Welcome to Mixed Signals! This is a blog that I am setting up in the midst of writing a new book on media technologies, cultural geography, and globalization. I would like to try and use this space to gather thoughts, think out loud, post images, and interact with others who share interests. I have been in Berlin for the last 7 months working as a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg, www.wiko-berlin.de), and am preparing for a research trip to Mongolia later this week.
Here is a brief summary of my project:
Modern media research could be categorized into four areas: 1) aesthetic/formal analysis; 2) industrial/regulatory analysis; 3) discourse/representational analysis; and 4) reception/audience analysis. In general, the research has concentrated upon relations of production and consumption, exploring particular conditions that have generated various forms of audiovisual culture and the contexts in which they have been consumed, whether the cinema, living room, art gallery, or mobile interface, among others. Fewer researchers have tackled the issue of distribution, considering how the dissemination of media transpires through a series of networks dispersed across time/space and enmeshed with histories of international trade, geopolitics, and technological development. Those scholars who have focused upon such issues (Innis, Mattelart, Schiller, Castells) have narrated a tale of Western imperialism, emphasizing how industrial nation-states fueled the formation of culture industries during the 19th and 20th centuries that were exported throughout the world with a potentially homogenizing effect, threatening a vibrant array of languages and cultures. This position, now understood as the “media imperialism thesis,” drew crucial attention to the hegemonic power plays inherent in the globalization of media, but tended to overlook local/national negotiation or contestation of such processes along with variations across territorial and socio-economic contexts. Furthermore, the thesis implicitly established the industrial West as the standard against which all the world’s media cultures are measured and evaluated.
Mixed Signals explores media infrastructures in three sites on the outskirts of Europe – former Yugoslavia, Mongolia and Turkey. By examining former Yugoslavia, a socialist country that underwent a major civil war and political restructuring during the 1990s, Mongolia, a former protectorate of the Soviet Union that asserted its independence in the 1990s and has been supported by institutions in Western Europe and the US, and Turkey, a secular Islamic state on the cusp of joining the EU, I delineate how media infrastructures and cultures that surround them are implicated in geopolitical, economic and cultural campaigns on the thresholds of South-eastern Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East. Media infrastructures connect regions to other larger entities, whether multinational media corporations, international political organizations, or diasporic communities, and their development intersects with historical trade routes, migration/displacement, and patterns of communication.
Drawing upon recent work in cultural geography (Thrift), anthropology (Appadurai, Clifford), and media studies (Morley) I try to supplement and complicate the media imperialism thesis in three ways. First, to deal with the issue of distribution I visit and document specific infrastructures sites. Rather than approach them as inert technical systems that can be contained and comprehended in a flow diagram, I insist upon their embeddedness within social and historical conditions (Marvin & Graham), and set out to visualize infrastructure sites and their surroundings, stressing the differences that emerge when we study them in a transnational context. Second, rather than study the global flows of media from sites with high production and/or consumption rates (i.e. Hollywood or Bollywood), I examine media in peripheral societies that have undergone substantial political and economic transitions during recent years, and, because of their location, are implicated within geopolitical and geoeconomic strategies designed to bolster relations between the West and the East and South. Finally, instead of than treat media as screen-based phenomena alone, I consider them as signals (and potentials) that circulate in an imperceptible territory known as the electromagnetic spectrum, which has an organization that is both charged with and symptomatic of power dynamics on earth. Throughout the book, I develop the concept of cultural atmospherics to describe media infrastructures and their surroundings, trying to move toward a more spatial, even environmental, approach to the study of media.