Alessandro Duranti on his edited volume, Rethinking Politeness with Henri Bergson

Interview with Q

The following dialogue is a transcript of an interview by a member of our staff (who will remain anonymous) with Alessandro Duranti, editor of Rethinking Politeness with Henri Bergson, (Oxford University Press, 2022), a collection of chapters inspired by a lecture on politeness given by the famous French philosopher Henri Bergson to high school students in the late nineteenth century.   

Q:        Why “politeness” again? And why this time with Bergson? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Politeness was a theme that captured the imagination of linguists in the 1970s but has been somehow forgotten over the // last couple of decades … 

Q:        Speaking of forgetting, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce you.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Don’t worry, I assumed this would be informal. 

Q:        Not really. It’s an interview after all. If you are familiar with Conversation Analysis… 

Alessandro Duranti:    Well, then, I should have thanked you for inviting me. 

Q:        Did I? 

Alessandro Duranti:    You mean I invited myself?   

Q:        It’s okay. I don’t mind people being a bit pushy. After all, writing a book is a big deal. 

Alessandro Duranti:    True. 

Q:        Even though actually … you didn’t really write the book, you edited it, didn’t you?  

Alessandro Duranti:    uh, I- I- yes, I edited it, // but- 

Q:        That’s what I thought. 

Alessandro Duranti:    I- I also wrote a chapter and the introduction.  

Q:        Ok, then please go ahead and again apologies for going straight into the first question without formalities. I should have been more polite.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Well, that’s one way of being polite, which Bergson called “politeness of manners.”  

Q:        You mean there is more than one kind of politeness? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Yes, according to Bergson there are three kinds.  

Q:        Not surprisingly. The French seem to like sets of three.  Liberté, fraternité, egalité.  

Alessandro Duranti:    That was actually Bergson’s point.  

Q:        What? 

Alessandro Duranti:    That his three kinds of politeness match the three key concepts of the French Republic.  

Q:        Is that what attracted you to the essay? This kind of parallelism? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No. I’m not sure the parallelism works. What attracted me to Bergson’s lecture was // that- 

Q:        By the way, is the lecture included in the volume? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Yes! It is translated for the first time in English.  

Q:        That’s a coup.  Did you translate it? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No, no. I was fortunate to find a really good translator who happens to be an expert on Bergson and his times, Mahalia Gayle. She contributed a chapter on the aristocratic origins of the modern French notion of politesse, which she calls “political” because it is still grounded in privilege and inequality.   

Q:        So the book is mostly about French politeness? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No, only in part. Let’s see. There is a chapter by Aliyah Morgenstern about how French girls in Parisian middle-class families are currently socialized to be polite and another one by Graham Jones based on a popular comic strip by a Franco-Syrian artist who gives vocal and gestural expression to two Black teenagers discussing in the métro their moral outrage toward the lack of politeness shown by their school principal.  

Q:        You mean readers will also find something about impoliteness in the book …  

Alessandro Duranti:    For sure.  In another chapter, Terra Edwards writes about her experience hanging out with DeafBlind people who have developed a tactile system of communication that when applied in the presence of sighted people can easily appear impolite or aggressive.   

Q:        You mean there’s more in the book than the usual face-to-face communication … 

Alessandro Duranti:    Indeed, we have hand-to-hand, hand-to-neck, and more.  

Q:        Fascinating. Well, thank you so much. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Are we already done? Aren’t you going to ask me if there is anything about politeness and gender? 

Q:        Should I? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Well, as I was trying to say at the beginning before I was interrupted … 

Q:        I’m sure our readers will appreciate the polite use of the passive voice to avoid blaming me directly for interrupting you.  

Alessandro Duranti:    You are still using the term “polite” in a very narrow way.  

Q:        I’m open to other possibilities.  

Alessandro Duranti:    As I was trying to say, the linguistic study of politeness started in the 1970s. Robin Lakoff was a pioneer in the field … 

Q:        You mean the “women-are-more-polite-than-men” craze later debunked by the work of Elinor Ochs in Madagascar and Candy Goodwin in Philadelphia? 

Alessandro Duranti:    As a matter of fact, Judith Irvine wrote a chapter on the difficulty of adapting a model developed in one society to another. Bergson was speaking about politeness to male students in an elite high school in Paris …   

Q:        Is this a renewed rejection of the idea that there are universals of politeness? Are we going to read again about counterexamples to the Brown and Levinson model, based on Grice’s maxims and Goffman’s notion of “face work”? 

Alessandro Duranti:    No, there is very little about that. What all essays share is the willingness to rethink about politeness without having to go back to the strategic perspective of earlier accounts.    

Q:        How is that possible? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Because Bergson was a proto-phenomenologist who celebrated intuition and the temporal unfolding of human experience.  He even lectured about the soul.  

Q:        Can you give us a hint about how his view of politeness is different? 

Alessandro Duranti:    He invites us to go beyond manners and protocol and think of politeness as virtue, an idea discussed by Kamala Russell, who wrote about everyday life of Muslim women in Dhofar, Oman.  She shows that what might be glossed as polite behavior in the context of welcoming an unexpected visitor, it is better understood as the result of a spiritual and embodied disposition to avoid an excessive concern for judgment of others and assume instead a concern for one’s soul.  

Q:        An embodied disposition. That’s different from a strategy. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Definitely.  

Q:        It sounds like the politeness discussed in this volume includes ethics and religion.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Yes, it does.   Ethics is in fact the focus of Jason Throop’s chapter, where he retraces the professional and personal relation between Bergson and William James.  They shared the view of experience as a moving stream of activity and applied it to a notion of a creative morality. 

Q:        How does language come into this? 

Alessandro Duranti:    That needs to be figured out because Bergson was skeptical of the ability of language to capture the flow of experience.  As Bill Hanks discusses in his chapter, Bergson thought of language as a static and constraining classificatory system.   

