PhD Exam #3.
“Textualization and Mediatization of Verbal
This exam considers, and compares and contrasts, the textualization and mediatization of verbal arts. In both cases, my primary questions are, Who is doing it?, and, Why is it being done? I survey the history of ways that these processes have been applied, noting how the texts and mediatizations have differed from the unprocessed performances.
Textualization and mediatization both involve placing representations into the public sphere. However, the two processes differ in a number of ways. For the purposes of this exam, to textualize is to compose written or typed words that represent, and secondarily, comment upon, verbal arts performances. Making a text is “the process of rendering discourse extractable, of making a stretch of linguistic production into a unit...that can be lifted out of its interactional setting” (Bauman and Briggs 1990, p. 73). Such texts have most often been made by scholars, for the purposes of analysis and publication. Dramatic manuscripts, librettos, poems, and novels are all texts in the commonly-used sense of the word; however, this exam concerns only texts that have been derived from verbal arts events.
For the purposes of this exam, to mediatize is to use photographic or electronic technology to gain a wider audience for (a processed version of) the performance, and may be initiated by the performers themselves, scholars, media professionals, outside artists, members of development or government agencies, and others, often in collaboration. To mediatize is to seek publicity and to communicate with distant others, for any number of reasons, including financial and political gain. The scholar is less likely to be the primary gatekeeper in this process, as compared to the textualization process.
While video and other types of recordings can be said to be texts of performances and can be used for analytic purposes, in this exam I am focusing on written texts and my discussion of video occurs in the context of discussion of mediatization. The essential distinction I am attempting to draw in this exam between textualization and mediatization is that the former is used for analytic purposes and the latter is used to extend the performance. I would be the first to admit that this distinction is an academic one and does not fully hold up in the real world.
This exam notes how in the processes of both textualization and mediatization there has in recent years been a movement toward inclusion of the performer as a controlling agent. In mediatization, the far end of this continuum is autonomous self-representation. Autonomous self-representation is possible because the written word and the body of relevant scholarship are not the media being used here: the medium is secondary orality (Ong 1982). There has been recognition that performers tend to engage in a great deal of metadiscourse about their performances; thus the performer is a valuable co-researcher (Honko 1998). Moreover, this exam calls attention to the fact that a scholar’s textualization and mediatization work occurs within the context of the relationship between the scholar and performer: the scholar’s text is a product and derivation of that relationship. This exam argues for a relationship-centric approach to all aspects of ethnographic fieldwork, including the developing of texts and mediatizations (Glassie 2001).
Most of all, this exam begins to theorize the interactive text, which involves an ongoing conversation between all interested parties (Howard 1988). Here the text is a process, not an product. Regardless of whether or not interactive telecommunication is used in a particular instance, the mentality of this medium informs the interactive text. Insofar as it enables and encourages conversation, the interactive text is antithetical to, and an antidote for, objectification and commodification on all levels.
Textmakers and mediatizers can not only bring together people
interests, they can also help to create communities of people who had
felt wholly alien to each other. Following Emile Durkheim’s
that the human sense of community is a source of the human sense of the
divine (1912), this exam attempts to frame textmakers and mediatizers
sacred and mystical, if secular, technicians.
The word, text, derives from the Latin texere, which means, to weave (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2001). Texts can be shared: we “engage in processes of entextualization to create a seemingly shareable, transmittable culture” (Silverstein and Urban 1996, p. 2). Also, in a text, the strands of cultures can be woven together.
To make a text is to frame material, and thus create a unit for contemplation (Lysoff 1997). Great aesthetic and intellectual responsibility lies in this act, for the textmaker decides what is worthy of attention as well as how it will be presented. Texts claim authority: this authority is derived, in part, from the mastery of the cultural apparati by which the text has been composed, including encoding (from the spoken to the written), and contextualizing (with past scholarship). Folklorists have been self-appointed textmakers of oral verbal arts as until recently, by definition, the folk were considered unable to write: the power relation here hardly needs to be pointed out. The written text is (potentially) far-reaching in time and space (Innis 1951), and often comes to dominate and speak for the oral versions, at least in the international public sphere.
When approaching a text of a verbal performance, even though one cannot expect to learn all the answers, one should ask: What was performed? What was noticed? What was recorded? What was transcribed? What was published? What was received? What was responded to? At each step of the way, filtering and modification occur.
In addition, one should ask such questions as: What was the overall purpose of the fieldwork? What questions was the scholar attempting to answer? What linguistic and methodological training had he/she gone through in advance? What circumstances and arrangements led to the encounter and to the recording? What were the performers asked for? How was the recording made? Who was present and what did they do during the session? Where were pauses taken? How many sessions were held? After the recording, what kind of transcribing, translating, standardizing, commenting, and interpreting was undertaken? (Jensen 2000, p. 60). To grapple with such issues is to deconstruct the textualization process (Honko 2000, p. 39).
The history of textualization (in folklore) can be said to have had three distinct stages: pre-text, text, and post-text (Honko 1998). In the pre-text period, folklore was primarily considered information about customs and beliefs, and it did not matter how this information came to the scholar.
The mid-nineteenth century, the time when the academic discipline of folklore came into being, was the beginning of the period in which the “text was king” (Honko 2000, p. 10): this period would last until approximately 1970. During the “text was king” period, scholars of oral traditions tended to feel that their highest priority was collecting stories and creating written texts that represented those stories in print.
Texts of oral performances had been made, of course, long before the mid-nineteenth century: the argument is that these earlier texts were not made explicitly for the purpose of analysis. Two very famous examples of early texts are the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were committed to writing approximately 2700 years ago. We can never know what motivated the person(s) who wrote down these epics, nor how it was done. Perhaps the writing was done by the epic-chanter himself, or by someone who had heard a great deal of epic-chanting. Perhaps one or more scribes wrote while listening: if so, was the performance slowed down, perhaps with a pause after each line, so that the scribe(s) could keep pace? All we can do is note the results: popular literature that has served educational, nationalistic, and other purposes.
In 1760, James Macpherson published Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland, which he claimed was his English translation of poems written in Gaelic by Ossian, a third-century Irish bard and poet. The poems recounted the exploits of Ossian’s father, Finn mac Cumhail, and other traditional heroes. After Macpherson’s death an investigating committee of scholars agreed that although the poems contained some ancient Gaelic material, Macpherson had composed most of the verses himself (Grafton 1990; Jones 1990). The poems were filled with melancholy and a mystical sense of nature, having been influenced by the rising romantic movement, especially in German literature.
The most famous of the early text scholars were the Grimm brothers, who first published a fairy tale collection, Kinder und Hausmärchen (Household Tales), in 1812. Their technique involved wide scale changing of the form and content of stories to make them appealing to a middle-class audience, and to make the collection serve as a political vehicle for the promotion of the culture of the nation. Tales were selected and edited to present clear social and moral types. Peasants and children were presented as naive. Erotic and anti-authoritarian elements were edited out. The style of language was “smoothed over.” In the quest for sequence and emplotment, explicit motives were given for actions, and symmetrical repetitions of actions were inserted to emphasize connections between successive events (Briggs 1993). The Grimms followed the romantic nationalistic practice of identifying traditional elements, creating and containing their meaning by placing them within schemes of classification, and framing them as representative specimens (Abrahams 1993).
Textwork began in Finland at a very early date. In his 1766 book, De Poesi Fennica, Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Professor of Rhetorics at Turku University, outlined “text-critical” rules for editing oral poems. This task would be taken up a hundred years later in Finland by Julius Krohn and his son Kaarle, who in cooperation with Scandinavian and German scholars, created the historical-geographic approach to folklore. This involved making records of variants of story-plots, so as to trace how a story had evolved through time, and from place to place (Honko 2000; Wilson 1976).
Finland provides us with one of the most sensational and complex cases of the creation of a text said to have been derived from verbal performance: Elias Lonnrot’s Kalevala. Although Lonnrot was of peasant stock, he was born and raised in a part of Finland where the old heroic poems were no longer sung, and he began serious collecting only after he had received university training and had read the classical epics (Wilson 1976). Lonnrot published his first version of the Kalevala in 1832. He had visited many epic singers in the eastern forested areas of Finland and had written down tens of thousand of lines of verse. The singers of his day performed only brief songs, which varied from area to area. Lonnrot combined these stories to create one long composite epic.
