Wrapping Up the American Anthropological Association Meetings

View of Manado, North Sulawesi, from where I was staying. I was just trying to take a photo of the mountain, but wound up capturing a lot of the local TV transmitters too.

When you submit a paper or even a fully organized panel to a big conference like the American Anthropological Association’s, and if you’re lucky enough to be accepted, you never know when during the week you’ll be scheduled to present. ‘Prime time’ is Friday or Saturday (preferably not at 8am) but your panel could be scheduled as early as Wednesday, before most attendees have arrived, or as late as Sunday afternoon, after they’ve all left. A couple weeks ago in Montreal, I was put on the last panel scheduled for the entire AAA conference; literally, the last one in the book! But no matter, we still managed to draw a moderate crowd, and certainly an active one when it came to question time.

Pacific TV's transmitter. This is the station I focused on, arguing it represented a local effort to use broadcasting to insulate Christian minorities from Muslim-normative national TV.

I was on a panel organized by the Society for Visual Anthropology, and though two of our presenters didn’t show up (!) we wound up having a really interesting discussion, and the extra time allowed many of us to go quite a bit longer than the normal 15 minutes. My paper was based on new research I’ve been doing into Christian responses to increasing Muslim normativity on Indonesia’s national television programming. Indonesia is around 90% Muslim, and my previous work into the TV industry examined the rise in representations of Islam in daily life after the fall of Suharto, the pro-Western dictator who ruled the country for 32 years. Since he was forced to leave office, commercial TV has abandoned much of the secular, multiculturalist lens his government enforced, further marginalizing minority populations like Christians and Balinese Hindus.

I got a fisherman to take me to a neighboring island on his motorboat. There the local church broadcasts every night across the whole (rather small) island via a loudspeaker system.

The past three summers, while taking Puget Sound students to Indonesia, I have also been conducting fieldwork into Christian production houses, and now regional TV in Christian-majority areas. In my AAA paper, which I am developing into an article as well, I argued that ethnic Minahasan groups in North Sulawesi use small scale broadcasting to produce “micro-mediascapes” for local minority populations, allowing them to foreground Christian-normative, pro-Western narratives, and push the national and global media presences into an arguably subordinate position. I got a good response from the audience and my panel, as well as some useful criticism.

Can’t wait for San Francisco in 2012 — hope to see you there!

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