Behind the Screens: Faye Ginsburg

Welcome to the second post of the Visual and New Media Review’s video blog, Behind the Screens. This blog shines light on how anthropologists are exploring the production, circulation, and reception of media (and, often, two or all of these at once). It seeks to highlight the ways in which anthropologists are challenging media studies paradigms from which people often seem to be absent and to clarify the key arguments and interventions that anthropologists offer the study of media, especially as they push against received wisdom and popular assumptions. In a world seemingly saturated by screens and by truisms about a “mediated world” or the “age of the Internet,” this blog profiles social scientists who are advancing our understandings of how media technologies come to inflect, and are also given meaning by, situated cultural norms and practices.

Behind the Screens intends to be as accessible and clearly organized as possible to facilitate—in the spirit, perhaps, of the digital revolution—users’ ability to find the content most relevant to their own interests. Each video blog entry features the following four chapters:

  • An introduction of the scholar and her or his latest project.

  • The scholar’s response to the question, “What does your ethnography help us to understand about social realities behind the screens?”

  • The scholar’s discussion of three or four key interventions advanced in her or his work.

  • A discussion of “(field)work to be done,” in which the scholar talks about what she or he sees on the horizons of media research.

For our first interview, I spoke with Jenna Burrell about her book, Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana (MIT Press, 2012). In this installment, I interview renowned anthropologist of media Faye Ginsburg. We discuss Ginsburg’s expansive ethnographic engagements with the abortion debate, indigenous media, disability studies and media, and more.

As always, questions and suggestions can be directed to Damien Stankiewicz.

Faye Ginsburg

Part 1: Introduction

  • An introduction to Faye and her many roles and achievements

  • How Faye came to anthropology and the anthropology of media, and the key influences of people like Jean Rouch and Eric Michaels

  • The establishment of the Culture and Media Program at New York University

  • The development of an anthropology of media, especially as it was established by Ginsburg’s groundbreaking Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain (UC Press, 2002).

Part 2: What’s Behind the Screens?

  • Faye's ongoing work with indigenous media and worlds of media production

  • Faye's newer project, with Rayna Rapp, on disability studies and media worlds

  • How disability media reveals experiential differences that can often be uniquely conveyed with and through audiovisual media

Part 3: Key Interventions

  • Anthropology and media as coterminous, inseparable

  • "Media is part of the social life of any community one works in these days"

  • Centrality of media to constitution of publics and common recognition

  • Counter and alternative relationships of embodiment and sociality

  • Cameras as passports

  • Mediated kinship

Part 4: (Field)Work Still to be Done

  • Faye plans to pursue research on universal human infrastructure and adaptive design

  • Research on disability media, especially in comparative contexts around the world (and circulating technologies)

  • Ongoing importance of research on media that insists on familiarity with media technologies themselves