There has been a fair amount of controversy over exactly how
the Kalevala is Lonnrot’s creation. He used many lines as
he had found them; in some cases he substituted a word or a
Lonnrot developed an idiosyncratic patchwork technique, which involved
modifying sequences by inserting elements from variants of the same
song, from other such songs, or from compositions in different genres,
such as incantations or wedding songs (Wilson 1976, p. 40). He
the sung rhythmic and verbal patterns of the singers he documented and
interviewed, and he developed competence in a literary equivalent of
generative process. Lonnrot argued that “everything which is in
could still be found among the folk (Wilson 1976,
It was Lonnrot’s premise -- again, typical of romantic nationalism -- that there once had been a long Finnish epic, and that his mission was to reconstruct and restore it. Lonnrot’s knowledge and “repertoire” of Finn epic poetry was larger than any one singer’s. He stated that he was the last of the line of poets in the tradition and thus he had the right, even the responsibility, to shape the material. “But while local verbal artists normalized and changed their songs according to traditional patterns within their own communities, Lonnrot normalized and changed the songs he had collected to make them acceptable to the mass audience of the entire nation” (Wilson 1976, p. 127).
The foregrounding and organizing of story elements are major ways a compiler can shape a text. Lonnrot framed the Kalevala as the story of a war between the Finns and a rival tribe, and he stressed the warlike nature of Vaiinamoinen, the Finn hero. As one appreciative Finn critic wrote, “Only warlike heroic action can raise the national spirit” (Wilson 1976, p. 51). Lonnrot’s pagan Finns were a people of high cultural achievement: rich in material possessions, colorfully and luxuriously dressed, great ship-builders and seafarers, and successful traders. Aspects of Vaiinamoinen’s story that were not stressed included his committing incest with a younger sister, murdering innocent women, and committing suicide (Wilson 1976, p. 134).
Lonnrot’s Kalevala of 1849 (50 cantos, 22,795 lines) came to be regarded as the Finnish national epic, a conspicuous symbol of cultural identity which placed Finland on the map of European literature and created new confidence in Finnish language and literature. It was widely read by school children and often referred to in festive oratory (Honko 1998, p. 18). One newspaper declared, “Publication of the Kalevala marks the turning point in our national life” (Wilson 1976, p. 48). It was felt that the Kalevala could be placed on the bookshelf next to the other great epics, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Kalevala became a “holy book, Finland’s passport into the family of civilized and significant nations” (Wilson 1976, p. 75).
Lonnrot’s project involved promoting himself -- as scholar, poet, and national hero. He certainly was a scholar, and he did much to further the study of ancient verbal traditions: one can still read almost all of his original scribbled transcriptions of oral verse. However, his overriding project was to promote his nation’s language and political position.
Recently, some critics have commented that Vaiinamoinen in much of the original material appears more as a “supernaturally-endowed shaman, an intercessor between the world of man and of spirit,” and less as a warrior (Wilson 1976, p. 200). As the field of memory studies has demonstrated, nationhood in general tends to be based on fabrications, half-truths, and concoctions (Connerton 1989; Hobsbawm 1983). There is no need to single Finland out in this regard, other than its glaring use of a text in this process.
The third period of textualization began in the 1960’s and crystallized in the 1970’s: it is known as the performance-centered approach to folklore. This paradigm questioned the basic tenets of text-centered folklore research, for it relativized text, declaring that the verbal is only one part of the event, and not necessarily the core. It claimed that verbal art is better understood as a dynamic communicative event rather than as an item to be collected (Ben-Amos 1972). The verbal text was now recognized as a partial record of a larger aesthetic transaction (Fine 1984, p. 10). This approach has had far-reaching implications for textmaking. In addition to the words and the storyline, now every other conceivable aspect of the performer and the performance needed to be represented, including the performer’s interactions with audience members (Abrahams 1977; Arewa and Dundes 1964; Ben-Amos and Goldstein 1975; Dundes 1964; Georges 1969; Goldstein 1964; Paredes and Bauman 1972). Much cultural activity that had formerly been perceived as spectacle (presentation for a passive audience) was now perceived as festival (participation by all present), to use the terminology of communications scholar John MacAloon (1984).
Paralinguistic aspects of verbal arts -- such as pitch, rhythm, and intonation of voice -- were for the first time paid close attention to, as were facial expressions and body gestures of performers and audience members. “Folklore texts require proxemic, kinesic, paralinguistic, and interactional descriptions, all of which might provide clues to the principles underlying the communicative processes of folklore and its performing attributes” (Ben-Amos and Goldstein 1975, p. 4). Attention to the ongoing interaction between participants made it clear that even if only one person were speaking, in effect a conversation, or many conversations, were occurring. In the process of this analysis, a temptation can arise to speak of how people feel and think in the course of a performance event. Pre- and post event interviews with participants may be of some use here, as may the scholar’s monitoring of his/her own internal experience during events, but the discussion must remain grounded in consideration of observable behavior.
Prior to the “performance is king” period, textmakers had had little interest in what Charles Keil has identified as participatory discrepancies (Keil 1987, 1995). This refers to the ways in which co-performers, and performers and listeners, are at times slightly out-of-sync with each other. Participants may go out of sync as a way to speed up, or to slow down, others, or simply because the layering, syncopation, and concatenation involved is part of the aesthetic of the event. The ongoing myriad of participatory discrepancies in many events can never be fully represented in print. However, aspects of these processes can be recorded electronically: one thing that made the performance-centered approach (and the close study of participatory discrepancies) possible was the availability of portable audio -- and later, video -- recording devices. A scholar can now study a recording of a performance (or aspects of that performance) after the fact, when he/she no longer needs to participate in the performance situation.
Two among many challenges performance-oriented textmakers have faced are the use of written material in the course of oral performances, and the informality of certain verbal arts: Numerous non-Western cultures possess tradition-based strategies of using hand-written manuscripts as aids during oral performance (Blackburn 1988; Siikala 2000). A complete text of such a performance needs to include the intertextual consideration of how the oral performer uses the written: this may be problematic, as performers often guard these written materials very closely and may desire to keep secret their methods of using them.
Many cultures feature a variety of performance contexts for oral epic traditions, such as songs sung while working in paddy fields, and story episodes chanted leading to ritual possession. The entire story may never be performed at once. In such situations, the textmaker must decide whether to be satisfied with the fragments, or to create situations in which the full mental text can be performed (Honko 2000). A related issue is that while women’s impromptu prayers and songs may be reified into the fixed forms we now know as classical texts (Weinbaum 2001, p. 25), women may be denied public authority, and may be forbidden to perform in public (Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974). In addition, women’s cultural practices, such as lament, may be so embedded within social life that texts of verbal recordings are simply incoherent when abstracted from the situation. The textmaker may find allusions to, but not performances of, complete stories, and these allusions may occur in various genres of performance and conversation. The Aristotelian sense of unity -- for example, that the performance of a tragedy should portray a complete action, with a beginning, middle, and end, in a single place and time -- is often not found in the real world of cultural expression (Aristotle 350 BCE). All of these factors may frustrate textmakers. The performance-oriented folklorists, together with the developers of the ethnography of speaking (Hymes 1962), have countered that the solution to these problems lies in extended fieldwork, with an eye for, and an interest in, how verbal arts occur in various forms in everyday life.
Despite the fact that the production of texts of verbal performances had always been at the heart of the discipline of folklore (Fine 1984, p. 3), textualization in general became to some degree a suspect phenomenon in the 1960’s and 70’s. Textmaking is about the striving for permanence, “the transcendence of the flux of the temporal material world: as such, it involves a reduction in material aspects, the translation of oral-physical symbols of artistic verbal performance to the two-dimensional, visual symbols of the printed page” (Fine 1984, p. 5). This reduction ran counter to a major ethos of the 1960’s, which involved the discovery and celebration of the emergent nature of all culture and reality. Thus, at least one folklorist expressed pessimism about, and distaste for, the textualization process: “The validity of expressive man is thus deadened...by folklorists, fixing the transient and transitional out of a need for the objective scholar to describe and compare through the medium of the written word and the printed page” (Abrahams 1977a, as cited in Fine 1984, p. 15). According to Abrahams, the best a text can possibly do is point toward, in a poetic, evocative manner, that which actually occurred in a performance (personal communication, 2000).