Q:        That’s quite common for most philosophers. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Hanks reminds us that Bergson didn’t seem to know about indexicality and that deictics – words like I, you, here, now, this, and so on – do something different from representing ideas.  They extend the use of language to the sensual perception of the here-and-now, allowing for meanings that exceed the boundaries of pre-given semantic categories.  

Q:        That makes sense. Uhm. Well, thank you.  You have covered quite a lot.

Alessandro Duranti:    Wait. Aren’t you going to ask me if we have anything on new media? 

Q:        Anything on computer-mediated interaction?  

Alessandro Duranti:    I am glad you asked.  Keith Murphy came to the 2019 AAA session where most of the papers were first presented and got inspired to write about the implicit model of politeness that computer programmers adopt in writing software.   

Q:        And what is that? 

Alessandro Duranti:    The computer is meant to serve users who are used to being served. It is a hierarchical relationship mediated by a narrow kind of politeness.  Bergson wanted the students to think beyond polite formulas. He spoke of sympathy towards others and introduced the concepts of “politeness of mind” and “politeness of the heart” …  

Q:        That sounds very romantic.  

Alessandro Duranti:    I would say empathetic and anticipatory of the needs of another human being.   

Q:        That sounds different from what we are used to.  

Alessandro Duranti:    Precisely! Politeness is often defined in terms of rights and obligations or compensating for indirect speech acts like “May I have the salt?” 

Q:        A famously threatening act. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Scarier than one would think.  

Q:        Do you mind if we end now?   

Alessandro Duranti:    I hope I didn’t impose.  

Q:        It wasn’t bad.  

Alessandro Duranti:    I enjoyed it. 

Q:        Really? 

Alessandro Duranti:    Kind of.  

Q:        C’mon. 

Alessandro Duranti:    Ok, it was fun.  

Q:        What kind of politeness is that? 

Alessandro Duranti:    You have to read the book.  

Cat Tebaldi takes the page 99 test for her dissertation

My dissertation looked at how far-right narratives circulate through the ensemble of alternatives to public schools that conservative and far-right groups use to educate— homeschools,  far-right online courses, social media and femininity guidebooks. It asks how female submission and white male heroism are transformed into facts, and how they are taught through creative and supposedly natural pedagogy.

My Page 99 discusses how the far-right take up left-wing critiques of public schools and alternative pedagogical practices, investing them with ideologies of a putative natural order which sustains inequality. It begins like this:

The far-right shares with the left an opposition to standardized testing, which it uses to characterize equality as dull bureaucracy, corporate cultural marxism, or trans-totalitarianism. It also borrows from many progressive alternatives to standardized testing; the white nationalist Ayla Stewart advocates nature and arts centered methods of teaching we commonly associate with the left and celebrates Waldorf schools for love of culture (no prizes for guessing whose). Waldorf schools are valued for their German origins and embrace of theories of a spiritual Rassenkampf or an inner racial evolution (Staudemeier 1998). However, the far right also embrace nature based learning, celebrating sending their little boys out for sticks and exploring bugs and leaves – this is the kind of active, discovery based, real life curriculum father of democratic education Dewey or my hippie brother would love. In natural pedagogy, playful childhood is deeply entangled with beliefs about human nature and the natural world in a deep pedagogy of inequality. For White nationalists parents, nature is a celebration of the natural order, including differences of age, but also race and gender, while Christians call for nature as god’s ordered liberty — both frame nature as building hierarchy and masculinity. Outdoor education has long been a pedagogy of desirable forms of white manhood, originating out of anxieties of middle class white weakness in the face of industrialization and the increased swarthiness of immigrants (Bederman 1998). Early school reformers thought young affluent boys needed a period of “wild” education to give them a virility that could withstand the decadence and effeminacy of civilization, something echoed in current discussion of “the war on boys” in public schools, which are dumbing down, demasculinizing, eating away at boys’ virility in ways Victorians would understand.

 This comes from my second findings chapter, where  the right transforms the ideal woman I analyze in chapter one into nature’s teacher, a sacred loving mother who is threatened by – or who battles- bureaucratic, egalitarian public schools. It looks at how femininity and family shape anti-school discourses that animate right-wing anti-state politics and far-right conspiracies as they teach their children to be “nature’s aristocracy.” In some ways I don’t think it is representative of my dissertation; there are no bad sex jokes or semiotics. Also, the focus is more on the pedagogies and ideologies of home education rather than on homeschool media as the public, politicized performance of national motherhood.

While it has less of my angry (auto)ethnographic writing, finally, it reflects how my work draws on my own experience — a seemingly left-wing family moving rightward– and with the broader question of how porous the borders between left and right can be. How do these movements and overlaps happen? Is it a question of shared practices, tastes? of shared critiques? Or, more troublingly, of shared ideals of gender and tradition?

Where I find similarities with both my dissertation and my current research interest is in the interrogations of nature and naturalization, as sites for positive experiences of terrible ideas—here how inequality is re-semiotized as individualism, as desirable forms of masculinity, pleasant childhoods or iconoclastic knowledge. My current project, granola nazis and neoliberal mystics, looks at this re-semiotization of hierarchy in the world of spiritual and natural wellness, sites where fascist forms of personhood are shaped, circulated, and sold in online courses like the vibe mindset where you “manifest your desired reality”. This is what really matters to me in research on right wing semiotics, how it makes inequality into meaning, desire, fun.

Also, I really hated arcadia nature camp and that year everyone was a lumbersexual.

Catherine Tebaldi. 2022. “Alt-Education: Gender, language, and education across the right.” University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Phd dissertation.

Ashlee Dauphinais takes the page 99 test

My dissertation has been a deeply personal project from the beginning. It would make sense, then, that page 99 finds me in the middle of a section titled “My Role as Researcher” in the middle of Chapter 2—Methodology. The beginning of the page reads:

“[I] was able to participate in and co-construct relationships in a natural manner, sharing personal stories from my own diagnosis and life experiences, speeding along the process of developing relationships with participants.”

