Consumption Junction: Information Dissemination

by Lana Lynne on 12.18.2010

Guernica Magazine published an interesting piece, "Public Disinterest" by David Morris, on the history of the United States Postal Service, situating it as a public commons through its role as a public institution and a means of mass communication. Through various Congressional rulings, ranging from postage rate decrees (newspapers paid less for news and more for advertising circulars) to structural changes, its role as a commons has been eliminated. The dissemination of information is no longer prioritized, as evidenced by the favoring of large media corporations over nonprofit periodicals.

From the post office, Morris moves to radio, reminding us that airwaves were once also treated as a commons, responsible to the public instead of big corporations. In 1927, the U.S. government passed the Radio Act, which granted the right to own stations, but not frequencies, providing that the station was operated as if owned by the public; that is, the station had to operate in the public's best interest. In 1930, the government defined the fairness doctrine:

In 1930, the FRC made clear the meaning of public interest by denying a license renewal to a Los Angeles station used primarily to broadcast sermons that attacked Jews, Roman Catholic church officials, and law enforcement agencies. In 1949, the FCC again defined what it meant by the public interest when it introduced what later became known as the fairness doctrine. Broadcasters had to devote “a reasonable percentage of time to coverage of public issues; and [the] coverage of these issues must be fair in the sense that it provides an opportunity for the presentation of contrasting points of view.”
The fairness doctrine was later dropped in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan. That move changed radio and politics dramatically, most clearly with radio talk shows like Rush Limbaugh's. As Morris concludes:

Fifteen years later, talk radio has changed the nature of political discourse. Some persuasively argue it has changed our very culture. Media Scholar Henry Giroux describes a “culture of cruelty” increasingly marked by racism, hostility, and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat toward any political figure who comes into the crosshairs of what many now call hate radio.

Seventy-five years after the Federal Radio Commission declared there was no room on the public airwaves for “propaganda stations” and denied a license renewal to a station that attacked Jews and law enforcement agencies, the airwaves are filled with both propaganda and venom. Today the airwaves, stripped of commons rules, feed hatred.

Read the full article at
I couldn't help but relate Morris' article -- in a very tangential way -- to another mass media shift: the role of newspapers in the digital age. Specifically, a piece from the Delaware County Daily Times about steps their parent company, Journal Register, owner of 127 newspapers, is taking to stay afloat. According to the Daily Times, a sister paper in Connecticut has relocated to a "community focused newsroom," which will place "the audience as the center of the newsgathering process." The following will be features of the new incarnation:
Community Media Lab: Featuring five dedicated workstations for community bloggers and contributors, the Lab is located adjacent to the staff’s news meeting conference space. The Register Citizen Community Media Lab provides workspace for all community contributors interested in adding their blog and their voice to the community dialogue. Community Media Lab participants will receive training and have their work featured on Community Meeting Room: Home to The Register Citizen Community Journalism School, this space features large screen monitors for video conferencing, this classroom environment will be used for Community Media Lab training on topics ranging from blogging to visual storytelling. This space will also be made available to community groups for meetings. Newsroom CafĂ©: With free WIFI and Green Mountain Coffee and muffins and pastries for sale, this gathering space provides a welcoming environment to those visiting the newsroom. Open Archives: More than 120 years of stories, photographs and newspapers will be made available to the public.

A twenty-first century commons with a consumerist-corporate twist?

Views from the ANThill: The Anthro as Science Redux

I mentioned, in my last Views from the ANThill post, my attendance at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meetings, and offered a perspective on changes made to the AAA long-range plan mission statement, specifically about the removal of the word "science". At the time, I was unaware that this removal of the word "science" would spark a firestorm on the internet, and I was even more surprised to find that my post was being used to characterize an anti-science, postmodern, "fluff-head" bloc of cultural anthropologists supposedly out to rid the world of science and allow myths and religious beliefs to take their rightful spot in driving human progress. The coverage has continued for over two weeks now.

Daniel Lende over on Neuroanthropology has kept pace with a number of posts updating coverage, and offering critical, constructive, and even humorous follow-ups. Lende's first post,"Anthropology, Science and Public Understanding" remains the most complete list of coverage of the issue and includes a brief commentary, some early summary, and a regularly updated list of links to others. My post first came up in an early article on Inside Higher Ed, and commentary on the issue has since reached CNN, two pieces in the NY Times (first & second), and the Brian Lehrer Show (listen below), where Hugh Gusterson, executive board member of the AAA, and Peter Peregrine, president of the Society for Anthropological Sciences attempt to talk through what has often been described as a split in the discipline.

