Podcast: Brian Larkin and Stefan Andriopoulos, “The Contingencies of Comparison: Rethinking Comparative Media”

Brian Larkin and Stefan Andriopoulos draw on the concept of comparison to examine how the same technologies work in radically different ways across the globe, juxtaposing media practices in Africa, Latin America, and Asia as well as in Western centers. There is an assumption that media, whether print, cinema, or digital media, were developed in the West and later exported to other places which were then in the place of ‘catching up’ with a media history that had already been established. But we know that cinema arrived in Shanghai and Calcutta at the same time as it did in London and evolved in those locations to produce different institutional and aesthetic forms. We also know that currently Seoul is far more ‘wired’ than New York and that Lagos is developing a film industry that is rapidly becoming dominant in all of Africa. It is clear that future media centers will emerge in places far outside their traditional Western centers.

Media emerge from a reciprocal exchange between technical forms and cultural religious, political, and economic domains. When these formations shift, features we have seen as core to media, sometimes part of their very ontology, turn out to be contingent rather than necessary. Exploring the concept of comparison opens up new questions for media studies by highlighting the contingencies of media and the specificity of historical and geographical formations.

Brian Larkin is Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of Signal and Noise: Media Infrastructure and Urban Culture in Nigeria and writes on issues of media, religion, infrastructure and urban studies in Nigeria.

Stefan Andriopoulos is Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. He is the author of Ghostly Apparitions: German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media (Zone Books, 2013), which was named “book of the year” in Times Literary Supplement. His previous book Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema won the SLSA Michelle Kendrick award for best academic book on literature, science, and the arts.

Vicky Zeamer

About Vicky Zeamer

My passions fall more in the realm of human-centered design. I have spent my previous education and work experience in the tech industry, specifically focusing on how user experience (UX) can help guide the development of technology to be better for people and society. At MIT, I earned my M.Sc. in Comparative Media Studies where I wrote my thesis on how the dining out food industry shifted in response to the proliferation of digital food culture on Web 1.0 & 2.0. I earned my B.A. at Wellesley College where I studied both how people and societies function and create culture (American Studies) and how computer science and design could be leveraged for innovation (Media Arts and Sciences). I am currently a UX Research role at HubSpot in Cambridge, a software company dedicated to helping small and medium-sized businesses grow through an online marketing and sales platform. I sit as a user-centered researcher within the Machine Learning (ML) engineering team where my main focus is to gather insights about our users and strategize how to create ML-enabled solutions for our customers. Being at the intersection of technology and people is really my sweet spot.


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