Connected: Engagements with Media
Gillespie, Marie, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
MARCUS, GEORGE E. (ed.). Connected: engagements with media (Late Editions 3). viii, 442 pp., illus., map, bibliogrs. Chicago, London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996. [pounds]51.95 (cloth), [pounds]17.95 (paper)
MARCUS, GEORGE E. (ed.) Cultural producers in perilous states: editing events, documenting change (Late Editions 4). viii, 408 pp., illus., map, bibliogr. Chicago, London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997. [epsilon]51.95 (cloth), [epsilon]18.75 paper)
By the year 2000, six hefty volumes will have appeared in this 'Late Editions' series of fin-de- siecle meditations edited by George Marcus. The series is the product of an ongoing experiment in research and writing, with cultural and political activist intentions, by a group of new and established academics at and around Rice University, where Marcus is professor. It is powered by a hyper-anxiety about the epistemological and political crisis that has shaken anthropology, though perhaps rather less than it has shaken Marcus in particular, in recent years.
The third and fourth volumes in the series deal with transformations in communication and information technologies and the varied uses of these technologies by cultural producers and political activists. Connected sets out to explore appropriation of the Internet and video by political activists and the 'oppositional and alternative spaces' that they open up. Many of the chapters go beyond the standard utopian/dystopian speculations about the emancipatory potential of these media and provide insights into practices. A fairly nuanced picture emerges of the limitations, ambivalences and contradictions inherent in how people use these media. It is desirable (and all too rare) for research in media anthropology to integrate political economy and anthropological perspectives (something that Marcus himself has advocated in previous work), yet amazingly little attention is paid in these books to the political economy of media. There are, however, interviews with Paul Sagan, managing editor of 'News on Demand' at Ti me Warner, and with a couple of science journalists working for Scientific American, which afford some insights into institutional processes. Nor does the fact that cyberspace remains a predominantly white, male, middle-class space seem unduly to concern many of the contributors. Nevertheless we are introduced to a wide range of media practices which contribute to new community and cultural formations that are of major contemporary concern but not, as yet, well documented or addressed elsewhere in anthropology. Uses of electronic communications by very diverse groups feature: from diaspora Tibetans to Hasidic Jews for political and religious purposes (the chapters by Kirschenblatt-Gimblett and McLagan); from female AIDS activists, to a one-woman show using ethnographically inspired documentary drama techniques to deepen understanding of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, from the victims of Bhopal and those campaigning to establish the legal and organizational structures for the prevention of similar accidents, to t he use of the soap opera form in promoting democracy education in South Africa; from graffiti artists in New York to cyber-quilt-makers. All these chapters explore ways in which such activist projects may produce 'communities based not on contiguity but on connectivity' (p. 23).
Most of the pieces in Connected are based in the United States, where both video and Internet are widely accessible and where media consumers are increasingly thinking of themselves as media producers. In contrast, the journalists, film-makers and artists and public intellectuals who are the subjects of Cultural producers in perilous states live in places of 'limited resources, dominated economies, recently transformed polities with uncertain futures' (p. …