William Mazzarella is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Chicago. He writes and teaches on mass media, globalization, public culture and consumerism, critical theory, commodity aesthetics, and post-coloniality in contemporary India. His first book, Shoveling Smoke (Duke UP, 2003), is an ethnography of the Bombay advertising business and its role in the rise and elaboration of mass consumerism in India in the 1980s and 1990s. Mazzarella’s current projects include a book on censorship, cinema, and mediation in modern India. He also serves as Chair on the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago. He received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley.
My project examines the claim that the globalization of commerce maybe producing a global commercial culture through an anthropological fieldwork study of the production of advertising in the Mumbai office of a global ad agency. In particular, I look at the ways in which ad executives translate transnational brand images into locally intelligible campaigns. Rather than interpreting ads per se, I put ad workers and their professional understandings at the center of my analysis, approaching them as symbolic technicians, as the cultural mediators of the meeting between the local and the global. I also move away from a “cultural imperialism” model of communications and media, focusing instead of the micropolitics of the production of advertising as a form of public culture, one that is particularly telling since it relies on a continuous gamble on the fault-lines of the historically acceptable and the culturally imaginable. Since July 1991, when the Rao government introduced sweeping reforms that liberalized foreign trade, foreign commodities have flooded Indian markets in unprecedented quantities. A study of the negotiations and controversies of this historical moment promises to shed much-needed light on the complex ways in which commodities, identities and cultural formations define and resist each other in the contemporary world marketplace.