My dissertation examines the linguistic and social practices of women in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with an intersex chromosomal condition known as Turner Syndrome. I share the same intersex embodiment as my participants, being diagnosed at age 10. I was initially hesitant to be overly personal in this section, afraid of engaging in excessive “naval gazing”. Without this disclosure, however, a huge methodological part of my work would be missing. During sixteen months of in-person fieldwork and five years of virtual fieldwork, I developed close friendships with many of my collaborators, which occasionally resulted in my professional and personal worlds colliding. What would it mean for me to be a publicly disclosed intersex scholar? Will people think less of me for including such personal details in my work? Am I letting my own personal experiences color my interpretation? On page 99, I cite Galey Modan and her 2016 article about ethnographer-informant relationships:

“Virtual ethnography and incorporating new media technology also allows for an intermingling of personal and professional worlds, blurring boundaries and intensifying processes that were already part of ethnographic processes (Modan, 2016)”.

This blurring of boundaries is something that I continue to ponder, especially as Modan notes that social media may have the power to “balance out power relations, because it can provide informants the opportunity to turn the gaze on us when we’re not aware of them. As someone who works in both virtual and in-person spaces with active online participants, I certainly feel the need to ensure my work does justice by them.

As I re-read the final words of the page, I begin to shift uncomfortably in my seat:

“Factors that continuously presented themselves as important markers of distinction throughout my research included: holding citizenship of the United States, being categorized as white or light-skinned, having resources and connections from large universities and governmental institutions within the United States and Brazil, being a multilingual native English speaker, my capacity for domestic and international travel…”

Seeing my laundry list of demographic attributes laid bare, especially without the further contextualization, makes me wonder if the fears embedded in the questions above are all-too-true. Laid bare like this, it reads a bit like census data. I admit, I initially hoped that page 99 would contain some lovely ethnographic prose and thick description of the women I worked with. I feel it is fitting, though, that page 99 would ultimately reveal the intimate, personal nature of my dissertation, and push me to continue to reflect on my place within this larger community of Turner Syndrome women that I find myself in, both personally and professionally.


Modan, Gabriella. (2016). Writing the Relationship: Ethnographer-Informant Interactions in the New Media Era. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 26(1), 98–107.

Ashlee Dauphinais Civitello completed her PhD in Hispanic Linguistics in 2021. She is an Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literature at the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is currently preparing a book manuscript that builds upon her dissertation titled Butterfly Warriors: Language and the Intersex Body in Brazil.

Inês Signorini on her edited book, Language Practices of Cyberhate

In an interview published in July 2021 (, the North American historian Benjamin A. Cowan (University of California in San Diego) points to Brazil as a “critical locus” for understanding the phenomenon of the so-called New Right and its unfoldings in contemporary times. Although it is a phenomenon with transnational roots and reach, the importance of Brazil is, according to Cowan, precisely in offering “an essential platform” for understanding the “cultural, moral, and political agendas that are part of our current reality”.

The papers that make up the volume Language Practices of Cyberhate in Unfolding Global and Local Realities deal with the challenge of exploring this platform from a linguistic-discursive perspective, focusing on the production and dissemination of hate speech as a relevant feature of current right-winged agendas. For this, a recent critical period was analyzed by researchers from public universities in five states in the Center, East and South of Brazil: the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, when official policies of denial of the pandemic were devised and implemented by the extreme-right federal government in power since 2018. Concurrent with these denialist policies, the country was invaded by infodemic disinformation, misinformation, and fake news flowing from national and transnational sources. Building on the findings of the existing literature on the relationship between populist authoritarianism, radical right, and digital infodemia, the analysis of the empirical data collected during the pandemic sought to apprehend the dynamics, formal configurations, and political and ideological role of the hate speech that gained prominence in this period through a linguistic and discursive lens.

Thus, the empirical data on the dissemination of topic-dependent hate speech in the information networks that drove the discussion in the public arena were gathered around two main aspects well documented by the authors. The first aspect was the proliferation of hate speech on social media and its reverberations in mainstream media and public life, especially during the vaccine crisis, produced by official anti-vax campaigns aimed at minimizing the economic effects of fighting the pandemic, in spite of the alarming increase in the number of contaminations and deaths nationwide. The premises that supported the investigation of this aspect were that for extremist activism, the internet is the battlefield, and that the severity of hate speech lies in the degree of its propagation through cyberspace and beyond – a phenomenon directly linked to the formation of hate echo chambers, already described in the literature on the dynamics of digital networks, particularly social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

`        The second aspect observed, documented and analyzed by the authors was the reaction to the dynamics of hate spreading by individuals or networked communities, aiming to neutralize cyber-attacks and their effects on people’s lives and public opinion. Greater emphasis was given to linguistic and iconographic manifestations of agency and resilience of those who are most vulnerable to hateful content in the period, especially women – frequent targets of hateful discourses aligned with control, hierarchy, use of force and discriminatory values. Indeed, as in other parts of the world, including the so-called Global North, women and minorities of marginalized identities based on race, class, age, sexual orientation have been often particularly vulnerable to hate speech. Similarly, women who are more politically visible for being engaged in feminist, human rights and other social movements have also been frequent targets of coordinated cyber-attacks. The increasingly autonomous and market-oriented technological modus operandi of cyber campaigns was beyond the scope of the studies, but it offers a possible avenue for future research into how this variable affects strategies for dealing with current feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, frustration and despair, or for purposefully engaging through collective action in creating, articulating, and maintaining efforts to support or change social power structures on communication.

`        Hence, one of the authors’ main concerns was to investigate relevant, measurable, detailed, and thorough examples of how these two aspects shed light on the new linguistic-discursive and iconographic configurations given to disputes around socially conservative and progressive ideas; around contemporary geopolitics and anti-communism; and around moral issues historically addressed by conservative political and religious agendas. Another concern was to show how political power has committed itself to perform a political manifestation of religious feelings and identities, particularly drawing on transnational Christian conservatism and national religious fundamentalisms, and conflating them with a perceived threat of left-wing so-called political correctness, feminism, and gender rights. Therefore, the extremely misogynistic views and anti-feminist language used in political disputes in the public arena, particularly on social media, were also examined.

