Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Parachute Anthropology?

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Parachute Anthropology?

Article excerpt

Parachute Anthropology? Hannerz, Ulf. Foreign News: Exploring the World of Foreign Correspondents (Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, Anthony T. Carter, ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. 272 pp.

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."

-Polonius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Foreign News is an "ecology of reporting," a study of the lives and cultural worlds of international correspondents. Hannerz makes the backstage practices and logistics of the press comprehensible, and as such this book is useful reading for news consumers and scholars. Based on the author's Henry Lewis Morgan Lectures, this work is especially useful to anthropologists interested in pursuing media ethnography. Hannerz raises important questions concerning the nature of journalistic practice and the role social networks and cultural identities play in newswork. While not completely discounting the influence of institutional forces and disciplines, the author is more focused on the networks and trajectories of actual reporters as they navigate the cultural terrain of international newswork. As such, the book provides not only a global overview of press practice, but also an excellent primer for anthropologists who are searching for more effective ways to study global news and newswork.

Foreign News demonstrates the value of anthropology in media studies. As latecomers to media studies, anthropologists must ask themselves what they can add to an already crowded field. Communication scholars, academic journalists, sociologists, cultural studies researchers and others have dedicated much more time and effort to media. What can an anthropologist add? Hannerz answers that question, at least implicitly. Anthropologists are concerned with people, places, and cultural processes. This book works best when illustrating the life experiences and narratives of actual reporters in specific places. While sister disciplines tend to focus on large scale, institutional structures and/or news content (often via quantitative content analysis), anthropologists take it as their task to deal with what Malinowski referred to as "the imponderabelia of actual life" (Malinowski 1922:18). Although less successful when attempting to explicate institutional influences or news content, Hannerz successfully relates the life stories and attitudes of individual reporters and in the process paints an effective portrait of journalistic practice. The sorts of stories which might be discounted as tangents or anecdotes in more formalistic disciplines are placed in the foreground of Foreign News, providing rich ethnographic detail and a meaningful understanding of the complexities of international presswork.

A Tale of Two Professions

Foreign News raises several important questions concerning anthropological methodology. Hannerz refers to his method as "studying sideways" (3-4), something that is neither traditional subaltern studies nor "studying up" (Nader 1972). It is an accurate description of this work and a useful label to consider for academic ethnographers studying journalists, lawyers, or other salaried professionals. However, the use of the term also lets us know that this book is a study of a particular subset of journalists, performed by an anthropologist of a particular status. Journalism is a highly stratified and specialized profession, containing within its ranks everyone from the local fixer (on-site journalists who arrange interviews and other logistics for the world traveling press) to managing editors of the prestige press. Hannerz has selected journalists who are closer to the high-status end of the spectrum. It is the privileged correspondent indeed who finds herself formally employed as a staff correspondent for the sort of print institutions that can afford to maintain foreign bureaus. Whether "spiraling" (advancing up the professional food chain) or even occupying a staff correspondent position for a long period in the same location, these are plum jobs that many domestic reporters, fixers, stringers, and other less enfranchised journalists tend to covet. …

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