This post builds on the research article “Watching U.S. Television From the Palestinian Street: The Media, the State and Representational Interventions,” which was published in the August 2008 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
Cultural Anthropology has published a range of essays on media and politics. See for example, Charles Briggs’ “Mediating Infanticide: Theorizing Relations between Narrative and Violence” (2007), Liisa Malkki’s “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees” (1992) and George Lipsitz’s “The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class and Ethnicity in Early Network Television" (1986).
Cultural Anthropology has also published essays on voting, elections and other practices of democracy. See for example, Clare Ignatowski’s “Multipartyism and Nostalgia for the Unified Past: Discourses of Democracy in a Dance Association in Cameroon” (2004), Julia Paley’s “Making Democracy Count: Opinion Polls and Market Surveys in the Chilean Political Transition” (2001), and Renato Rosaldo’s "Cultural Citizenship and Educational Democracy" (1994).
Ackerman, Seth. "Al-Aqsa Intifada and the U.S. Media." Journal of Palestine Studies30.2(2001):61–74.
Allen, Lori. "The Polyvalent Politics of Martyr Commemorations in the Palestinian Intifada." History and Memory 18.2(2006):107–138.
Bishara, Amahl. "Local Hands, International News: Palestinian Journalists and the International Media." Ethnography 7.1(2006):19–46.
Feldman, Ilana. "Difficult Distinctions: Refugee Law, Humanitarian Practice, and Political Identification in Gaza." Cultural Anthropology 22.1(2007):129–169.
Khalili, Laleh. Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Musa, Imad. "Palestinian Journalism: New Era or More of the Same?" In Attacks on the Press 1995: A Worldwide Survey. J. Sahadi, ed. Pp. 211–213. New York: Committee to Protect Journalists, 1996.
How might we frame our thinking about media and governing institutions so that we see them as implicated in overlapping projects rather than as autonomous? In the August 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Amahl Bishara broaches this questions through analysis of two events in the Palestine-Israel conflict: the funeral of Palestinian Authority President Yassar Arafat in November 2004, and the subsequent presidential elections of January 2005. A naïve perspective might assume that the Palestinian Authority took actions in these events that the international press covered and governing authorities elsewhere responded to. Bishara demonstrates a much more complex chain of interconnections whereby media coverage, anticipation of media coverage, and astute understanding of how actions would be interpreted abroad shaped how events unfolded on the ground in Palestine.
This essay makes a vital theoretical contribution by critically questioning widespread assumptions that the media and government are engaging in two separate kinds of representation, where government’s goal is to represent by acting on behalf of its constituencies while the media represents by depicting the world in a transparent and objective manner. Building on Latour’s concept of ‘object oriented democracy’ and Nancy Fraser’s notion of the ‘transnational public sphere’, Bishara argues that ‘representation-as-gathering’ and ‘representation-as-depicting’ need to be interwoven in theory, just as they have always been intermeshed in practice.