But such calls for caution are recent and rare. Textualizing in the West has been part of the colonizing and empire-building process, of creating zoos and museums, as exemplified by bringing Indians to London for public display. The imperialistic collector binds and spiritually kills the subject matter in order to classify, control, and administrate. This collector’s act robs the subject matter of its fluidity and ambiguity -- qualities which made it attractive and fascinating in the first place. This collector simply has no other way of relating to the subject matter other than domination, enslavement, and reduction. Once this collector has succeeded with a project, he/she must move on to new challenges and conquests in an endless and unsatisfying cycle. It has proved very difficult to argue against, and provide alternatives to, this approach of systemization.
Nonetheless, alternatives have been developed. Beginning with the question, “How can the text be made a more adequate communication tool?”, textmakers have experimented with various paralinguistic and kinesic notations, and with styles of photography, typography, and layout. Some text styles are designed to embody the presentational style of the original (Hymes 1981, 2000; Tedlock 1971, 1972, 1983). The reader is meant to re-perform the event in the act of reading. Some of this work has been done within the field of ethnopoetics. “Practitioners of ethnopoetics treat the relationship between performance and text as a field for experimentation” (Tedlock 1992, p. 82).
Dennis Tedlock and Jerome Rothenberg, with assistance from
scholars and poets, published the magazine of ethnopoetics, Alcheringa
(1970-3, 1975-80), named after an Australian aboriginal word for a
of dream. The first issue’s statement of intention
As the first magazine of the world’s tribal poetics, ALCHERINGA will not be a scholarly “journal of ethnopoetics” so much as a place where tribal poetry can appear in English translation & can act (in the oldest & newest of poetic traditions) to change men’s minds & lives... It will be aiming at the startling & revelatory presentation that has been common to our avant gardes. Along the way, we hope by exploring the full range of man’s poetries,
Alcheringa was a combined scholarly, poetic, and activist project. Many of the issues featured the message: “Planning for future issues: articles, reviews; maps of the dreamtime; poems, picture-poems, sound-poems, happenings.” Alcheringa identified the modern poet-scholar with the tribal -- both being marginal to the great institutions of the dominant culture -- and called for the breakdown of barriers between all the senses, and between all the arts. It was part of the concrete poetry movement, which stressed the way printed poetry was visually composed on a page.
In Alcheringa and in more academic settings, Tedlock developed and discussed various ways of indicating paralinguistic qualities (Tedlock 1971, 1972, 1983). For example, capital letters could indicate raised volume; two dots could indicate a two-second pause; italics could indicate slow, precise enunciation; and so on. This was called scoring a text.
Various scholars, including Dell Hymes and Ray Birdwhistell, have developed somewhat arcane, specialized coding systems to represent aural and physical behavior (Hymes 1975; Birdwhistell 1970). In addition, Labanotation and other systems have been developed to represent dance movement. Alan Lomax developed Cantometrics, a system of classifying singing styles, which the system describes verbally (audio recordings serve to illustrate each style).
As mentioned above, translation from one language to another -- English increasingly being the terminal language -- is often a part of textmaking. Translation may occur during performance/recording, and can be a multi-stage process. A method that Melville Herskovits utilized was the following: 1) the Dahomean performer spoke a line in Fon, 2) the Dahomean research assistant translated into spoken French, and 3) the scholar typed in English (Herskovits 1958, pp. 6-13).
Publications that present English transliteration of the original language often display the transliteration first (in the sense of left-to-right); the English translation follows. This makes efforts by the reader to ascertain word-for-word correspondence between the transliteration and the translation difficult or impossible. In the course of my own work with Tamil verbal arts, I have developed the following four-step presentation system, which resolves this dilemma:
(On the second/transliteration line: Capital consonant letters ["R'] indicate that the tongue is in retroflex position. Double vowel letters ["aa"] represent a long vowel sound.) [At present, I am unable to place Tamil script on this website: I am working on this. em]
This system does not address aesthetic issues of performance, beyond isolating each syllable (tongue position and vowel length are elements inherent to the language and are not unique to any particular performance). This is a model for translation from one language to another, not for transposition from the spoken to the written. In my experience in textualizing Tamil verbal arts for an English-reading audience, the translation issue has taken precedence over the transposition issue. What this system does do for the English reader is demystify the foreign language. Reading these four levels functions as a language lesson: as one is reading, one is learning the language. This system makes the translation process utterly transparent. Reasons for not using this system may include: it is extremely labor-intensive and time consuming; and it opens the translator up to constant criticism and second-guessing, relativizing the English translation, making it clear that other choices can be made, and almost inviting readers to try those other options. But, especially in an academic context of publication, cannot this relativizing be seen as a good thing? It seems to me that it is appropriate to emphasize that only the original wording has integrity and authority (Tedlock 1983). In addition, I would argue that there is a moral imperative to teach non-English languages to members of the English-reading and -speaking world: many non-English languages are dying out; and a good way to preserve and promote a rare language is to learn, practice, and teach it. Learning a language, to whatever small degree, is an appropriate “price to pay” for reading and studying its verbal arts.
Lauri Honko writes that a new “shift of paradigms may be in the making as we turn to the new millennium. ‘The performance is king’ relativized text. The next paradigm will probably relativize performance... Any performance can be understood only against a broader spectrum of performances of the same integer in similar and different contexts... What are the joining links between commensurable but variegated performances?” (Honko 2000, p. 13; Honko 1996). The historical-geographic approach, originally applied to story, is here applied to performance.
In the case of textualization, new paradigms do not invalidate past ones, they just reframe the situation. Honko’s call for comparative performance analysis is superb. This is a diligent, meticulous method, involving extensive use of high-quality video recording and editing equipment, and emphasizing the building of multimedia archives. In addition to that proposal, I would propose another “next paradigm” for the text in folklore, namely, the interactive text. The king here is not story, nor performance, nor compared performances, but relationship (between the scholar and the people being studied).
The interactive text is a meeting ground, a nexus, a bridge, a switchboard, and a time-space machine, in which and through which all interested parties can communicate. It is a zone of translation (between languages) and transposition (between modes of communication). As mentioned above, with the interactive text, text as product becomes text as process. The process-oriented approach, originally applied to folklore, is here applied to the folklore text.
One model for the interactive text is presented by the Talmud, a text of the Jewish people. In the center of a page of the Talmud are a few lines from the Mishna, the first major transcription of the oral law (committed to writing approximately 1800 years ago). Above or below this portion of Mishna are a number of lines of commentary by rabbinic authorities who lived between 1800 and 1500 years ago. Surrounding the Mishna and this first level of commentary are numerous other sections, in irregular sizes and shapes (using a variety of character fonts and sizes), of progressively more recent commentaries. The publishers of a particular edition of the Talmud are allowed to make notes in the outer margins of a page. Thus, what we have in this text is: at the center is the text of the originally-oral material that is the subject of discussion; the further toward the periphery of the page one goes, the closer one comes to the present.
takes the form of a written transcript of an ever-lively, usually agonistic, and occasionally vituperative oral discussion. These disagreements and discussions are often between parties far removed in time and space, but they are made to appear by the Talmud’s sequence of editors as transcripts of oral debates taking place in the study hall -- inevitably, a virtual one. (Blondheim, Blum-Kulka, and Hacohen 2001, p. 2)
Of course, to participate in analytic discussion of a text, one must learn how to decode and encode the written or typed word, which by our definition remains the primary medium of the folklore text. (Or, one must utilize literate individuals to act as ‘translators’ between the oral and the literate.) Communication through the written or typed word does tend to enable reason-based arguments, as opposed to faith-, tradition-, and authority-based arguments (Habermas 1962). Recent scholarship about the revolution in Iran has pointed out the need for detached, intellectual, written discourse, as opposed to oral-based slogans (Sreberny-Mohammadi and Mohammadi 1994).
It is only through relationship (between ethnographer and subject) that the ethnographer can learn about a subject’s culture. The ethnographer’s work on the subject’s culture is conducted in the context of that relationship. People in the “outside world” (outside the relationship) can observe this relationship and in so doing can learn about the cultures of both participants. Texts can include information and commentary regarding all of these levels, presenting an endless sequence of frames around frames. The reality of what is happening is always one step ahead of the ability to analyze and entextualize it.
