materiality, cultural ignorance
Barbara Gentikow gave an interesting presentation to our department today, about a new project she’s starting up at the media department about new media and materiality. The project’s funded by KIM. She audaciously claimed that Norwegian media research so far has been media blind, that is, it’s concentrated on the content and not on the materiality of the medium that content is mediated through. Their project will discuss fairly traditional broadcast-style new media: digital television, journalism using digital editing practices and digital sound. They’re using Habermas and ideas of democracy about this.
I was interested that the researchers are embarking on this project with a lot of experience and competancy in traditional media and theory, but with little knowledge of new media. Barbara presented this as a possible asset – apparently there is an ethnographic tradition that emphasises precisely this kind of cultural ignorance as a very productive and creative starting point for learning about an area. When you’re not an expert on new media, you enter the field without preconceptions, and that can be an advantage in some ways. I think Clifford Geertz was one of the ethnographers she mentioned as a proponent for this approach. (I should google that but don’t have time) Annette Markham’s Life Online used this approach too, and it’s a great read, with many good insights and just a marvellous style and presentation. The cultural ignorance approach (I’m amazed it has a name, actually) does run a risk of redoing research that’s already done. Perhaps it can also present these ideas more successfully to a culturally ignorant audience.
I kind of like being totally engrossed in and passionate about what I study 🙂