If Western European nations took shape when print capitalism was relatively recent, 20th Century (post-imperial and post-colonial) nations arose in far more intensively mass mediated contexts. These nations conjugated given elements of publicity in often unexpected ways, and in the process forged polities that constitute the majority of the world’s population today; their influence has grown but remains inadequately understood. “Mediated Futures” draws attention to technologically mediated processes and accounts of social change that transcend areal boundaries, and can help illuminate the globalization of markets, media, and technological expertise. This research field will study the practical means and imagined ends of modern social and political projects, while seeking connections across geographical and disciplinary approaches in the social sciences and humanities.

In the research field of Mediated Futures, we are interested in describing and analyzing how technological artifacts and infrastructures may combine with linguistic, sensory, cultural, and political histories to help enact conceptions of the future. This field will demonstrate how practices of communication construct terrains of the perceptible and the imperceptible, and thereby constitute methods whereby social knowledge is both constructed and denied. Mediated Futures can be distinguished in terms of knowledge protocols and socio-cultural practices, and the technologies, institutions and histories they emerge from and represent. The field provides focus to research on distinct socio-cultural configurations, practices of technological mediation, and the modes of self-fashioning and political imagination they make possible.

Mediated Futures brings together contemporary concerns with the technological conditions of emergent forms of translocal connectivity and new practices of public self-formation. It situates the contested politics of this relation vis-à-vis mediated representations of historical pasts and utopian futures, from early consumer culture to modern advertising, and from state institutions and cold war paradigms of propaganda to phenomenological studies of the tactility of new media technologies. Mediated Futures will require participants not only to rethink conventional relations between geographical areas, historical archives, and (often multiple) research sites. It will also ask them to think about spaces of mediated publicity as research sites that contain elements of the archive and of the ethnographic field site, but whose ‘virtuality’ also requires new ways of conceptualizing the relations between social experience and political imagination. In addition to projects focused on 20th Century (post-imperial and post-colonial) nations, we also welcome historical projects on media that shaped older (Western European and American) nations and institutions.

Spring workshop: May 30-June 3, 2012 in Chaska, Minnesota
Fall workshop: September 12-16, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 


  • Andrew Brandel

    Johns Hopkins University, Anthropology

    The Romantic Life of Books: Reading Publics, Literary Communities and the Making of “Germany”
    My research examines how the rare and antiquarian book trade operates as a space in which the production of a "nation" or "people" is tethered to a global circulation of ideas. I am interested in the role of Romanticism in the development of what has been labeled "book culture" or "bookishness" in Germany. The "book", I argue, moves through two simultaneous economies – in publics, constituted in the movement of texts, and in communities, as activated in material circulation. This work is centered on one node in this transactional space – Heidelberg. A medieval city that later played a major role in the rise of Romanticism and the emergernce of the state in the long 19th century, it is also home to the country's oldest university and a complex network of antiquarian and rare book traders and collectors. As Romantic literatures travel, "German-ness" gets negotiated in other sites in a global flow, as encounters with foreign histories are swept up into a domestic narrative about "nation."
  • Jeremy Aaron Dell

    University of Pennsylvania, History

    The Varieties of Reading Experience: Towards a History of Textual Practice in the Western Sahel
    This project seeks to both trace a history of reading and writing in northern Mali, and to provide an account of ongoing manuscript preservation projects that enable such historical research in the first place. For both the creators of the manuscripts and those involved in preservation, how has textual practice articulated with other technologies of mediation to create novel forms of self-fashioning? What possibilities did it open and foreclose as categories of servility were challenged and reshuffled across the twentieth century? Through oral historical methods and the reading of specific texts (historical chronicles, fatwas, didactic poetry), this project will demonstrate the range of political futures envisioned at critical historical moments, most notably the at times violent contest over the incorporation of areas in and around Timbuktu into the nascent Republic of Mali. Bringing this history to the present, it will examine the contemporary practice of textual preservation, a North-South and Pan-African collaboration that has created a regional network of "manuscript prospectors." Both historical and contemporary facets of the project will examine the construction of Islamic knowledge and the various discourses it authorizes. The project posits an ethnography of the archive as a necessary precursor to historical reconstruction.
  • Katie Day Good