The performance-centered approach began to put the scholar into play, in that he/she is a (perhaps peripheral) member of the listening audience. If a scholar is present, he/she is part of the performance context. One must then ask: How does the presence of the scholar affect the situation? How is this presence incorporated into the event? For one thing, it has been observed that the performer often puts the scholar inside the narrative (Johnson 2000, p. 239). The performance-centered and relationship-centered approaches can be applied simultaneously, for many traditional performance genres are performed specifically for outsiders, and there are traditional ways to modify any performance to make it appropriate for an outsider’s presence (Bauman 1971).
In certain situations, such as when a performance is arranged specifically so that a recording can be made, the scholar may be a primary member, or the sole member, of the audience. However, when local audience members are present, the scholar witnesses two displays: 1) the performer’s display for all present; and 2) the performer-and-local-audience-members’ display for the scholar. That is, the scholar is audience not just to the speaker, but also to the speaker / local-listener relationship. The scholar’s goals are different from the local audience members’ goals. Local audience members are there to practice their culture and to be themselves together. The researcher is there to analyze the culture, textualize it, and relay that text to the international public sphere, for the purpose of the pursuit of knowledge (and perhaps practical applications of that knowledge).
The scholar-textmaker’s relaying of texts to the public sphere presents a wide range of potential dangers and opportunities for the people under study. With the interactive text, the people being studied can also ask questions and make comments. In electronic interactive textmaking, encoding, archiving, transmitting, and receiving commentary can occur instantaneously, or near instantaneously. Moreover, all texts and translations are compromises. All involve a certain fudging. But with an interactive text, featuring an ongoing conversation, parties can point out how something slightly missed the mark, and thus can help a fuller version of reality come into being.
In this environment, the performer is often becoming a co-editor and co-researcher (Ben-Amos 2000). Kirin Narayan’s Mondays on the Dark Side of the Moon (1997) is a landmark in this development. Although the vast majority of commentary is done by the scholar and the performer is mostly limited to storytelling, the book represents a wonderful step in the direction of collaboration between scholar and performer.
The interactive text potentially puts readers in touch with performers, audience members, and scholars who were present at the actual performance event, and/or who know a great deal about similar events. Performers and others can include contact information if they so desire, so that participants in the public conversation can get in touch with each other privately. Just as the interactive text animates the text, it also vivifies the people being studied: of course, they were “alive” all along, but perhaps not in the perception of some outsiders. The interactive text involves acknowledgement of the interiority of each individual, regardless that individual’s identification with a group or culture.
In a word, the interactive text is about conversation. In conversation, people are constantly breaking frame (changing the subject). No one party controls the agenda. Conversation, by definition, is conducted by principles of alternation. Unfettered conversation involves sharing, respect, trust, and even intimacy, with the participants operating on equal footing, regardless of their status and economic condition beyond the conversation.
The interactive textualization process may remove all parties from their environments, in that all may meet in cyberspace. Or, electronic representations of each may be sent to the other. It is granted that in many cases electronic technology and the electronic realm are more familiar to the scholar than to the subject, and for this reason special care must be taken to ensure that methods of presentation are understood and agreed upon by all participants in the interactive text.
The interactive text has been developing for quite some time. It is related to the aforementioned effort of the scholar to represent or present multiple voices in the finished work. Roots of the interactive text can be found in reflexive ethnography, which is related to the growing self-awareness of the ethnographer to the ways he/she is responding to the fieldwork situation, and to the relationships she is having with subjects. Reflexive ethnography has led to the scholar’s willingness to express and explore these backstage processes in print (Nash and Wintrob 1972; B. Tedlock 1991).
Mikhail Bakhtin perceived multi-vocality as occurring in novels but not in traditional verbal arts, at least not in performance of epic as he knew or imagined it (Bakhtin 1985). Bakhtin’s attention to, and celebration of festive, carnivalesque, chaotic multi-vocality has made him in recent years one of the most cited thinkers in folklore scholarship.
The interactive text is at times an asynchronous communication experience. The interactive text is full of participatory discrepancies -- most of all in the way that people see it and add to it at different times. Even when all participants are logged on at the same time, the delay in the sending and receiving of messages make for many unintended temporal discrepancies. Part of the art of using interactive telecommunication is in learning how to work with these discrepancies. The interactive text is composed of layered, staggered, richly textured messages arriving in various languages, via various technologies. It can be cacophonous, circus-like, concatenated; with moments of awkwardness, of losing and regaining balance. Participants must develop tolerance for ambiguity, for understanding only part of what is being said; and the ability to respond gracefully to a developing situation.
Just as participatory discrepancies are coming to characterize the conduct of academic discourse, to be embodied in the interactive text, participatory discrepancies seem to be dying out in many local verbal arts traditions (Greene 1995; Muller 1999). Perhaps among some traditional peoples the sense of what is beautiful is changing, and they no longer find participatory discrepancies attractive, perhaps because they associate participatory discrepancies with poverty, lack of “education,” or chaos.
The ideology that gave birth to anthropology and folklore involved a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. A so-called pure society was defined against commodification (Miller 1995, p. 154). Scholars today tend to continue to bemoan modernity and postmodernity as ages of commodity and consumption, mourning the loss of traditional reciprocal obligations between people which gave an aura to the objects they made and used together (Miller 1995). But “Anthropology faces a choice. It may become merely an elegy for supposedly lost specificity, or it may attempt to discover how people using goods that they did not produce and that they experience only as consumers nevertheless struggle to create social and cultural identities” (Miller 1995, p. 156).
“Most studies assume that commodification will be resisted by a sphere of more intimate relationships that become defined against it (e.g., relationships said to be based on love)” (Miller 1995, p. 145). These studies seek to discover “Strategies by which consumers construct personal relations in the teeth of what might be seen as the alienating consequences of commerce” (Miller 1995, p. 146). But what of the relating that occurs in the process of commerce, and that comes into being directly as a result of commerce? Roger Abrahams is one of the few ethnographers who has focused on the expressive cultures that develop in marketplace environments (Abrahams 1988, 2001; also, see his student, Kapchan 1996).
I find it highly ironic that some of the most precious present-day commodities -- cell phones, computers, etc. -- are precisely those that enable (mediated) conversation! Central institutions have to some degree dug their own graveyards (to paraphrase Marx) by producing these commodities. For example, the daily life of many present-day Western academics is filled with e-mail, which is often nothing but conversation, although it is asynchronous and typed. In my experience, academics rarely acknowledge this positive development, and rarely credit their culture with enabling this conversation.
The ability to engage in mutually nurturing, supportive relationships, through conversation, is one of the essences of mental and social health, and of the healing of self and the environment. People yearn for deep, intimate, and ongoing connection with others. This is where the action is. Relating in the interactive text involves, to some degree, bringing the personal into the public sphere. Thus, it is probably not a coincidence that many of the leading theorists of interactive media are women (Laurel 1990, 1991; Markham 1998; Murray 1997; Plant 1997; Turkle 1995). While discourse is in general is increasingly being ‘reduced to conversation,’ it cannot be denied that the self-contained and complete book remains the primary and highest-status method of presenting academic work.
People being studied may self-identify largely as members of traditional ethnic cultures. Scholars may self-identify not with any particular ethnic culture, but with the textualizing process itself, and with the intertextualizing processes of building and operating systems by which various points of view are presented and discussed. Some, though not all, aspects of textualizing may be considered Western ethnic qualities: as mentioned above, textualizing in a way that respects the humanity of all concerned can not be considered a traditional Western ethnic quality, as until recently the Western textualizing process generally involved the dehumanization and reduction of the oral verbal artists.
The lines of communication by which the electronic interactive text is woven include telephone cables, microwave signals, satellites, and so forth. “These post-modern lines are not visible, nor are they linear. They break some traditional geographical and social categories but reinforce others. Often impervious to national boundaries, these routes bear an evident and important relationship to democracy and culture and to the spaces for public debate” (Price 1999, p. 11).