Listen to Gusterson and Peregrine on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC

I'm not going to recap the events surrounding the issue, as that has been done by Daniel Lende in his post, "Anthropology, Science, and the AAA Long-Range Plan: What Really Happened". This piece also includes a handful of interesting and useful comments by members of the executive board of AAA and others. Interestingly, AAA did release a statement on the issue, and publicized a new statement, "What is Anthropology?" Certainly, much of the debate that has played out on various forums around the internet has focused on a dichotomy that some perceive in anthropology, primarily a scientists -vs- anti-scientists split, an us -vs- them characterization. Another great post by Lende, "Anthropology, Science, and Relativism", tackles this characterization, while also expanding on many of the ideas brought up in my original post.

In the end, I think this "controversy" was probably blown a bit out of proportion. As many people have noted, the number of anthropologists who are anti-science are few and far between. In fact, there haven't been any explicitly anti-science responses from an anthropologist to any of the numerous articles and posts that I read through. In fact, the split between science and anti-science in anthropology doesn't actually seem to exist. What has become evident however, is a certain fear - held by many scientists (anthro and non-anthro alike) - that appears to arise from the idea that science may not be the only valid way of understanding the world around us. It can be argued that this fear has resulted in much of the harsh and aggressive backlash against what has been poorly constructed as an anti-scientific position. As seen in many arenas of public life, engaging with others who are coming from a position of fear is difficult at best, and oftentimes hopeless.

But I won't end on a note of hopelessness. As I mentioned earlier, I don't believe this divide is as great as has been characterized. All of the diverse subfields of anthropology have integral pieces to offer in the understanding of being human. Our picture would not be close to complete without all of these contributions. I offer, again, a portion of my response to comments on my original post on the topic:

I consider myself an applied medical anthropologist, and I utilize a theoretically informed scientific approach to my anthropological research. I also recognize the importance and value of a 4-field approach. My work with indigenous populations has allowed me to witness different ways of approaching and knowing about the world around us, ways that have not arisen out of the Western scientific worldview, yet have also been successful in maintaining human populations.
With this position established, I invite you to return to Views from the ANThill where I will continue to establish and expand on the value of various forms of indigenous knowledge.

"Hunger and Drug Dealing go Together"

I woke this morning to an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that details the latest work of University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Philippe Bourgois, who is continuing his trend of conducting fieldwork in dangerous environs. The article, part of a series titled "A Portrait of Hunger", includes lengthy discussion with Bourgois, and interviews with police and community members in the impoverished Kensington section of Philadelphia.
Other works by Bourgois include the research conducted in the 1980s in Harlem among crack dealers and users that led to the book, "In Search of Respect". His latest book, "Righteous Dopefiend", is a result of long term ethnographic work with homeless heroin and crack users in San Francisco, and included a partnership with photographer Jeff Schonberg. The result, according to the publisher, University of California Press:
"Righteous Dopefiend interweaves stunning black-and-white photographs with vivid dialogue, detailed field notes, and critical theoretical analysis. Its gripping narrative develops a cast of characters around the themes of violence, race relations, sexuality, family trauma, embodied suffering, social inequality, and power relations. The result is a dispassionate chronicle of survival, loss, caring, and hope rooted in the addicts’ determination to hang on for one more day and one more “fix” through a “moral economy of sharing” that precariously balances mutual solidarity and interpersonal betrayal."
Borgois' latest work in Kensington, a section of Philadelphia described in the article as "one of the poorest places in America", similarly situates him and some fellow ethnographers among drug dealers and users in a once prosperous working-class neighborhood in one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Notes Borgois: "They are selling drugs in the shadows of closed-down factories that used to employ their parents and grandparents. You'd almost have to be abnormal not to go into the drug trade." The potential dangers of such work became real for him this time in Philadelphia:
"The police thought I was a wiseguy, so they handcuffed me and kicked me like a football. I'm a frail guy, and I got hairline fractures of my ribs." Bourgois spent 18 hours in a cell in the 24th and 25th Police Districts' shared station house. His chest aching, he huddled in a tiny space - "Dante's ninth circle of hell," he calls it - with vomiting heroin addicts and a man bashing his head against the wall, yelling, "I can't take it!"
Still, he and his colleagues continue living in Kensington, documenting the lives of the poor with few options, and attempting to maintain some semblance of hope in the bleak conditions that are all too common in cities across the country.

Read the rest of the article here>>>

Photo of Phillipe Borgois couresy of

A Word from Alejandro Jodorowsky

"On all levels, including what we call "rational," the imagination is open. It is at home everywhere. So it is important to train it to approach reality not just from a one-and-only narrow perspective but from multiple angles. Ordinarily, we envision everything according to the very restricted paradigm of our beliefs, of our conditioning. From such a mysterious, vast, unpredictable reality, we cannot perceive more than what is filtered through our miniscule point of view. The active imagination is key to an expanded vision. It allows us to envision a life according to points of view other than our own, to think and sense things from different perspectives. This is true freedom: to be capable of leaving ourselves, crossing the boundaries of our little world to open up the universe."
From the book, "Psychomagic," from legendary film-maker and artist, Alejandro Jodorosky.