
→ Interaktion von Disziplinen
→ Kontextspezifika entscheiden über Ethnographie → Schaffung von Kontext
→ Multi- → Inter- → Transdisziplinarität → von „information-sharing“ zu „knowledge-creation“

Ingold, T. 2008. Anthropology is not ethnography. In: Proceedings of the British Academy 154: 69-92. Online:

Nader, L. 2011. Ethnography as theory. In: HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 1(1): 211-219. Online:

Strathern, M. 2005. Experiments in interdisciplinarity. In: Social Anthropology 13(1): 75-90.

References and resources on online ethnography

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Literature on online ethnography collected through the EASA Media Anthropology Network Mailing List
to contribute to this collection go to the network’s project wiki:

Bell, David, and Barbara M. Kennedy 2000 The Cybercultures Reader. London : New York: Routledge.

Boellstorff, Tom: Coming of Age in Second Life, 2008. The volume, which is an ethnography by itself, has a full chapter on methods in online research.

Buchanan, Elizabeth A. 2004 Readings in Virtual Research Ethics : Issues and Controversies. Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.

Hine, C. (2008). Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances. In Fielding, Lee, Blank (eds) THE SAGE HANDBOOK OF ONLINE RESEARCH METHODS.

Hine, C. 2005 Internet Research and the Sociology of Cyber-Social-Scientific Knowledge. Information Society 21(4):239-248.

Hine, Christine 2005 Virtual Methods : Issues in Social Research on the Internet. Oxford, UK ; New York: Berg.

Hine, Christine 2000 Virtual Ethnography. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Littleton, K., and D. Whitelock 2004 Guiding the Creation of Knowledge and Understanding in a Virtual Learning Environment. Cyberpsychology & Behavior 7(2):173-181.

Markham, Anette: Internet Research. In Silverman, D. (Ed.). Qualitative Research: Theory, Method, and Practices, 3rd Edition. London: Sage.

Markham, Anette: The politics, ethics, and methods of representation in online ethnography. In Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (Eds.). Handbook of Qualitative Research, 3rd Edition (pp. 793-820). Thousand Oaks CA: Sage
Draft here:

Marshall, Jon (2010): Ambiguity, Oscillation and Disorder: Online Ethnography and the Making of Culture

Nardi, Bonnie: Night Elf Priest, prolog and first two chapters. Bonus: They can read it online for free:

Pauwels, L. 2005 Websites as Visual and Multimodal Cultural Expressions: Opportunities and Issues of Online Hybrid Media Research. Media Culture & Society 27(4):604-613.

Preece, J., and D. Maloney-Krichmar 2005 Online Communities: Design, Theory, and Practice. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10(4).

Schaap, Frank 2002 The Words that Took Us there : Ethnography in a Virtual Reality. Amsterdam: Aksant Academic Publishers.

Silver, D. 2004 Internet/cyberculture/digital culture/new media/fill-in-the-Blank Studies. New Media & Society 6(1):55-64.

New Book: Theorising Media and Practice (Bräuchler & Postill 2010)

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Bräuchler, B. and J. Postill (eds) 2010. Theorising Media and Practice. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

From John Postill’s blog:

This book is very much a product of the numerous conversations we’ve had down the years on the EASA Media Anthropology Network on practice approaches to media. We’re really grateful to all chapter contributors and to all of network members who have helped us think through some of the key questions.


Although practice theory has been a mainstay of social theory for nearly three decades, so far it has had very limited impact on media studies. This book draws on the work of practice theorists such as Wittgenstein, Foucault, Bourdieu, Barth and Schatzki and rethinks the study of media from the perspective of practice theory. Drawing on ethnographic case studies from places such as Zambia, India, Hong Kong, the United States, Britain, Norway and Denmark, the contributors address a number of important themes: media as practice; the interlinkage between media, culture and practice; the contextual study of media practices; and new practices of digital production. Collectively, these chapters make a strong case for the importance of theorising the relationship between media and practice and thereby adding practice theory as a new strand to the anthropology of media.