There are dangers to making a text interactive, and these dangers must be attended to with great care. Reciprocal communication can become unruly at times: there can be disruption, verbal abuse such as flaming and heckling, and things can get out of hand. Fieldworkers are accustomed to being able to control information about what they did and did not do in the course of fieldwork: it is a serious thing to give up this control and “privacy.” Also, subjects may make reasonable and unreasonable demands of the scholar vis a vis the interactive text. Scholars, by virtue of the fact that they have time for scholarly work and are affiliated with academic institutions, are often considered to be upper class. Subjects are often in lower classes, and their longstanding resentments can at times be directed at the first accessible figure. Moreover, there is need for information management and regulation in most every situation. McLuhan’s fantasy of the global village did not take note of the high amount of information management and regulation that occurs in many oral-centric cultures. Thus, with an interactive text of any complexity there are various levels and realms, some open to everyone, others open only to some.
When dealing with members of a group, the scholar needs to be
of the group’s rules of internal protocol. Some members of the
may wish to participate in discussion as individuals, some may not, and
some may be prohibited by others in the group from doing so. For
example, in Afghanistan a frequently voiced traditional objection to
females to write is that the skill would enable them to write love
and thus would promote illicit contacts (Mills 1991, p. 63). The
maker of interactive texts, like the ethnographic fieldworker in
must take care to avoid disrupting the social ecology of the people
The Latin verb, mediare, means to be in the middle, to interpose between parties in order to reconcile them. Media, used as a singular and -- less correctly so -- as a plural noun, originated in the fields of advertising and mass communication in the 1920’s (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2001). One meaning of mediatize is to render subject to interpretation or exploitation by the mass media (Oxford English Dictionary 2001). However, today “media” no longer automatically means “mass media”: distinctions must be made between mass, small, and one-to-one media. At the same time, an electronic message one individual sends to another can be forwarded to, or made accessible to, the general public: thus the line between one-to-one media and mass media is evanescent. In the balance of this exam, I shall use mediatize to refer to both institutions’ and individuals’ transposing of verbal arts events into the electronic realm, referring to live and prerecorded broadcast, cable, and satellite television; live and prerecorded webcasting; audio- and videoconferencing (both two-party and multi-party); the production of audio and video recordings, and so forth. This includes both: versions of face-to-face performances presented via media; and performances conducted via media, sometimes with co-performers in different locations.
As mentioned in the introduction to this exam, my perspective here is that the purpose of textualization is analysis, while the purpose of mediatization is presentation to and communication with a wide circle of people for the sake of persuading, entertaining, or affecting those people in some other way, or just for the sake of interacting with them. When “media” meant “mass media,” it was, especially to the folklorist, assumed to be a one-way, self-publicizing, propagandistic, and manipulative process, and was associated with the production of images as commodities for passive consumption. The word, media, still carries connotations of hegemonic power, shallowness, and phoniness. But now that individuals can mediatize -- and, to a lesser extent, now that producers of big media increasingly strive for some sort of interactivity with individual audience members (Constantakis-Valdez 1996) -- it behooves even folklorists to approach the terms, media and mediatize, with more respect. For one thing, regardless of how one defines folk, it must be acknowledged that (some) folk mediatize, just as it has been acknowledged that (some) folk read and write.
Mediatization is largely about representation, and “The world of representation...is a site of struggle, where identities are created, where subjects are interpolated, and where hegemonies can be challenged” (Kondo 1997, p. 4). Today it is increasingly possible for “People who historically have been marginalized from institutional power [to] create self-representations of their groups -- both idealized and accurate -- to counter widely disseminated negative images, the absence of images, and images produced by outsiders” (Mahon 2000, p. 470). At the same time, it must be remembered that in many cases scholars do not feel comfortable with electronic technology. In fact, on certain levels the people under study may feel more attuned to the technology than does the scholar, as electronic media is a form of secondary orality. To the extent that mechanical and engineering processes are involved, the subjects may have more practical experience and knowledge of the equipment. They may also be engaged in commercial and political projects, and be happy to use any new technology that might be useful. Moreover, subjects generally do not share the scholar’s interest in maintaining the primacy of the printed word: to them writing is sometimes seen as the technology of the oppressor (Fischer 2001; Muller 1999; Shlain 1998).
The history of mediatization can be said to have begun with photography, a pre-electronic method of visual representation. Photographs do not illuminate verbal arts events very well, of course. This may be one reason for the decline of many verbal arts in the last century, during which images have taken over the role of primary educator, first from the spoken and then from the written and printed word (Lutz and Collins 1993, p. 4). One tradition of Westerners’ photography of exotic others has been developed by National Geographic magazine, founded in 1888. Although less so in recent years, these photographs “offer an imagistic surface of the world as a strategy of containment against any depth of involvement with that world” (Lutz and Collins 1993, p. 90). The people in these photographs seem to be cut off from world events, living in an ahistoric realm, involved only with local daily and seasonal cycles. Many of these photographs are portraits, with the subjects smiling, projecting a simple, ideal, happy life: a universality is implied, stripping away differences of language and culture. Yet, the subjects remain unnamed and unapproachable, aesthetic objects to appreciate. This type of photograph has served to perpetuate the myth that history and change are characteristic of the West; and that only Westerners, through their discovery and colonialization of the rest of the world, can bring self-awareness and interiority to others (Lutz and Collins 1993, p. 208).
Early films such as Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) straddled the genres of scientific observation, and commercially-palatable recreated and even fictional events. In the 1930’s it became possible to record picture and sound together, but the equipment was so cumbersome and expensive that few ethnographers made use of it. Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, working in Bali and New Guinea in the late 1930’s, shot silent film, adding sound in post-production.
From the turn of the century, ethnomusicologists used various audio technologies to record sound in the field (Boulton 1969; Brady 1997). The 1930’s saw a rising interest, in the USA and elsewhere, in genres of singing such as blues and folksong. Some singers of these types of music recorded in commercial studios; often record companies produced and distributed these recordings, paying performers a one-time fee.
This very sketchy survey of pre-1960’s mediatizing of traditional cultural activities makes clear the fact that it was done in many contexts and for many purposes, including educational, political, commercial, and combinations thereof. What is common to all of the situations described above, however, is that the performer did not operate or control the recording and distribution technology. “The represented is reduced to the permanent status of recipient of action, never to be a co-actor in an articulated practice among unlike but joined social partners” (Haraway 1992, p. 311).
A landmark, very self-conscious experiment in developing an alternative to this modus operandi occurred when Sol Worth led an experiment on a Navaho reservation in Arizona in the summer of 1967 (Worth and Adair 1972). The project involved training six Navaho individuals to use 16mm film equipment, and enabling them to make films. Worth wanted to know how and if Navaho expressive culture would manifest itself through the medium of film. He was asking such questions as, How do these people structure (representations of) reality? What will they choose to say, and how will they choose to say it? What are the rules they are unconsciously applying? In Navaho filmmaking, what is the narrative style, syntactic organization, and sequencing of events? What are the units of “eventing”? (Worth and Adair 1972, p. 139).
The results were inconclusive. A good deal of walking was represented in the films: walking was used to frame other activities. The filmmakers avoided close-ups, and people on-camera avoided looking directly into the camera, as participants felt to do so would be to behave in an overly aggressive manner. There seemed to be a tolerance for jump cuts, i.e., there was no need for the illusion of smooth continuity from one shot to another, or from one scene to another (Worth and Adair 1972, p. 167).
More definite were the things learned about Navaho social processes around filmmaking. In general, the Navaho people were more concerned with the process than with the product. They were interested in such issues as: Who is working on the project? What are the genders, kin relations, and reciprocal duties and responsibilities of the people involved? To whom are the films shown, and under what conditions? (Worth and Adair 1972, p. 167). Eric Michaels made similar discoveries when working with Warlpiri people in Australia, especially around indigenous restrictions regarding the presentation of images of people who had died (Michaels 1984, 1985).
A field of study -- known as indigenous media -- has grown that considers how subjects of ethnographic research are mediatizing their own cultures (Ginsberg 1992, 1993a, 1993b, 1994a, 1994b, 1995, 1997; Mahon 2000; Michaels 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991a, 1991b, 1994; Spitulnik 1993; Turner 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995). Jean Rouch predicted this development: “The dreams of Vertov and Flaherty will be combined into a mechanical ‘cine-eye-ear’ which is such a participant camera that it will pass automatically into the hands of those who were, up to now, always in front of it. Then the anthropologist will no longer monopolize the observation of things” (Rouch, 1975, p. 102; cited by Ginsberg 1992, p. 92).