As a general result, the studies compiled in the volume found that the glocal configurations of hateful discourses and practices were constituted by the affordances of the media and their algorithmic dynamics of circulation and replication of messages (text, image or sound), very well exploited by state representatives and their enablers and followers/supporters, along with the intricate connections between local practices, especially those involving public performances on social media, and the translocal contemporary global flows of written and audiovisual materials addressing socio-political, religious, and economic issues. It is important to note, however, that individuals engaged in a dispute or networked conversation were not always aware of the importance and scope of these connections in their discourses and actions. Similarly, the glocal configurations of resistance and confrontation to cyber-attacks and hate speech were found to mobilize an amalgam of resources – linguistic-discursive, socio-semiotic, and technological – embedded in linguistic and cultural practices whose origins and reach were not always identified or made explicit by their agents.

Interestingly, the concepts of glocality and glocalization that inspired the research design were crucial in addressing these issues, as they frame the transnational and transcultural significance of local disputes, illuminating their relational and fluid elements of complex causality, contrary to the representations suggested by the contemporary right-wing nationalist framework. Furthermore, the glocal frame also offers a more nuanced view of the palimpsestic nature of contemporary post-colonial contexts, such as Brazil, by highlighting fundamental linguistic-discursive and socio-semiotic mechanisms of production and circulation of meanings at different time-space scales. While the studies that comprise the volume are primarily concerned with cyber hate, they provide insightful data and directions for future research into the role of a specific tangle of dynamic and heterogeneous forces that interact in confronting common enemies designed by political polarization and populist conservatism. Understanding this issue has reached critical importance in countries of the so-called Global South. In the case of Brazil, this is also an urgent issue, as the next presidential elections are scheduled for November 2022, when the far-right government will run for re-election.

Patricia G. Lange discusses The Routledge Companion to Media Anthropology

Media is fundamentally about connection. Around the world, life is being lived through mediated artifacts and technologies. Its pervasiveness invites numerous questions for understanding human experience today. For example, how might we disentangle perceptions of our lives’ events from the media through which we experience them? Is it even possible or desirable to hope for such disentanglement? How are the politics of the current moment reified or challenged by currently available media? What should we expect from the emerging technologies of tomorrow, and what should we demand from their design and implementation? As media anthropologists we recognize that understanding contemporary interaction involves analyzing what media is and does for our encounters and societies, and how it impacts what some argue should be a shared reality in an environment under threat.

The new edited volume, The Routledge Companion to Media Anthropology (Routledge, September 29, 2022), collectively tackles provocative questions that revolve around the relationship between media as exchange and issues of inequality, social change, identity, migration, mobility, relationships, and politics. We define media as that which connects people to each other, and to systems and technologies. Early in the volume’s initial conceptualization, we as editors agreed to invoke an intentionally broad definition to invite inclusive reflection on connections between individual interactions and larger socio-cultural systems. Our cover playfully depicts a robot and a television hardly able to process each other, an image which reflects the ongoing confrontation between different forms of media and their changing relationships to each other. We are delighted that the image connotes the wide range of media we set out to explore, including TV, radio, newspapers, gaming, social media, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

When initiating the project, we were confronted with a daunting task. How do we organize a staggering amount of research and scholars in a single volume? Part of our inspiration to create the volume was that over the last two decades, numerous significant and dramatic changes deeply impacted the landscape of the field. Although it is possible to organize such a volume in many ways, we elected to divide the terrain into three major parts, “Histories,” “Approaches,” and “Thematic Considerations.” In the “Histories” section, we invited long-term scholars in the field to reflect on the origins of media anthropology as a discipline and how their own work helped establish its terrain. Through these chapters, our volume provides a rich grounding in major themes that helped launch and subsequently coalesce the field. These chapters trace how media anthropology developed as technologies and communication systems changed, and how anthropological studies of indigenous media greatly helped to consolidate the field in the 1990s.

In the “Approaches” section, we invoke the literal definition of the word “approach,” to mean “to come nearer to something.” We intended the material in this section to come nearer to understanding what media actually means and does in specific cultural contexts. We elected to focus on how media may be seen as a type of “Infrastructure,” or may be analyzed in terms of its “Materialities,” its commensurate “Practices,” or in terms of “Interpretations.” Although particular media cannot be contained within single categories, this framework nevertheless proved useful for understanding media’s complex dimensions, as well as the opportunities and complications that ensue from its use in supporting social life. The third part, “Thematic Considerations,” focuses on themes that are pertinent in our current moment in the 21st century, including, “Relationships,” “Social Inequality and Marginalization,” “Identities and Social Change,” “Political Conservatism,” “Surveillance,” and “Emerging Technologies.” Together, these chapters collectively draw attention to how anthropological theories and methods identify inequities and their sources, including old and new forms of marginalization, their causes, and potential inspirations for their resolution.

As we worked through the volume, we realized that a work such as this may be organized in numerous ways. We therefore chose to supplement the volume with an Appendix that identifies crucial themes that cut across sections. Such themes include: “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” “Failures,” “Games and Gaming,” “Global South,” “Labor and Entrepreneurship,” “LGBTQ+,” “Methods,” “Media Types,” and the specific “Countries” that are represented in the volume. We wanted the volume to serve as a useful teaching tool, and the Appendix is intended to support courses that engage with particular subjects. The volume ambitiously draws from over 40 contributors researching media in 25 countries, namely: Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Namibia, Nepal, The Netherlands, Peru, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, Trinidad, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Given the breadth of media scholarship, a key goal for our volume was to consider diversity from a number of perspectives. Evocative of media’s connective connotations, the volume itself mediates between different research projects across time and space, and between disciplinary fields, ethnicities of contributors, and research generations. We are deeply grateful to our forebears who carved out a space for dialogue and research in this field, and we wished to continue the conversation. Since the earliest volumes of media anthropology emerged at the turn of the millennium, much has changed in the types of communication technologies available, and the research questions they inspire. Whereas earlier volumes focused on mass media and issues of representation and interpretation, today’s widespread availability of media invites exploration about the materiality, technologies, and emergent practices that are not only widely accessible in terms of media production, but also influence myriad interactions and perceptions about the world.

