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Radio Fields

Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the 21st Century

Lucas Bessire

Publication Year: 2012

Radio is the most widespread electronic medium in the world today. As a form of technology that is both durable and relatively cheap, radio remains central to the everyday lives of billions of people around the globe. It is used as a call for prayer in Argentina and Appalachia, to organize political protest in Mexico and Libya, and for wartime communication in Iraq and Afghanistan. In urban centers it is played constantly in shopping malls, waiting rooms, and classrooms. Yet despite its omnipresence, it remains the media form least studied by anthropologists.
Radio Fields employs ethnographic methods to reveal the diverse domains in which radio is imagined, deployed, and understood. Drawing on research from six continents, the volume demonstrates how the particular capacities and practices of radio provide singular insight into diverse social worlds, ranging from aboriginal Australia to urban Zambia. Together, the contributors address how radio creates distinct possibilities for rethinking such fundamental concepts as culture, communication, community, and collective agency.

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Many people have been instrumental in bringing this volume to fruition. In addition to the patient and hard-working contributors, we would like to particularly thank Tom Abercrombie, Faye Ginsburg, Steve Feld, Fred Myers, Harald Prins, and Bambi Schieffelin, ...

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1. Introduction: Radio Fields

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pp. 1-47

Radio is the most widespread electronic medium in the world today. More than a historical precedent for television, film, or the Internet, radio remains central to the everyday lives of billions of people around the globe. Its rugged and inexpensive technology has become invested with new import in places on the other side of the “digital divide,” ...

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2. Aurality under Democracy: Cultural History of FM Radio and Ideologies of Voice in Nepal

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pp. 48-68

The beginnings of FM radio in Nepal coincided with the emergence of liberal democracy and a radical reimagining of the state from several different and often opposing perspectives.1 Prior to the democratic watershed of the 1990 jan åndolan (People’s Movement), the “prehistory” of the FM was closely related to currents of liberalization ...

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3. From the Studio to the Street: Producing the Voice in Indigenous Australia

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pp. 69-88

To listen to Aboriginal radio in Australia is to hear a broad range of voices. Some speak Indigenous languages such as Anindilyakwa or Yolngu Mata in the Top End or Arrernte in the Central Desert. Many more speak in English, often refigured by Aboriginal English or Kriol syntax and peppered with Aboriginal English slang. ...

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4. Editing the Nation: How Radio Engineers Encode Israeli National Imaginaries

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pp. 89-107

When I first started to write about Israeli radio and music broadcasting, I was not sure how to translate the Hebrew term orech musikali (literally, “music editor”). I noticed that most scholarly literature and general websites in English refer to the person who selects the songs to be aired by the radio station as “music programmer” rather than editor.1 ...

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5. Reconsidering Muslim Authority: Female “Preachers” and the Ambiguities of Radio-Mediated Sermonizing in Mali

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pp. 108-123

The political opening in Mali following the fall from power of President Moussa Traoré and his single-party rule in 1991 has generated unprecedented dynamics in the national media landscape. Following the granting of multiparty democracy and of attendant civil liberties, numerous private press organs were created ...

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6. Community and Indigenous Radio in Oaxaca: Testimony and Participatory Democracy

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pp. 124-141

In 2006, hundreds of women in Oaxaca, Mexico, took over state-owned public radio and television stations as part of a larger social movement driven by Local 22 (Sección 22) of the National Union for Educational Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE) and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca ...

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7. The Cultural Politics of Radio: Two Views from the Warlpiri Public Sphere

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pp. 142-159

Warlpiri people residing at the town of Yuendumu, central Australia, have been involved in a range of audiovisual media projects over the past three decades, from radio broadcasting through to film and television production and videoconferencing. In this chapter I consider two moments in this recent history with a specific focus on radio, ...

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8. Frequencies of Transgression: Notes on the Politics of Excess and Constraint among Mexican Free Radios

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pp. 160-178

I headed out on a chilly, gray afternoon through the overflowing streets of Mexico City, making my way to the studio where my new radio show was set to kick off later that day. I had recently arrived in this massive Latin American capital to study the links between media activism and autonomy and had eventually come across Radio Autónoma,1 ...

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9. “Foreign Voices”: Multicultural Broadcasting and Immigrant Representation at Germany’s Radio MultiKulti

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pp. 179-196

In the wake of labor migration that brought large numbers of migrants from the Mediterranean region to Germany during the 1960s and ’70s, radio broadcasting emerged as the most important media technology to supply so-called guest workers with media contents in their native languages. ...

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10. “We Go Above”: Media Metaphysics and Making Moral Life on Ayoreo Two-Way Radio

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pp. 197-214

When dawn breaks or night falls over a village of Ayoreo-speaking people of the Gran Chaco, the arrival and departure of the day are accompanied by a series of iconic sounds: chopping wood, coughing people, chattering parrots, the changing rhythms of the forest. Now, this includes crackling static and voices coming over the two-way radio. ...

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11. Appalachian Radio Prayers: The Prosthesis of the Holy Ghost and the Drive to Tactility

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pp. 215-232

Academic accounts on the phenomenon of charismatic Christian radio in Appalachia often have approached radio as a passive technological medium for the transmission of a discrete, self-contained religious content (Baker 2005; Clements 1974; Dean 1998; Dorgan 1993; Rosenberg 1970; Titon 1988).1 ...

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12. Radio in the (i)Home: Changing Experiences of Domestic Audio Technologies in Britain

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pp. 233-249

Recently, I asked a group of four young British people in their mid- to late twenties about their personal perceptions of radio. They each spoke about radio as if its “golden age” had already passed. They reminisced about their parents’ listening and associated this with the soundscapes of their childhoods: ...

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13. “A House of Wires upon Wires”: Sensuous and Linguistic Entanglements of Evidence and Epistemologies in the Study of Radio Culture

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pp. 250-267

Media cultures are permeated by the twin discourses of technological mystique and no-nonsense technical manipulation. The idioms of the former: traveling voices and people, activated powers, transformed worlds, enveloped and transported selves. The voice of the latter: push here, move this, connect that, open, close, listen. ...

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Radio Fields: An Afterword

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pp. 268-278

“Truly groundbreaking” is a much overused phrase, but in the case of this volume, I feel confident using it; it is the first to date to bring sustained attention to the innovative work being done on radio as an object of anthropological inquiry. Part of the excitement of this book is its rock-solid connection ...

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About the Contributors

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pp. 279-280

Lucas Bessire is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. An award-winning filmmaker and author, he writes widely on indigeneity, biopolitics, and violence in the Gran Chaco region of South America. ...


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pp. 281-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780814769935
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814769935
Print-ISBN-10: 081477167X

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Communication in anthropology -- History -- 21st century.
  • Radio -- History -- 21st century.
  • Communication and culture -- History -- 21st century.
  • Technology -- Anthropological aspects.
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