Indigenous media is one subset of small media, which refers to the general decentralization of media production, enabled by the development of such technologies as VCRs, camcorders, personal computers, and the Internet. Small media is media which individuals, and members of small or marginalized groups have the means to operate, whether for intra- or inter-group communication, whether in personal or public realms. Indigenous media may or may not use indigenous forms, although I suppose I would argue that small media in general -- in that they enable reciprocality -- are inherently related to indigenous forms of communication, as long as those indigenous forms are interactive (not all are, of course).
One form of indigenous media is the production of music on audio cassettes for commercial distribution (Abu-Lughod 1989; Greene 2001; Manuel 1993). It may be argued that mediatization for educational observation, for cultural representation, and for commercial production are very different processes, but what then of such native scholars as Prof. Vijaya Lakshmi of Madurai Kamaraj University, Tamil Nadu, south India, and other academia-related producer-singers, who market reworked versions of local folksongs (Greene 2001)? It must be concluded that once audio and visual recordings have been made, the material can be presented to the public in any number of ways, depending on how it is framed and modified. Some tradition-bearers want to be in on the processing and marketing of their culture. As one tribal person I had the pleasure to meet in South India put it: “People are coming here to pick our brains. What do we get out of it?” Many questions arise in such commercialization processes, including, “Under what conditions may individual memhers of a group have the right to change and profit from the group’s traditions?”
Another example of indigenous media is the Tanami videoconferencing network in Australia, which has been used by Warlpiri and other aboriginal people for such purposes as ceremonial family and kingroup meetings, reception of government services, and the showing and selling of paintings and sculptures on the international art market (Hodges 1996; Young 1995). Yet another example is the use of multiple media -- including fax, photocopies, telephones, and audio cassettes -- for political purposes: these mediatizations are often based on traditional oral forms of the religious discourse and narrative (Sreberny-Mohammadi 1994).
Scholars have continued to question if “unique discursive
of a culture are maintained as traditional expressive behavior is
(Blondheim, Blum-Kulka, and Hacohen 2001, p. 1). For example, xavruta
is the traditional Jewish practice of paired study. Xavruta
spirited face-to-face discussion of Jewish holy books, with a
for disagreement: the study-discussion event is framed as a “context of
dispute” (Blondheim, Blum-Kulka, and Hacohen 2001, p. 6).
Blondheim has found that,
Counter to our first expectation, it was found that notwithstanding to the functional imperative of appealing to the audience at home, debaters on an Israeli TV political talk-show occasionally demonstrated very high levels of dialogicity, participants engaging each other with exceedingly complex arguments, frequently sketchily drawn or even left implicit, rather than clearly explicating their own opinions and responses so as to be fully understood by viewers. (Blondheim and Blum-Kulka 2001, p. 27)
A number of media scholars have come to realize that involving members of the intended audience in the mediatization process can increase the effectiveness and meaningfulness of the mediatization. “The use of traditional or folk media to aid recent national development programs seems to be upstaging the paradigms of the 1960’s that emphasized bigness in mass media development” (Lent 1978, p. 145). That is, events with unidirectional information imbalance -- one-way flow of information from urban centers to rural areas, or from foreign nations to Third World cultures -- have often been found lacking.
This has led Elihu Katz, for one, to ask: “Can television be more indigenous, not just in programming, but in style? What is needed are more radical suggestions for making radio and television relevant for traditional peoples” (Katz 1977, p. 120). He notes that “Those artistic traditions which do succeed over radio and television tend to have modes of refreshing themselves, such as the contemporary allusions in...griot song histories” (Katz 1977, p. 119), and he suggests the “establishment of an Institute for the Translation of Tradition,whose members would give serious thought to traditional forms and content, on the one hand, and to the language of the media, on the other” (Katz 1977, p. 120). This would involve “immersing producers in their own cultures and forming creative groups of broadcasters, scholars, and carriers-of-the-tradition to plan schedules and invent programs together (Katz 1977, p. 121).
Katz notes that “One difficulty in the transplantation of the traditional arts is the ‘festive’ character of so many of them... The most authentic of their materials are appropriate to special occasions, yet the professional goal of broadcasting is enshrined in ‘continuous performance’” (Katz 1977, p. 119).
People involved with an Institute for the Translation of Tradition would seek to understand media processes from the points of views of members of traditional cultures. For example, at least in the 1970’s, some Cree (Native American) people refused to allow their children to watch TV in part because they believed that communication across great distances is the business of the shaman, who is able to defend himself against spirits and evil conjurers. It was believed that children are not equally safe from the evil consequences of TV, for TV was like an evil spirit capable of producing nightmares and possessing the bodies of children and making them act badly (Granzberg, Steinbring, and Hamer 1977, pp. 155, 7). This perspective needs to be taken into account when mediatizing with and for Cree people.
The act of mediatizing can be perceived, and can affect performances, in numerous ways. Recording devices can exert a formalizing influence on a situation (Mills 1991, p. 61). They can inspire participants to perform, and can even be incorporated into the event itself. For example, in bardic traditions of much of India, Africa, and elsewhere, the lead speaker is “accompanied by an assistant, an answerer, who holds a dialogue with him, asks him questions, and sings along with him his responses, often entire songs. The ‘answerer’ behaves as a representative of the audience, dwelling on the appropriate emotions, expressing (and increasing) their suspense exclaiming in joy, crying out in horror, or consoling the teller when he seems too distraught by tragic events to continue” (Ramanujen 1986, p. 45). An ethnographer may have in mind that she/he is simply making a recording of an event for study, while performers of the event may place the mediatizing ethnographer in a modified version the role of answerer.
This was the experience of Nadia Serematakis, who studied lament in Mani, the southernmost section of the Peloponese area of Greece. Serematakis notes that in lament, “Antiphonic performance entails both the original declarations of the soloist and the repetition, response, and historicization of the latter’s discourse by the chorus... The dyadic organization of the lament (soloist/chorus) guarantees a built-in record-keeping function” (Seremetakis 1991, p. 120). Just as the lead lamenter “ornaments” the dead with poetry, gesture, and feeling, chorus members ornament the soloist. “The acoustics of death embodied in screaming and lamenting and the presence of kin construct the ‘good death.’ The silent death is the asocial ‘bad death’ without kin support. The most marked and strong sign of a ‘naked’ death is the absence of a chorus and of other soloists to ‘take’ the song from the leader” (Seremetakis 1991, p. 101).
Seremetakis found that “in inner Mani, the only way by which an ethnographer can enter into the feminine space of divination and/or death is to enter as a member of the chorus, as a witness with contractual obligations” (Seremetakis 1991, p. 123). Further, “My documentation was incorporated, in part, into the traditional record-keeping functions of lamenters... Each death and each performance deserved historization” (Seremetakis 1991, p. 9).
Anna Caraveli-Chaves, another ethnographer of Greek lament,
a similar situation:
Again and again, before and after the performance of laments, I was asked in informal conversation to bear witness to the virtues and suffering of the dead person. It was not infrequent for performers, even when immersed in pain, to pause in order to ask: “Is your tape machine working?” It was in fact the very guarantee of immortality, provided their dead through the recording, that often gained me access to the forbidden territory of ritual lamentation. (Caraveli-Chaves 1980, p. 150)
In addition, speaking, chanting, and singing about the deceased or divine figure cannot always be distinguished from singing to that figure: this ambiguity is often there (Trawick 1990). Thus, as in the Cree case mentioned above, the mediatizing equipment may also be seen as enabling travel to or communication with realms of the dead and the divine.
Mediatizing can be part of an enshrining process. Local people sometimes tell the story of a local figure with the desire that a shrine, temple, or monument be built in this figure’s honor, and that the world beyond should know of this figure. The figure’s story may be formulated in song, and the song may be documented and mediatized, which can lead to the local place becoming a pilgrimage center. This establishes the worth of the local place, figure, and verbal artists in the perception of the world beyond. All of this can have economic benefits for the local people; in some cases it can lend support to peoples’ claims of ownership of land (Ben-Ari and Bilu 1997).