We as editors did not want to see the volume become a mere repository for prior scholarly work. In addition, given that many fields involve analyzing media, we specifically wished to emphasize the contribution of anthropological theories and ethnographic methods. Therefore, in order to participate in our project, each contributor was asked to explicitly engage with new findings on their media research, thus bringing a new intervention into the field in our volume. Contributors were also asked to directly trace how anthropological theories and methods contributed to their insights. The volume thus contains intriguing ideas and reflections on new anthropological methods and approaches. Given the fine methods handbooks already available, we elected not to focus on methods for our volume. Nevertheless, the invitation to incorporate anthropological approaches produced new insights in method, in areas such as updates on longitudinal research, the idea of money as media, photomedia as anthropology, and content as practice, to cite a few examples.  

To offer a plurality of voices and perspectives, the volume connects past scholarship to future research. We invited chapters from up-and-coming scholars with exciting new projects and research questions. We also incorporated chapters covering new technologies on the horizon. A section on “Emerging Technologies” deals with media that have not yet been integrated into daily life, but are quickly gaining traction. These chapters take a critical eye on how technologies such as augmented reality, virtual realities, and algorithms might be reimagined to serve varied populations. The volume engages in new debates in thorny areas such as surveillance, algorithmic justice, and the ongoing battle for mediated truth.

Today’s research questions in media anthropology frequently revolve around the disruptions of media within larger media ecologies. Rather than produce definitive findings that can be generalized across fieldwork projects, scholarly areas, and genres, the volume instead makes connections between perspectives—some of them opposing—thus enlivening debates in the field. Not all contributors—or we suspect, readers—will necessarily agree on interpretations, meanings, or impacts of specific mediated acts. For example, media anthropologists are often reluctant to engage in “effects” claims, given the many factors that inevitably contribute to social change and worldviews. Our volume tackles this debate head-on with chapters that provide not only discussions of effects within particular field sites, but also invite collective reflection on making claims about media’s impact in the current era of widespread media production and availability. While media is one factor in a constellation of cultural and social factors that shape our experiences and perspectives, at the same time, close readings of many studies—past and present—reveal that exploring the effects of media continues to form a central and defining element of many of our research projects.  

We as editors envisioned a volume that was balanced and circumspect with regard to media’s efficacy. Thus, the subject of media failure is also discussed in several chapters that sensitively explore the instances in which attempts at inclusiveness and connection through media do not serve the very populations that are meant to benefit. Criticality is central to our volume, including analyzing how media is deployed, and who benefits from it. The volume opens a space for sharing differing perspectives on complex and nuanced phenomena. For example, a topic as provocative as surveillance is tackled from several perspectives, including an analysis of the harm of algorithmic, top-down surveillance and its roots in bureaucracy, a motivator that is not always taken into consideration in analyses of algorithms, especially outside of anthropology. The volume also offers forthright exploration of culturally accepted forms of lateral surveillance in religious communities interacting on social media, as well as research on how certain forms of surveillance may serve as plausible pathways to being seen and counted in marginalized communities such as LGBTQ+ groups.

The volume provides informative and timely analysis of the mediated politics of the current moment, including studies of political conservatism. While the field in the 1990s focused on how media served revolutionary agendas, our volume brings together several scholars who study groups that aim to promote so-called traditional values and ideas. Several contributors in the volume discuss dynamics such as strategic ignorance, or our current crisis of facts, specifically analyzing how ignorance is no accident or result of educational lack, but is rather strategically produced for political ends. Processes of supposed spreadibility and symbolic bricolage assist certain political agendas that ultimately yield racist and exclusionary discourses that demand to be addressed.

We are grateful to all the contributors for providing depth through detailed ethnographic case studies, as well as breath across numerous media, topics, geographical areas, and disciplines. Media is messy and complicated, and the process of analyzing it benefits from the sharing of multiple perspectives, including the many related disciplines—such as media studies, cultural studies, communication, and science and technology studies—that have both informed media anthropology and been influenced by its perspectives and findings.

Our volume mediates connections between the past and the future, between long-term scholarship and new research in this area, between disciplines, and between readers. We recognize that some readers have been researching and teaching media anthropology for quite some time, while others may be just coming to the field. We welcome readers who may be approaching this subject for the first time, as media not only becomes widely available but is increasingly central and frankly unavoidable to address if we as anthropologists wish to understand interaction in contemporary contexts worldwide. We see this volume as an active and ongoing nexus of connection, and we invite commentary and further dialogue on this most fascinating field.

Ratan Kumar Roy on his book, Television in Bangladesh

Interview by Sharonee Dasgupta Audiences/Roy/p/book/9780367354459

Sharonee Dasgupta: The book starts from the question trying to understand why some news is permanently carved in people’s minds, whereas most of it is forgotten. What are your thoughts on this?

Ratan Kumar Roy: Since its inception, the media has communicated ideologies and ideas. For example, immunization in the South Asian context, for which the broadcasting media was used widely. Some slogans became so popular that people still remember them even though it has not been in circulation for decades. Such as, for Tuberculosis treatment awareness building TVC, a catchy Bengali slogan was used: “Jokkha Hole Rokkha Nai, Ei Kothar Bhitti Nai” means “It is baseless that you won’t survive if affected by Tuberculosis”. This is one way of looking at it that some news continues to remain in viewers’ memory.

