Monday, December 3, 2007

Paper Proposal

I’m interested in taking a closer look at media and its uses in contemporary conflicts. Thomas Keenan’s articles might be a good starting point for this. The U.S. military’s use of, and reaction to, popular media in Mogadishu, the lack of a timely U.S. response in Kosovo despite media (and new-media) attention, and Jasish Ansar al-Sunna’s use of new-media in Iraq present several different and sometimes contradictory effects of media.

Fredric Jameson’s model of the cognitive map might be useful analytical tool. This is not to say that any of the media above provide anything like a cognitive map, but it might be useful to investigate the place if different kinds of media in a larger scheme, and how the individual/subjective informs larger structures and vice versa. Along these lines, Anna Tsing’s concept of ‘friction’ might also be useful. Specifically, I’m interested in her ideas regarding the generation of a “universal”: the establishment of an “axiom of unity” that standardizes difference, and convergence of incompatible differences to create a universal of contingent collaboration. How do competing voices, such as Jasish Ansar al-Sunna, U.S. mainstream media, and the blogs of Iraqi and U.S. soldiers converge to form a universal picture? Do they create a universal at all, or are they an aggregate of subjective fragments?

There’s also plenty of material to examine that we haven’t looked at closely in class, such as the blogs of U.S. soldiers, the online forums that host material from Islamic militants, or youtube videos from conflict areas. (There are highly-local videos on youtube such as those made by British Ghurka brigades – units made up entirely of Nepalese nationals fighting for Britain, a left-over from the colonial era – showing grinning Ghukas on patrol and at leisure in Iraq, all set to central-Asian pop music.) Bearing Jameson and Tsing in mind, the questions are: how do these individual pieces of media work to inform a global (in Jameson’s sense) or universal (in Tsing’s sense) understanding? What influence does the global have on the individual, and how is the global visible in individual? I more concrete question would be to ask if these examples of new media have any influence on policy, and if so what and how?

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