More information:

Video: About “doing anthropology”

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MIT anthropologists in this short video talk about doing anthropology, about their personal experiences with working as anthropologists and ethnographers.


Thoughts on Fieldwork From Three Research Sites
Cultural Anthropology is a social science that explores how people understand – and act in – the world. But what, exactly, is it that Cultural Anthropologists do? How do they approach their research? In this short film, three members of MIT’s Anthropology Department, Stefan Helmreich, Erica James, and Heather Paxson, talk about their current work and the process of doing fieldwork.”

Lecture: Media Ethnographies – Ethnography in/and the Anthropology of Media

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In the winter term 2010/2011 Philipp is giving a lecture on media ethnographies in the context of an anthropology of media technologies at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. By using different case studies, the lecture aims to highlight the importance of ethnography in understanding media phenomena.

For more information in German go to:

Pelican Falls First Nation High School

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Auf dem Gebiet der Lac Seul First Nation befindet sich die Pelican Falls First Nation High School, die ausschließlich für Schüler aus den indigenen Gemeinschaften der Nishnawbe Aski errichtet wurde. Administrativ und organisatorisch ist die Schule somit dem Northern Nishnawbe Education Council unterstellt.

Neben Fächern wie Englisch oder Mathematik werden auch Kurse angeboten, die speziell für die First Nation SchülerInnen entwickelt wurden, wie Sprachunterrricht zum Erlernen der indigenen Sprachen (Ojibwe, Ojicree und Cree) oder Werkzeugunterricht zum Erstellen von traditionellen Werkzeugen und Produkten, wie Kanus oder Tierfallen. So soll indigene Kultur und Wissen auch im institutionellen Rahmen einer Schule weitergeben werden.

Neben der Schule gibt es in Pelican Falls auch Unterkünfte in denen die Kinder in kleinen Gruppen untergebracht sind. Jedes dieser Häuser wird von speziell geschulten SozialarbeiterInnen betreut, die den Schülern helfen sollen sich in der ungewohnten Umgebung zurecht zu finden und wohl zu fühlen.

Wichtige Bestandteile dieser Unterkünfte sind Computerarbeitsplätze, die vor allem genutzt werden um mit Freunden und Familie in den Heimatgemeinschaften in Kontakt zu bleiben. Das von K-Net angebotene Homepage-Hostingservice spielt dabei eine ganz entscheidende Rolle.

Lac Seul First Nation

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Lac Seul First Nation (Obishikokaang) liegt etwa 40 km nordwestlich von Sioux Lookout und besteht aus den drei Gemeinschaften/Siedlungen Frenchman’s Head, Kejick Bay und Whitefish Bay. Lac Seul ist das älteste Reservat im Sioux Lookout District und gehört der Independent First Nations Alliance an.

Während im Sommer Kejick Bay ausschließlich über den See – den Lac Seul – mit Booten zu erreichen ist, wird im Winter der zugefrorene See als Straße verwendet. Auch die kleinste Gemeinschaft – Whitefish Bay – ist im Winter wesentlich einfacher und schneller zu erreichen.

Bis 1929 bildeten Kejick Bay und Whitefish Bay eine gemeinsame Siedlung am Festland. Durch die Überflutung großer Teile des Festlands durch “Ontario Hydro”, einen regionalen Stromerzeuger, wurde Kejick Bay zu einer Insel und viele Familien verließen die Siedlung und das Reservat. Heute leben etwa zwei Drittel der Mitglieder der Lac Seul First Nation nicht mehr im Reservat sondern beispielsweise in den Städten Red Lake und Sioux Lookout.

In Kejick Bay befindet sich im Gebäude der ehemaligen Band Office das sogenannte “Access Center”, das Mitgliedern der Gemeinde Computer und Internet zur Verfügung stellt, etwa um mit Freunden und Verwandten in anderen Gemeinschaften und Regionen in Kontakt zu bleiben. Die Räumlichkeiten werden aber ebenso für Workshops und Schulungen verwendet.