Current Issue 13thFebruary 2016 - 19 February 2016, i.e. No. 45


- Dr. Pradeep Nair

Media Anthropology is an area of study within social or cultural anthropology and is now a days a part of media and cultural studies that deals with the social and cultural aspects of mass media. Media anthropology is an inter-disciplinary stream of study influenced by the approaches and practices taking place in Visual Anthropology, Film and Performance studies and Development Communication. Media anthropology generally represents the application of instruments (theories, concepts, methods, approaches, tools and techniques) to understand media studies from a socio-anthropological perspective. Social scientists and media anthropologists generally consider media anthropology as an approach to understand the interaction between various academic and applied aspects of anthropology and the multitude of media.

Scope and Areas of Work

      As far as the growth and scope of the subject is concerned, media anthropology grows out of the anthropology of modern societies and their culture finding a place under the broad arena of mass media. It is different from cultural anthropology as it turns its attention from ‘exotic’ to ‘mundane’ and from ‘indigenous’ to ‘manufactured culture’ while preserving the methodological and conceptual assets of anthropological tradition.

      The study of media anthropology in communication studies is gaining a lot of attention these days because it prepares media practitioners for more complete engagement with the symbolic construction of reality and the fundamental importance of symbolic structures, myth and rituals in everyday life.

      Media Anthropology is a multidisciplinary field of study having a wide scope for the graduates from the fields of Communication, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, and Philosophy. Media anthropology as a practice provides the scholars two main branches/areas to build a career–

i. Research Branch:

      This branch especially deals with studies related to media structures, function, process, impact etc of media information, technologies, mediums, professionals, audience and control.

ii. Applied Branch:

      This branch deals with the communication of anthropological information and insights through media channels in widely acceptable styles and formats. The branch also provides an opportunity to the scholars to promote anthropology in various media by influencing journalism practices to add as sixthW’whole to the conventional list of ‘5 Ws’ – who, what, when, where and how, in order to create an alternative method of gathering and presenting information that can help to fill the educational vacuum, not with more detail, but with more perspective.

      Communication is a key tool that anthropologists use to understand social and cultural environment by focusing on each and every aspect of the social and cultural life of a nation.   In social and cultural anthropology, communication is used to educate and train people to study and analyze the nature and state of specific social and cultural structures and institutions which widely affect the process of social and cultural development in the society. The approach is to understand the media and cultural process as institutions, as workplaces, as communicative practices, as cultural products, as social activities, as aesthetic forms, as historical developments and alike.  The studies are mostly concerned with the understanding of the relationship between media institutions/channels and the patterns of socio-cultural changes basic to the problems of contemporary nation building.

      The scope of media anthropology is tremendous. It offers an excellent opportunity to communication scholars having a background in social sciences and humanities (with a good understanding of social-cultural anthropology) along with communication to study how media institutions in transitional societies can best manage the communication activities and tools to facilitate cultural modernization.

      There is a peculiarly intimate relationship between the social, cultural and communication process. Media anthropology provides a new ethnographically informed, historically grounded and context-sensitive approach to communication scholars and cultural scientists to study the ways in which people use and make sense of media technologies. The subject has great potential to explore the dynamics of social and cultural processes of media consumption, production and circulation.

      So, we can see media anthropology as a field within the broad discipline of social sciences and humanities dealing with the relationship between the mass media and culture. The main focus of the study is more about how culture is transmitted through the mass media, and the media process or system by means of which society is shaped. Anthropology is the social science, studying culture, whereas media anthropology is the specific field which deals with the whole process through which culture shapes human beings through the mass media.

Nature of Job

      Having a Degree or Diploma in Communication/Media Studies along with a broad understanding of social and cultural anthropology can offer you a range of communication activities to work as a link between media and cultural practices. As a media anthropologist one can work for various media institutions, production houses, and cultural agencies to study how people in different social and cultural settings use media in order to disseminate their culture and to affirm a specific identity. As a media anthropologist one can also work with universities, research institutions and organizations to employ cultural anthropological methods and concepts to interpret ‘media culture’. Media anthropologists can also conduct studies for various media organizations to study the influence of mass media channels (newspapers/magazines, radio, television, film and internet) on media content or media consumption.