But a more in-depth engagement with viewers helps us to understand that there is a collective effort to make a particular news story popular. For instance, the story about a teenage girl Oishee Rahman who killed her parents became sensational. Still people bring this reference while talking about the adverse effects of modernization among the new generation. Viewers who remember and discuss Oishee do not necessarily keep up with the case and related news stories, but they continue to remember the story itself. This made me interested to explore what people do with news rather than focusing on what news does to people. This may allow us to understand media culture beyond a power-impact formula. A power-hegemony framework of studying audiences necessarily leads one to see the viewers as duped and helpless. But we must remember that the impact is seldom one way. And more importantly we should pay attention to the meaning making process where the true construction of meaning is a comprehensive process and consequence of the collective actions by the media professionals.

In addressing the question of remembering some news and forgetting the rest, I bring a media practices approach, instead of going into memory and psychology. What people remember and what they forget depends a lot on their socio-cultural context, including their taste and preferences. The influence of consuming news content, reflecting upon, remembering and forgetting depends on the socioeconomic backgrounds of the viewers. A media practices approach enables us to fathom the complex set of practices within the TV news culture where we move beyond the linear progression of production-circulation-reception and discover the hermeneutics of viewers’ engagement with news content.

Sharonee Dasgupta: In that case, why are some politically crucial events or socially significant issues not remembered by the audiences who remember seemingly minor incidents for long? Also, how are socio-cultural context and audiences’ viewing practices co-related?

Ratan Kumar Roy: Indeed, both the questions that you asked are co-related! For instance, viewers remember a news story of a four-year-old child named Jihad trapped in an abandoned pipeline or students protesting in Dhaka’s Street. Both the cases have social significance to the viewers. Mothers in the small town became cautious about their school-going kids since they remember the death of Jihad telecasted on news bulletins. Similarly in the small towns, students have emulated the performative aspects of protest that they saw on the television news. Television has a curatorial and exhibition function related to pedagogy, through which the viewers often learn and remember. But it was evident in the ethnographic location that the process does not follow a linear scheme. Schoolgirls protesting in a small-town referred the earlier television news broadcasts of protests from different cities and demands. These are some clues of how the audiences not only remember certain news but also, how they implement in their everyday life.

The popularity of English wrestling show WWE in rural Bengali communities can be brought here to make better sense of the socio-historical context. In the time of global cultural flow, the viewers may have gained the quality of multiple dwelling. By multiple dwelling I mean in the time of globalized media content flow, viewers often move along with the shows/content they watch of tv. Maybe they are sitting in Dhaka but while watching a travel show they get a feeling of walking in a different city but there is always a cultural logic and legacy behind their current social (media) practices. There must be a historical trajectory of the current practice. The wrestling television game shows are not alien to the viewers of Nilphamari, a Northern district-town of Bangladesh adjacent to Indian border, where I have conducted the ethnography among the television viewers. For the viewers of television in Nilphamari, boxing shows on a fuzzy-screened TV monitor were central point of attraction during the early days. They can recall the shows of Muhammad Ali, a heavyweight champion of the 1960s and 1970s. Current avidity towards wrestling shows among audiences should not be considered abrupt and ahistorical media event when we consider the evidence of viewing familiarity with boxing in the 1980s.

It might be misleading to say that audiences do not remember politically or socially significant events if they are telecasted with care. In the context of South Asia, the way political news has been covered and broadcasted is simply pathetic. In some cases, it is evidently biased and partisan, while in other cases the viewers can see through the fact of controlled regulatory mechanism for political news. The depthless and hyperbolic nature of political news coverage often made the viewers unsatisfied, disenchanted, and irritated. News bulletins lack intensity, news reports lack the quality of investigative journalism. Also, the dependance on soundbites from politicians or policymakers do not help the viewers to gain proper information. That’s why based on the empirical evidence, I argued that the interlinked phenomena of depthless news, disenchanted viewers and a desire for fantasy constitute the nature of contemporary TV news culture in South Asia.

Sharonee Dasgupta: You have also suggested the category of hujug or hype as a key characteristic of TV news culture of Bangladesh. How do you utilize the idea of hujug in understanding the spread of Fake News in our media landscape?

Ratan Kumar Roy: Hujug is a key category to explain and understand TV news practices in South Asia. It is an emic term that means hype or mania. TV news channels tend to put viewers into a hujug by creating rage and urgency. The tendency of adding extra significance to some selected events or issues and creating a vibe around that news item plays a big role in such crazes. Collectively, the media participants create a condition where a particular story overwhelmingly controls news circulation. Bengali poet and modern Indian thinker Rabindranath Tagore’s explanation of hujug fits well to make sense of the TV news culture. To him, hujug is something that might not be deep but extremely flashy, it has to be associated with dancing and making one dance, it requires collective tumult, and it is all about spreading sensation rather than significance in its true sense. The operating of hujug helps create a climate of significance even when there is none. Satellite television news succeeds through a combination of liveliness, present-ness, sensation and significance. Again, the audience plays a key role in this process. In a sense, they are the real agent with the special capacity of giving rebirth to dead events. The reincarnation of events take place in the viewing process, where viewers give social meaning to the event screened on the TV.

Though the media participants get hyper and carried away by hujug, it is not something that can fully capture the spread of fake news. We need to apply another emic term gujob (rumors) to understand this dynamic. Taking the control away from TV channels and authorized news broadcasting agencies, social networking sites make the mediascapes of Bangladesh ambiguous and precarious. The digital domain enables a platform for spreading gujob where provocative, purposive, and fabricated news imageries get cultivated that are a mixture of real and fake, factual and fictious. Therefore, in the context of Bangladesh it is important to consider digital media as a prime platform for fake news circulation  producing gujob, while the mainstream TV news channels often take a position against fake news but constantly producing hujug. However, in a broader sense, characterizations of hujug and gujob help to reveal how sensationalized television materials come closer to what we might call fake news.

Sharonee Dasgupta: The key theoretical concept for your study is media ritual.There has been a long debate in classic anthropology to define ritual. In regard to media or to say television news, that is your area of study, how do you situate ritual and how that helps one to contribute theoretically?