    Northwestern University, Communication Studies

    The World in Our Hands: Grassroots Media and Global Engagement in Interwar American Education, 1915-1950
    The three decades spanning World Wars I and II saw the rise of the Visual Education movement, a progressive American effort to incorporate new media technologies into schools. Concerned about the effects of popular media on youth, educators began stocking their classrooms with audiovisual aids like film and slide projectors, photographs, interactive maps, records, and radio. Scholarly accounts of this transition describe it as an effort to "modernize" schools through media and engage students according to new industrial standards of efficiency and entertainment. But many teachers also turned to media, I argue, to internationalize students and prepare them for what many foresaw as a postwar future of global interdependency and intercultural contact. By revisiting educational archival records from 1915 to 1950, I will examine how the mobilization of various travel, geographic, news, and homemade media in schools reflected broader cultural priorities in an era marked by technological turbulence and international conflict. I hope to show that educators shifted from complementing to challenging mass-mediated narratives about world relations, approaching media decreasingly as standalone transmitters of "experience" and more as stimulants for critical dialogue or intercultural exchange. I will also explore this history's implications for contemporary debates about "wired" and "global" classrooms.
  • Eric Michael Hirsch

    University of Chicago, Anthropology

    The Public Life of Indigeneity and Development: Mediating Investments in Culture in Andean Peru
    My dissertation research examines the co-production of indigeneity and development as emergent concepts in the public spaces of the Peruvian Andes' Colca Valley. That region is home to a network of agricultural villages that have recently seen an influx of development agencies, micro-finance banks, and capacity-building organizations as a result of their rising prominence as destinations for cultural and eco-tourists. There, the financial cultivation of indigenous entrepreneurs has become a key policy priority, widely understood as an empowering method of poverty alleviation. Investments are determined in the public square of Chivay, a local center of commerce, through competitive forums in which Quechua indigeneity and marketable cultural authenticity become standards of institutional evaluation. I investigate the work this public square does as a technology of mediation in conjunction with imported connective technologies, hypothesizing that this space becomes the stage upon which, and the principal public channel through which, indigeneity and development are mutually constituted as local discourses of value, temporality, belonging, and aspirational self-making. I additionally scale outward from the square, to question the impact of these public concepts on everyday life in Colca. My methodology entails participant-observation, formal interviews, archival research, and long-term homestays in the Colca village of Yanque.
  • Kyle E. Jones

    Purdue University, Anthropology

    Youth Cultural Politics and Technologies of Sociality in Urban Peru
    My dissertation research will focus on the diverse forms of youth social organization that have emerged across urban Peru in recent years. In particular, I am interested in the youth-led hip hop associations, often self-described as movements, federations, or conferences, that have taken shape through a constellation of practices and ideas based in conceptions of hip hop and urban culture. Drawing on my previous research and recent theorizations of youth, social movements, and hip hop, I approach these associations as dynamic sites of youth cultural politics and technologies of sociality. Given Peru's complex regional histories and backdrop of civil war, dictatorship, neoliberal policy-making, and democratic participation over the past few decades, my research examines the significance and efficacy of hip hop associations, as social movements, for youth in Peru. Utilizing a multi-sited ethnographic approach consisting of participant-observation, several forms of interviewing, and photovoice, will provide a powerful way to address this question through the perspectives of those whose lives are at the heart of it. Through this research, I hope to convey the ways through which youth fashion themselves collectively to reimagine translocal contours of difference and belonging, especially as they gain traction in notions of social change.
  • Vijayanka Nair