In other cases, the mediatizing ethnographer may serve as mediator between the performers and local authorities. The mediatizing may protect the singer from the consequences of overbold, direct complaint or accusation (Trawick 1986, p. 303).
Performers may themselves choose to change emphasis when a performance is being mediatized, and when the new extended audience includes those outside of the local group: complaint and accusation against others, depiction of violence to one’s group, and calls for revenge must sometimes be softened -- for one cannot always openly denounce members of one’s paying audience! Strategies for change in such cases include finding common concerns and stressing them; emphasizing lyrical and aesthetic elements, as opposed to the narrative; and identifying a common external enemy. Two changes that gate-keepers of the broadcasting media often encourage are: “the lyrics [must] comply with generally-accepted public speech behavior. This means no offensive language, nothing obscene, and no odd political statements. The other component is...all allusions to local incidents and conditions must be eliminated” (Malm 1993, p. 346).
The hybrid-fusion commercial world music scene is a “contact zone of activities and representations” (Feld 2000). Patterns of interaction include: 1) cultural exchange, 2) cultural dominance, 3) cultural imperialism, and 4) transculturation (Malm 1993). “Transculturation involves the combination of stylistic elements from several kinds of music taking place in an industrial environment... The process of transculturation aims at the creation of musical styles that are the lowest common denominators for the biggest possible market” (Malm 1993, p. 343).
Steven Feld describes how Western musicians sometimes listen
of traditional music, searching for what they perceive as the “natural”
rhythms and harmonies, which they then foreground and arrange according
to their taste (Feld 2000, p. 166). In “A Sweet Lullabye for
Music,” Feld writes:
A sweet lullaby might resonate most as a fitting musical trope for globalization’s capital project. Drifting off, the dream desires of technological and artistic elites are jolted by market cycles of agitated wakefulness. Then, blanketed in promotion, they are once more cradled and lulled on a firm mattress of stark inequalities and padded mergers, and nurtured at the corporate breast. (Feld 2000)
In 2001, it is commonly acknowledged that the Age of Television is past, and that we have entered the Interactive Age (Newcomb 1996, p. xiii). This does not mean, of course, that there is no more broadcasting, but rather that broadcasting is being transformed to include interactivity; that when broadcasting is done without interactivity it is seen as archaic; and that individuals also are learning how to broadcast (and narrow-cast, etc., mostly over the Internet). The leading (largely imagined) communication paradigm of the day is a multi-party videoconference, in which anyone anywhere in the world can participate, sending and receiving audio, video, text, etc., from his/her wireless hand-held or laptop computer (basically, an advanced cell phone). The only question is: in which ways, to what degree, and for what reasons, does one’s present capabilities fall short of this standard?
Contrary to the notion that traditional cultural activities tend to be sacred and that modern researchers tend to be profane, there is a sacred aspect to communication in the public sphere. Emile Durkheim has explained how divine objects, entities, and realms function as symbols of a peoples’ ancestors, ideals, memories, and collectivity (1912). Following this line of thought, the public sphere is a very sacred place, for the public sphere is a repository of these ideals and memories, and an arena in which these things are discussed. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere is also relevant here: he theorized that matter evolves toward consciousness, and that individual consciousnesses evolve toward intermingling, centering around and approaching the divine (1956). It follows that any communication technology that enables participation in the noosphere and the public sphere is in fact ritual apparatus. Habermas insists that the public sphere revolves around print (which he argues enables detachment and rationality), but he also allows for discussion, which can include electronically-mediated discussion.
Broadcast television has been a force for centralization (Ruby 1991, p. 336). The study of mass media has largely been the study of the efforts of government, media, and advertising executives to manipulate citizens. Bureaucratization, institutionalization, canonization are processes controlled by elites, who then impose the results on everyone else. One of the findings of the field of memory studies is that elites often strive to reify experience into institutionalized centers that serve to generate power, wealth, status for themselves, and a sense of identity for the masses (Connerton 1989; Halbwachs 1992; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Despite the fact that it has become common knowledge that, for example, many national traditions have been concocted by self-serving individuals, these constructions tend to remain propped up.
Many writers about television are looking forward to interactivity. For example: “Whether it is at the World Cup, the Eurovision Song Contest, or the Olympics... The audience on the home front sends messages of undivided approval to its team, even if the efficient transmission of such messages must await the day of interactive television” (Dayan and Katz 1992, p. 136). “The mass media...contribute to the collective use of leisure, the new media to the individualistic and differentiated use. It will be interesting to see what balance will emerge from their interaction” (Katz 1998, p. 239).
It seems that this may be a good moment for a reconsideration, redefinition, and reorientation regarding what is central and what is peripheral in human life and society (Shils 1975). The concepts of what is central and what is peripheral is changing: the center used to be the seat of mediatization, but now that mediatization is possible from an increasing number of places, there are an increasing number of centers. In recent years, there have been numerous attempts to reorient, to achieve a more balanced perspective on what is real and significant in a peoples’ lives. Evidence of such efforts can be seen in such writings as “The Individual Voice in Language” (Johnstone 2000); “The Visible Evidence of Culture Producers” (Mahon 2000); and The Anthropology of Experience (Turner and Bruner 1986).
Surely it is time for culture and media to be theoretically regrounded so as to be more centered in individuals, in individuals’ relationships with other individuals, and in small groups. [Note: From the 1940’s onward, there have been valiant efforts by certain communications scholars to bring attention to the active nature of receivers of mass media. Reception theory represents one such attempt to acknowledge and understand how people decode, and thus to some degree control, the messagesthey receive. The theory of the two-step flow of communication pointed out how individuals relay and transform messages from mass media (Lazarsfeld 1944; Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955). Nonetheless, I would argue that the story of mass media has overwhelmingly been the story of the disempowerment of the individual.] The truth is, for some time now culture and media have been hijacked. The means of production and transmission have been hoarded. Ever since printing presses were invented -- printing presses being too big and expensive for each citizen to own and use -- big media has been used by elites (and the artists and others in their employ) to further their own interests. Members of the Frankfurt School -- including Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Habermas -- have thoroughly detailed and criticized this state of affairs. For the sake of humanity, for the sake of the mental health of one and all, we must seek a more balanced situation.
For the past eighty years, mass media has come from the top-down. Media operated by individuals comes from the bottom-up, emanating from the individual’s body, voice, mind, and soul. Each person’s experience is local. By local, I mean in one’s body, and only secondarily at a place. Media operated by individuals is enabling radical democracy, in which each person’s voice is heard: the yearning for radical democracy is at the heart of the recent protests against the World Bank and similar institutions; radical democracy is the ideology of the new generation of media collectives, such as IndyMedia (http://www.indymedia.org), that have arisen of late.
Practicing one’s culture means relating with other members of that culture; it does not matter if one or all parties are in the place where that culture may have originated, or if all parties are in the same place. A culture is a set of rules, conventions, traditions, of generating behavior and relationships. Small media emanate from groups, no matter how minor and marginalized. It is true that local traditions and groups can also squelch the individual. Again, a balance must be sought: individuals must be free to identify with groups and traditions to the degree, and in the ways, that suit them.
The new technologies, including the Internet and the use of satellites, potentially threaten centralized power, especially that of nation-states. In some circles, “government restrictions on the transmission on the transmission of [satellite and other] imagery and programming...are condemned as violations of the human right to receive and impart information (Price 1999, p. 10). The first generation of satellites have been geo-stationary, and stationed over the equator. “The next few years, however, will see the commencement of commercial operations via low earth orbit satellites. For these satellites, the concept of orbital slots is entirely meaningless: this will make it all the more difficult for nations to control who sends and receives what (Price 1999, p. 12). Even the elites who operate nations are no longer fully dedicated to them: “States are increasingly dominated by transnational corporations, forming a global class with few real cultural allegiances to the nation-state, but who still need to control and shape the populations who live within their territories” (Appadurai, 1988, p. 3).
To give one example of how websites are becoming television stations: when I was in Tamil Nadu, south India, last summer, I happened to visit an Internet browsing center, an equivalent of our Kinko’s, in the state capital, Chennai. I noticed that a VCR was in use: upon inquiry, I learned that customers could have video material digitized and placed on a website: this service is most often used for wedding videos, so relatives around the world can see the event the same day, and for months afterwards.