Ratan Kumar Roy : There have been considerable scholarly engagements that associated ritual with media and suggested new innovative categories like ‘media ritual’, ‘ritualised media’, ‘ritual view of media’ etc. We need more empirical explorations for elaborating these conceptual categories better. Borrowing from Nick Couldry, I have considered media ritual as a key mechanism in reproducing the legitimacy of media at the centre of social life. Couldry defines media ritual as the formalized actions organized around key media-related categories or patterns. Media rituals enable the framing process, constitute the structural pattern of media where we live, and what we accept and/or reject in our everyday mediated lives.

We can understand the concept media rituals better by paying attention to the social significance and power of media, in Couldry’s term “the myth of mediated center”. It is a prominent center of our social system. Myth of mediated center means the mystery behind the situation that made media take a central role in our everyday social lives. Media-related factors bolster and validate the centralization process. In my empirical engagement in the context of Bangladesh television news culture, I came to understand that  appearance on television news helps individuals, or any social acts become promoted into the center of social discourses. TV news validates some social events and issues as central or pivotal. Occurrence in the real world is not sufficient to be noticed unless it is projected on television. Taking the context of the round-the-clock news channels in Bangladesh, I argued that there is a myth that persists in the media ritual: the myth of happenings. This myth makes us believe that an event is real since TV depicts it. Here again you can see the relevance of hujug. People get hyped up in relation to news broadcasted on TV, meaning they are living with sensation almost all the time. On the other hand, news professionals are involved in a routinized action of collecting, formatting, representing every bit of socio-economic-political issues in news bulletins, creating a persistent truth to be lived and believed, which is “happenings”. Media participants in Bangladesh have internalized a pattern of living with the quasi-metaphysical charm of happenings in society. It has become so integral to their existence that they develop a feeling of belonging within the plethora of nicely packaged presentations of events as seemingly more than events – “happenings”. I see a theoretical potential in this concept of “myth of happenings” where the larger practice of hujug sustains a somewhat mythicized version of newsworthy incidents called “happenings”. Media-based social collectivities are shaped and transformed around the myth of happenings.

Sharonee Dasgupta: The final question to you is about the experiences of doing television ethnography. How does one conduct television ethnography?

Ratan Kumar Roy: Since I had to focus on the interface between television news and audiences, a multisited ethnography was vital to gain a holistic view about the actions and practices of the participants and the sounds and sights of the locations where they are situated. The everydayness of viewing television, engaging with news content and constituting discourses need to be placed before the everydayness of the newsroom, journalistic practices and diverse actions related to news-making. The subjects and cases of multisited ethnography are situated and distributed variedly, and thus the need to follow the aspects and move on to multiple locations is vital. It was imperative to follow the process and practices of news-making in multiple locations and move with the people engaged in the TV news culture. While multisited ethnography has been influential in bringing depth and local perspectives, auto-ethnography, on the other hand, aided in reflecting on the cultural and social practices from the vantage point of personal experiences. Auto-ethnographic accounts don’t just highlight experiences and personal relationships to television media culture but, as Adams et al. (2017) stated ‘humanize the research by focusing on life as “lived through” in its complexities.’ My professional network as a television journalist helped provide access to the newsroom and interactions with the respondents from an insider’s perspective. A careful and critical outlook has been used to maintain the balance between experiential and experimental, viewpoints of the self and the other, and personal orientation and perspectives of the respondents to mitigate the overwhelming nature of auto-ethnography.

Entry into the field, getting access and ethical dilemma at various levels of data collection were crucial. Long-term conversation, regular chitchat over tea, and a routine visit to the mundane afternoon gatherings of people help me build trust. Media ethnographers should hone their ability to be multitasking researchers at work. We need to be ready to capture ‘on the ground perspectives’, and take multiple challenges to ‘follow the people’, ‘follow the metaphor’ and ‘follow the life’ at once.

There can be many questions posed to the researcher. But for me, above all , the question posed by the respondents remains more vital: ‘What is the point of knowing about our television viewing practice?’ This should not be taken as their resistance but rather curiosity about the practicality and effectiveness of such research. That encounter led me to bring out creative strategies for participating in social conversation and observing everyday life in general. We need to approach audiences in everyday life through long-term familiarization and intensive observation. To deal with the challenges of doing media ethnography, the most effective method is to take a break and be reflexive in every encounter with the media participants and their practices in a mediated social setting while continuing to correspond with the ethnographic sensibilities.

Finally, I reiterate the need for and importance of media ethnography in the context of South Asian media and communication research. We must acknowledge that media ethnography enables us to know and offers a unique way of knowing, qualifies us to participate and observe, simultaneously appears to be ontological and epistemological, theoretical, and methodological, and a way of researching and writing in the field of communication research in South Asia.

Rebecca Stein on her book, Screen Shots

Interview by Areeg Faisal

Areeg Faisal: Screen Shots is an ethnography of photography, cameras as colonial barometers, in the hands of a broad range of actors and institutions, including both Palestinians and Israelis. To get started, how would you describe the main argument of the Book?

Rebecca Stein: Screen Shots is the second in a two book project that studies the relationship between the Israeli military occupation and the changing media landscape in Israel and Palestine. The first book in this series was Digital Militarism, co-authored with Adi Kuntsman, which examined the Israeli occupation in the social media age. We started writing this book in 2010 at the time of Arab uprisings, amid considerable investment among activists, both in the region and beyond, in the capacity of new digital technologies to serve as tools of grassroots activism and mobilization. Then, there was a shared hope that the networked camera phones held aloft by activists would be decisive in their liberation from authoritarian regimes. There was a dream of liberation technology, as some scholars have dubbed this phenomena.

Digital Militarism began as an attempt to temper some of this period’s techno-utopianism through a study of how digital technologies also function as perpetrator tools in the Israel/Palestine contexts.  For example, we studied the phenomena of Israeli soldiers carrying their mobile technologies on patrol into the West Bank, and considered how these consumer technologies could function as repressive instruments.  We also investigated everyday acts of digital complicity, such as the ways that ordinary social media platforms and practices, like the selfie, could be pulled into the apparatus of military rule.