      One can also find immense scope for studying the processes through which cultural products are institutionally created and distributed in the mass media industry. Media organizations are very much interested to know how social and cultural messages in the forms of articles, news stories, documentaries, soap operas, films, blogs, websites, advertisements are consumed and invested with meaning by different types of audience. Analysis of media contents is one field where hundreds of openings are taking place for young media anthropologists everyday.  

Where to Study and the Eligibility

      Presently many departments of Communication of Indian Universities are offering Media and Cultural studies as one of their optional subjects at Post Graduate level. People trained in Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in Anthropology, Sociology or Psychology can find a job assignment in the field of Media Anthropology. The Centre for Media and Cultural Studies of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai offers a Masters program in Media and Cultural Studies, whereas the School of Arts and Aesthetics of Jawahar Lal University (JNU), Anwar Jamal Kidwai Mass Communication Research Centre (AJK-MCRC) of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, School of Media and Communication of Pondicherry University and  Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication, Hyderabad University have specific papers on media and cultural studies as a part of their regular master program in mass communication. Many sociology and anthropology departments of central and state universities in India also have papers on media anthropology as a part of their regular anthropological programs.

      These specific papers on media anthropology, media and cultural studies offered by these institutions aim at honing skills of media students within a research framework which enables them to develop a critical perspective on media, culture and society.

      Research programs offered in the field of media anthropology by Indian universities encourage scholars to study the determinations of media technologies, micro-group cultural traditions, reception situations, and immediate social, cultural and economic configurations. Universities and research organizations offering research programmes in the field of media & cultural studies generally promote a local vision of acts of communication with mass media placed within a domestic communication having inter-discourse connections thus linking new communication and media technologies, television, internet and other media to the family dynamics and other conventional social and cultural networks.

Where to Look for the Job

      Government social organizations, cultural agencies and departments, academic and research institutions, communication consultancies working in the field of social and cultural development, media organizations, and non-government organizations working in social sectors generally advertise their vacancies in newspapers. Websites of these organizations also give you the details of the jobs, eligibility and application procedure. You can work with these agencies as a media anthropologist, cultural communication specialist, journalist, researcher and media consultant.


      The salary in media anthropology and cultural sectors depends on your qualification and experience, your expertise in social and cultural issues and on your communication skills. Having a degree or diploma in communication studies along with a good understanding of social and cultural development issues can help you to earn Rs. 20,000 to 25,000 at entry level positions. A Master’s or Doctoral degree in communication studies with a formal education/specialization in social sciences/humanities is recommended for more opportunities.  Reputed Non Government Organizations and Communication Consultancies can offer good remuneration to media anthropology professionals for their different projects/programmes. Inter-national donors and government partners also offers good positions for people having a good understanding of cross-cutting support in ethnographic media research. A strong leadership, team development and networking skills may promise you a high position in media and cultural sectors.

Excelling your Skills

      As a media anthropologist one should have a good understanding of the effective communication to plan and create initiatives at all levels, from designing simple social and cultural messages for print or electronic media or for a website to strategize a complete socio-cultural communication campaign. Social and cultural campaigns require research based communication strategies to design and deliver media messages to the intended audiences. As a media anthropologist one should have to learn how a complete process of cultural modernization takes place in a country. 

      Carrying research based anthropological and cultural studies for educational institutions, research organizations and media production houses requires a scientific approach capable of allowing the immersion in volatile social and cultural contexts, a capability to eliminate social and cultural distances and psychological barriers and a minute observation of microscopic behaviours. As a media anthropologist if you have the skills to identify social values on which cultural consumption practices are based, you may have a chance to do well in the field of applied communication.

(Dr. Pradeep Nair is presently working as a Research Scientist at Anwar Jamal Kidwai – Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC), Jamia Millia Islamia (A Central University), Jamia Nagar, New Delhi–110025)

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