    New York University (NYU), Anthropology

    A Billion "Unique" Identities: Understanding India's National Experiment with Biometric Identification Technologies
    In 2009, the Indian government embarked on a mission to issue each of its billion residents a unique identification number (UID). "Identification" would be facilitated through a database linking the demographic and biometric (iris scans, fingerprints, photograph) information of residents to a 12-digit number. On its completion, the UID database will be the largest biometric-based identification system in the world. Through ethnographic fieldwork, my dissertation will investigate how large-scale technological mediations like the UID scheme occasion re-imaginings of the post-colonial state by politicians, technocrats and the "public" alike. I will analyze how the UID, which confers "identity"—but not citizenship, benefits or services—has come to centrally inhabit official development narratives. In the variegated and socioeconomically stratified context of India, what hopes and desires will the UID scheme engender? How will its identification "technology" build on or challenge existing modes of social recognition in India? The UID initiative has been made possible through transnational technological collaboration. I ultimately seek to understand how the UID is simultaneously emblematic of a post-colonial nation's assertion of territorial and political sovereignty, and indicative of its "virtual" annihilation of boundaries.
  • Bryce Peake

    University of Oregon, Communication and Journalism

    Listening as Technology in British Gibraltar
    This research uses historical and ethnographic methods to explore how listening in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar has developed into a technology for the maintenance and operationalization of colonial power, exercised through lines of gender, race, ability, and class. Focusing on Gibraltarians' stories about past and present urban noise, news stories about controversies over and celebrations of noise, and archival government documents on city planning and development, I will make legible the complex history(s) of how listening emerged as a means for organizing space and people as British: from the white-washing silence of the Alameda, born out of Gibraltarians' strategies to sanctify the garden in attempts to spare it from WWII military development; to Ministry of Tourism heritage events that establish English, and not the local Llanito, as the language of the Gibraltarian middle-class; to the echoes-qua-ghosts of colonialism that haunt deaf Gibraltarian veterans and shipyard laborers; to the use of noise ordinance to control the domestic sphere of child rearing, and women by extension. This expands previous research on the role of listening in the political organization of space, while contributing a new emphasis on gender, race, ability, and class as forces that shape cultural listening practices.
  • David L. Platzer

    Johns Hopkins University, Anthropology

    Neurological Publicity: Autistic Futures in the Global Age
    This project investigates how autism becomes a "global epidemic" through processes of mediation that include the formation of "autistic publics" and the proliferation of mediatized autistic images. A spectrum of developmental disorders characterized in all its forms by impairments in social and communicative abilities, autism has been highly contested as a diagnostic category. In both academic and popular discourse, autism has also served as a semiotic relay in debates about genetics, the environment, media technologies, and the impact of each on social development. Enigmatically, from its initial identification in 1943, autism has also been connected to technical and economic social elites. This connection has expanded as "math and tech" genes have been popularly cited in increased diagnoses and as online communities have coalesced around the concept of "neurodiversity," a notion which recasts autistic traits in terms of heightened capacities for technical enterprises (such as computer engineering). Autism's public "visibility" and mass mediatization are directly related to its expansion as a clinical category, through the circulation of global media representations, the development of online autistic communities, and the work of parent-led support and advocacy groups. These various associations are instrumental in autism's expansion to regions without a history of diagnoses, but precisely how remains unclear. Employing multi-sited ethnographic and archival work in New York, Bangalore, and online with "virtual" communities like Wrong Planet, this project looks at the politics, forms, and forums involved in these emergent processes of globalization.
  • Tom Schilling

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), History, Anthropology and Science, Technology and Society

    British Columbia Mapped: Geology, Indigeneity, and Landscape in the Age of Digital Cartography
    My research will explore the manner in which identity politics, professional commitments, development controversies, and formal conventions are influencing new representations of landscapes among two different groups of digital mapmakers in contemporary British Columbia, Canada. Focusing on a region currently beset by the overlapping claims of mining companies, timber producers, environmental conservationists, and Aboriginal First Nations treaty claimants, I will visit geologists engaged in remote surveying, mineral exploration, and speculation; I will also spend time with geographical information systems (GIS) cartographers employed by multiple First Nations to produce detailed databases and maps of information generated through oral history projects and other traditional use studies. In addition to collecting archived maps from both groups, I will also interview these mapmakers and participate in their data collection and analysis work, both in the contested region currently being mapped in northern British Columbia and in the institutional headquarters of mineral developers and First Nations advocates in Vancouver. By observing the production and circulation of these two kinds of maps in both rural and corporate settings, I hope to gain insight into the ways in which mapmaking, a convention-bound and socially-mediated set of practices, is producing new (and newly formalized) understandings of landscapes.
  • Samuel J. Shearer