Screen Shots pivots to the question how this political playing field has changed in the era of proliferating camera technologies. This is an ethnographic study which focuses on camera usage among many different political constituencies, from Israeli soldiers and settlers to Palestinian activists and human rights workers.  Screen Shots is interested in how all were pulling these new camera technologies into their political toolboxes, all taking aim at the scene of state violence.

Across these radical political divides, I argue, all were invested in a version of the same digital dream: namely, that greater visual exposure of the scene of state violence – resulting in an ever more perfect image — would advance their respective political agendas.  Screen Shots is an ethnographic chronicle of the ways that these digital dreams break down, albeit in very different ways, for these varied communities and institutions.  

Areeg Faisal: Thank you so much for such an insightful overview of the book. In this regard, how would you describe the scholarly contributions of Screen Shots to the existing body of literature that focuses on the entanglement between state violence and digital technologies, especially in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel? I am particularly interested in learning more about the methodological shift Screen Shots demonstrates by focusing on what precedes image-making rather than what comes after.

Rebecca Stein: In the last 15 years, we’ve seen a growth in anti-colonial visual studies, including a wave of important Israel and Palestine studies scholarship.  While most of these works have focused on the politics of representations, Screen Shots is interested in the politics of image production, curation, and brokerage.  I am particularly interested in what precedes and enables the image-making practices of Israelis and Palestinians – the infrastructure, the labor, and the multiple constraints generated by a repressive and often violent military occupation.  Rather than merely attending to what comes after images arrive into the world – which tends to be the propensity of scholarship on the politics of representation —  this book considers what precedes and sometimes frustrates them.

In the process, I pay a lot of attention to images that fail at their point of origin. For example, I chronicle the story of Palestinian videographers working with the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in a period well before the onset of social media and smartphone proliferation in the West Bank.  They were documenting, with video cameras, instances of military and settler violence against Palestinian communities living under occupation, using the rather rudimentary technologies of their day.  I focus on instances in which they failed to move their VHS cassettes or memory-cards, and associated footage of state violence, out of the West Bank.  For example, I tell the story of footage filmed during a military closure of the West Bank.  By the time the closure was lifted, and videographers were able to travel, the footage was no longer considered relevant to the Israeli media – one of the outlets of choice, employed by the Israeli NGO.  I conclude this chapter with an image of a pile of VHS tapes, filmed by a veteran Palestinian human rights videographer, gathering dust in his Ramallah home office.  This is a chronicle of state violence on camera.  But it’s equally a chronicle of how Israeli state violence has, historically, also made that footage impossible as a circulatory form.

Areeg Faisal: The term state violence is central to Screen Shots and has been utilized widely by scholars to different ends. That said, I’m interested in learning more about your definition of the term and what does count as state violence in Screen Shots?

Rebecca Stein:  Here, the history of terminology is interesting, and particularly where Israeli discourses are concerned.  When I started this project, settler assaults were not officially categorized as state violence within the Israeli human rights community – at least, not within much official human rights discourse.  While these organizations were very concerned with modes of state-abetted violence by settlers – with an emphasis on soldiers “standing idly by” in the midst of settler assaults — the language of state violence was not yet employed.  It was only a decade later that the state violence framing would be adopted, as we can see in recent reports from the Israeli NGO B’Tselem.  This shift is very interesting, as it suggests a substantial realignment in human rights paradigms. 

Digital Militarism, my previous book, focused on an allied issue: namely, the ways that Israeli civilians support and abet state violence through their ordinary social media practices.  As we propose, even as something as a banal as a selfie can be its vehicle.  And when one shifts one’s lens to ordinary cultural practices, the very notion of state violence is redefined.

Areeg Faisal: As I read your book, I can’t help but think of some methodological, political, and/or ethical challenges that might have arisen throughout the fieldwork. Would you mind speaking about that?

Rebecca Stein:  The most challenging work happened with the official branches of the military – in particular, in the military spokespersons’ unit, where I conducted research.  I was given very limited access to their offices, but always on the basis of an ethnonational presumption that I — as an American Jew who spoke Hebrew – would be an ally, bent on supporting the state story.  After one interview that I conducted with a senior military spokesperson about the 2008-9 war on Gaza, and the military’s emerging social media work, I was asked: “you’re going to blog about this, right?”  It wasn’t a question, but an invitation.  At that time, the military’s social media unit was actively courting bloggers.  That was part of the bargain that enabled me to enter their offices.  As I published more, my ability to get into those offices broke down.  But the terms of my original access were very clear.  I presume that Palestinian ethnographers wouldn’t have been granted the same access.

Areeg Faisal: Thanks for sharing all of this honestly. Finally, last year witnessed a surge of the Israeli state violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza, greatly captured by Palestinian activists on various social media platforms. This digital uprising and activism provoked a unified flow of solidarity and support for Palestinian liberation and influenced some of the Israeli supreme court decisions regarding the forced removal of Sheikh Jarrah families. Given that Screen Shots is concerned with moments of breakdown and failure, how would you situate those recent moments within this analytical framework of failure? Is the camera letting Palestinian activists down again?

Rebecca Stein: It’s a great question.  Many activists and pundits have positioned the May 2021 war on Gaza as a landmark shift in global media ecosystems and positions regarding Palestine.  Israeli state violence was viral as never before. There was sudden flooding of social media and mainstream media spaces with Palestinian imagery from Gaza and Jerusalem, with Palestinian voices. 

I’m proposing a degree of skepticism about this formulation, based on a longer historical view.  Here, we hear a familiar dream rearticulated: if only the pictures of injustice and atrocity are crisper, clearer, and more abundant, then justice will follow. Alas, there is nothing new about this dream. We saw it rearticulated in the midst of the Syrian revolution, once dubbed the YouTube revolution.  And we saw it tragically fall short.  This drive for the perfect visual archive, or the total archive, is particularly pronounced in times of war and conflict, especially when there’s a concurrent shift in media regimes.  I’m proposing that our political investment can’t be in visibility or media alone.  That’s not adequate for the job.