The great media events of the Television Age -- including the marriage of Princess Diana; the funeral of Princess Diana; championship sports events; the Kennedy-Nixon debates; the funeral of JFK; the moon landing; national holidays; and coronations and inaugurations -- have all served to glorify celebrity, and to reinforce the sense that the center is outside of one’s own experience. But to the bereaved, is not the death of a loved one just as important as the death of JFK? While there certainly is a difference between the funeral of a loved one and the funeral of a leader of one’s group, is not each person’s life experienced as being, on certain levels, just as important as the life of a head of state? To the participants and immediate kin, is not every marriage as important as Princess Diana’s? Is not any individual’s major accomplishments accompanied by feelings similar to that of stepping onto the moon for the first time?
And, beyond the great events in a person’s life, does not each individual throughout his/her conscious life experience yearnings and resolutions, states of mind, that deserve to be acknowledged as central to the human experience? An individual’s consciousness is colored and shaped by models he/she has internalized, by the journeys, struggles, and strategies of that individual’s culture heroes and heroines; but once that internalization has occurred, life is experienced and enacted by people from the inside out.
Certainly there is a place in human society for messages from large institutions such as national governments, royalty, corporations, and global organizations. But a balance must be struck: due to the sensational successes of mass communication over the past eighty years, the experience of the individual and of the local community has been grossly unarticulated, and thus has been undervalued and overwhelmed.
Carol Muller calls for a reorientation toward the local in
of the mediatization activity of a community in South Africa:
If the Nazarite community is to retain its sense of collective power and identity, [its] leaders...will have to meet the challenge of what Annette Weiner terms “keeping-while-giving” In order to hold onto its sacred power and value, the hymn repertory cannot simply be thrown to the whims and fluctuations of the transnational music market in the hope of gaining new converts. Instead, Nazarite engagement with the popular music market through mass-mediazation and commodification of its hymn repertory will have to be thought of as a temporary loan to the world (Appadurai 1986). It will never be fully given, because its worth as a sacred commodity in ibanda lamaNazeretha rises above monetary value. Nazarites will have to work out how to give something of the social force of religious song and dance performance through the mass media while still keeping something of its human value and ritual power out of circulation. ...they will have to learn to market Nazarite ritual forms without reducing them to alienable commodities, separated from their source of female-guided spiritual empowerment. (Muller 1999, p. 158)
The next twenty years will see the death of all people who were raised before the coming of radio and film. Television spread like wildfire, beginning in the 1950’s, fifty years ago. As a result, a great number of verbal arts traditions, including lament, lullabies, epic, and various types of folk songs and oratory -- have been overwhelmed and are dying out, as people have come to look to mass media as the source of worthwhile and significant culture. Public professional genres of verbal arts are especially at risk: in many cases, there is no new generation of apprentices, and the traditional patronage network is dwindling. Now is the moment, with the rise of individually-operated small media, to nurture local verbal arts traditions, before they are fully lost. For these traditions to survive, young people need to be allowed, even encouraged, to mix the traditional forms with new forms (such as rap and other forms of popular music), and new contexts for performance and training need to be developed (such as webcasting and videoconferencing). Outsiders need to be allowed to learn and perform traditional verbal arts, at least to some extent. It is the scholar’s responsibility to contribute to these efforts: the scholar’s approach sets a tone which affects local scholars, performers, governments, and publics.
As mentioned, two factors that improve the survival chances for verbal arts traditions are the involvement of members of the next generation, and willingness to let the tradition evolve. Contemporary performance of epic and other verbal arts need to be enriched as much as possible with knowledge of how it was done in the old days, regardless of whether these present-day activities are framed as revivals or continuations of the ancient traditions. In many cases, teaching a verbal art also involves teaching the actual language. There is a thirst, a market, for this sort of learning among scholars, students, tourists, artists, people in diasporas, and members of the general public. Learning about, and -- to whatever small degree -- learning how to perform, a verbal arts tradition is a wonderful gateway into a people’s culture and history.
Numerous scholars, especially in the fields of ethnomusicology and folklore, have apprenticed themselves to the verbal artists they study. Dwight Reynolds is one such figure, having apprenticed himself to a north Egyptian epic-chanter (Reynolds 1995). Reynolds reports that in the mid-80’s there were a dozen working epic-chanters in the central town; when he returned in 1995, only three were still living, and no young people had taken on the profession. The entire network of patronage was also dissolving. Reynolds is preparing to publish an extensive text of a portion of an epic performed by his primary teacher, now deceased (Reynolds 2000). Like many scholars, he seems more interested in textualization than in mediatization. However, he did help to arrange a tour of epic-chanters to Arabic communities in the Detroit area, and he helped to produce a film about the trip. It seems that for him the film process was filled with frustrating compromises, including incomplete and inaccurate translations of performances (Reynolds 1998).
“Ethnicity, once a genie contained in the bottle of some sort of locality (however large), has now become a global force, forever slipping in and through the cracks between states and borders” (Appadurai 1990, p. 15). There are many varieties of experience within diasporas, with each individual having one foot in the homeland and one foot in the land in which they are living (Marcus 1995). To adapt verbal arts traditions to make them meaningful for members of diaspora communities -- both as audience members and as performers -- requires much adjustment.
Philip Auslander posits a paradigm of conflict: the unmediatized vs. the mediatized (Auslander 1999). And indeed, for example, when Bob Dylan went electric in 1965 at Newport Folk Festival, many experienced this as betrayal. Actually, performance at the Newport Folk Festival was already mediatized in that performers used amplified sound. In reality, life today is full of combinations of the unmediatized and the mediatized. For example, MTV features “unplugged” performances with audience members in intimate proximity to the performers -- although the whole thing is televised, of course! Among some Kaluli people of New Guinea, the noises of tractors, gasoline and kerosene generators, helicopters, and portable sawmills have changed the local soundscape, and the rise of Christianity has caused some old ways of singing to fall out of practice: many of these people can now only experience their traditional singing through the Steven Feld’s recordings (Feld 1991). Muslim people in Singapore have found that the broadcasting of calls to prayer over a radio station is a functional substitute for cries from the top of mosque towers (Lee 1999). Paul Greene claims that the playing of audio cassettes in South India can be an act of performance, ritual, and devotion (Greene 1999).
Another way, as yet unmentioned in this exam, in which local, face-to-face events can be mediatized is through the insertion of cultural matter from the mass media into the local event. An example of this is described by Greene: a singer and his troupe were hired to sing mourning songs at a funeral in South India. The singer included songs from movies, a practice to which a number of family members objected (Greene 1999).
It is often not a matter of unmediatized or mediatized communication, but rather of unmediatized and mediatized communication. People may e-mail and then meet. People in classrooms, sports arenas, and concert halls may simultaneously enjoy each others’ unmediatized presence and the mediatized presence of distant others. A pop music concert today is only a fully-produced event if in addition to the face-to-face contact, the performer’s image is projected on a large screen (image magnification) and the event is being webcast (image transmission).
Incidentally, I would recommend the use of the multi-stage
system described earlier in this exam as a method for presentation of
on videorecordings, as well as for in-the-flesh performances (with text
projected on a screen behind or beside a performer).
subtitles can also be used in video-mediated communication, such as
In synchronous events, one does not usually aim for a word-for-word
but rather just enough to help people follow along: they know that they
can delve further into the material at a later date. This sort of
multimedia, involving audience members’ perception of both the
and a visual electronic verbal text, requires the use of various parts
of the brain simultaneously or in alternation. Such experiences
to be carefully and flexibly designed, and ideally individual
and audience members should have some control over the way that they
experiencing the process.
One of the finest kinds of texts are living, breathing texts:
of a new generation of performers, of tradition bearers. One of
finest roles of academic researchers is to encourage and facilitate so
that new generations of tradition bearers do indeed come into
This is an important way to serve as mediator between the far-flung
of time and space, and to bridge the gaps between peoples, so that
parties can experience intellectual exchanges and mystical communions
The essential question that needs to be asked about textualizations and
mediatizations is: is the communication technology being used at utmost
efficiency to enhance understanding between participants? If it
not, how can we improve the process?