    Duke University, Cultural Anthropology

    The Kigali City Master Plan and the Production of Urban Futures
    My research addresses the politics of infrastructure building and the production of urban futures in Central Africa. I intend to focus on the Kigali City Master Plan: a fifty-year city planning project touted by the Rwandan government and its planning partners as a model of "sustainable" urban growth, environmental design, and economic development. The plan aims to produce a future city that is radically different from its present form: a "reprogramed," global city with dependable infrastructure, paved roads, and designated commerce areas. I am interested in the plan itself--the way it materializes the future it represents--but also in the tensions that appear in the process of implementation, and the disjuncture between outsourced standardized city planning practices and local contestations over the production and occupation of urban space. These themes will guide my ethnographic investigation into the multiple and contested visions for a "new," post-genocide, cosmopolitan, Rwandan future.
  • Yana Genchova Stainova

    Brown University, Anthropology

    Music in the Time of Precariousness: Dreaming of Utopia in the Youth Orchestras of Venezuela’s El Sistema
    My pre-dissertation research will focus on El Sistema, a Venezuelan initiative designed to promote classical music performance amongst local youth, with the aim of combating socioeconomic marginalization. Since 1975, this program has brought nearly a million young people into local orchestras. El Sistema holds that classical music can create emotional and aesthetic bonds between people as a counterweight to violence that erodes social trust. The program has successfully weathered radical political regime change and received enthusiastic support from both ends of the political spectrum. El Sistema's growth, unexpected given Venezuela's economic and political turbulence as well as its widespread poverty, calls for ethnographic study. This will offer an opportunity to understand how individuals who participate in the program weave the transcendent experience of music with the precariousness of the everyday. Building on eight weeks of ethnographic research last summer, I will conduct interviews and participation observation in El Sistema branches in three marginalized communities in Venezuela and archival research in Caracas in order to describe how individual and collective lives and dreams have found shelter in classical music. I will examine the historically situated social processes that made classical music a medium for conjuring visions of individual development and social change.
  • Niko Klein Vicario

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Architecture

    In and Out of Santiago: Artistic Practice between Pan-Americanism and Global Citizenship, 1940-1990
    This dissertation is an art historical study, informed by both anthropological and sociological methodologies, that gathers case-studies of transnationally mobile Latin American artists operating in Santiago, Chile but within transnational circuits including but not limited to Havana, New York, and London. These artists constructed variously national and international "imagined communities," individual personae, and works of art between 1940 and 1990. How did these aesthetic practices interface with the social scientific theorizations developing contemporaneously in each context (i.e., Fernando Ortiz's transculturation in Cuba [1940], Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart's media critique of Donald Duck in Chile [1971])? Amongst these case studies, opportunities for comparison and for understanding a historical trajectory emerge, not least in tracing a transition from Pan-Americanism in the early 1940s (Mario Carreño) to a nationally-harnessed internationalism in the early 1970s (Roberto Matta) to a Third Worldist aesthetic in the 1970s (Cecilia Vicuña) to the emergence of a "global citizen" in the 1980s (Alfredo Jaar). Using Chile as a structuring framework to study who came, remained, and left, the tense interrelation between the national and international emerges, with neither term stable as evidenced by transitions in national culture from developmentalism (1960s) to Allende's Socialism (1970-73) to Pinochet's dictatorship (1973-1989). The dissertation will seek to understand how art and art history might contribute to an understanding of the matrix that interweaves both national and international identification on the levels of both geopolitics and aesthetics.