Radio: Radio Fields: Introduction


Radio Fields: Introduction

by Lucas Bessire and Daniel Fisher

Taken from Radio Fields: Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the 21st Century, by Lucas Bessire and Daniel Fisher, with an Afterword by Faye Ginsburg at

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Radio is the most widespread electronic medium in the world today. More than a historical precedent for television, film, or the Internet, radio remains central to the everyday lives of billions of people around the globe. Its rugged and inexpensive technology has become invested with new import in places on the other side of the ‘digital divide,’ where topography, poverty, or politics limit access to television, computers, or electricity.


radio-fields-cvr In metropolitan centers, radio also remains a constant presence, sounding and resounding in public space. It is broadcast from satellites into cars and jets, streamed through laptops and loudspeakers in shopping malls, classrooms, and waiting rooms, and it fills the air at parades, weddings, military bases, and squatter settlements. It is beamed into war zones and native villages, broadcast from cellular phones and homemade transistors powered by the sun. Urban taxi companies, Pacific Islanders, and indigenous people in Amazonia alike use it as a channel for two-way dialogues. Radio quite literally seems to be everywhere, but it is the technological form that has been least studied by anthropologists.


This collection arises from the recognition that radio is ubiquitous around the globe, and the following chapters are testimony to the geographic breadth and diversity of radio media’s social presence. Yet this volume offers more than additional evidence for radios far-flung travels. Here, we take the diversity of radio itself as a provocation for anthropology and its comparative endeavor and draw on this diversity to frame our central problematic. What, we ask, is widespread about radio? Is radio the same phenomenon or thing in Aboriginal Australia as it is in cosmopolitan Zambia? And if, as we propose here, radio is best imagined not as a thing at all, how might anthropology better conceive of radio as a domain of ethnographic research? How might ethnography illuminate the power of this media and the different social worlds it calls forth?


The authors in this book have all begun to answer such questions. They demonstrate how media anthropologists are increasingly turning to radio to illuminate broader disciplinary concerns with emergent forms of kinship, political agency, religious life, subjectivity, and other social domains. The following chapters explore the social reach and nature of radio technology to ask what is at stake in its practical entanglement with peoples lives. These essays describe how one particular technological form animates the political, linguistic, strategic, or emotional registers of lived experience in concrete ways that are amenable to ethnographic analysis and comparison. This volume collects pioneering efforts by anthropologists to take radio seriously, efforts that often are relegated to the margins or footnotes of other anthropological projects. In doing so, the volume aims to identify and energize an emerging anthropology of radio and its orienting concerns.


Each contributor reveals the ways in which ethnography, as a loose set of methods and claims, is uniquely suited to grapple with radios dispersed social life. At the same time, the contributors suggest how ethnographic attention to radio may enrich the concerns of anthropology. This book, then, is intended as an argument for what ethnographic methodologies may contribute to the study of radio, as well as for the ways that radio offers a rich terrain for exploring the concepts, methods, and praxis of contemporary anthropology. It demonstrates how radio fields are being newly imagined as ethnographic sites by a broad range of anthropologists and compares how radios particular capacities inflect and transform social life in concrete ways.


Anthropology and its signature methodology of long-term participant observation makes a fundamental contribution to how we might understand radio and ask questions of its social life. Although each of the contributors draws inspiration from a wider body of scholarship on radio, they also suggest several ways in which their work is fundamentally distinct from important intellectual projects currently under way in the fields of communications, media studies and history, sound theory, and cultural studies. Each contributor shows how an anthropology of radio may simultaneously further and redirect these broader trends in radio scholarship and media analysis.


One of the principal questions that emerge from our contributors is that of the social definition of radio itself. From investments in two-way radio by recently contacted Ayoreo-speaking people to Nepali engagements with liberal conceptions of the self, radio is never a single technology. Rather, it gains force and traction according to wider formations of meaning, politics, and subjectivity that often remain inaudible to short-term, focus-group or questionnaire-based research.


For instance, radio means something different to two different female Muslim radio preachers in Mali or to a development worker in the same place, let alone to a DJ in Mexico City or Nepal. And beyond such hermeneutic questions, radio acquires its form within specific practices, politics, and ‘assemblages’ that give it shape, including its digital transformation and extension through the Internet (Collier and Ong 2005; see also Born 2005). In such ways, it might be approached as an ‘actor-network’ (Fatour 1991, 2005) or ‘apparatus’ (Foucault 1980,1988; cf. Agamben 2009), social theoretical terms which call attention to emergent constellations of power, social relations, and things, as well as the historical moments in which they acquire durability and specificity. Radios boundaries thus cannot easily be assumed a priori; its objectness is always potentially unsettled by shifting social practices, institutions, and technological innovations and by the broader domains within which it finds shape, meaning, and power.


At the same time, radio matters for such domains in ways that can productively be compared across time and space. Diversity of form and content, or effect and distribution, may be most noticeable to ethnographers in the field, but unexpected similarities between radios varied apparatuses or assemblages are also strikingly apparent and impossible to ignore. It is no coincidence that Ayoreo-speaking people in the Gran Chaco and Appalachian radio preachers both imagine radio as a suitable prosthesis for the metaphysics of prayer, or that radio stations were occupied by women marchers in Oaxaca in 2006 and Libyan protestors in Benghazi in 2011 and were targeted by FARC guerrilla fighters in Colombia in 2010, or that radios historic role as a wartime media technology is being reprised in present-day Iraq and Afghanistan (Ahrens 1998).


The challenge for an anthropology of radio is to put such tensions of difference and commonality to work. It means developing a set of analytics capable of drawing together substantive, experience-near research on radios plasticity with wider questions about the recurrent dynamics associated with radios broader assemblages. The authors collected in this book suggest several ways that such a project could be imagined.


As editors, we use the concept of ‘radio fields’ to signal this complex intersection of radio technology and social relations (cf. Williams 1974). Here, we imagine radio fields as unruly ethnographic sites, as well as zones where social life and knowledge of it are organized in specific and comparable ways. The authors of this collection show how the diversity of such entanglements defies any single notion of radios social labor, even as they emphasize how radio matters across time and space. They describe how radios voice gives force and texture to news, music, and events.


From two-way conversations about the weather in South America to Appalachian Pentecostal faith healing and narratives of national crisis in Israel, radios electronic sound marks the urgent as well as the ordinary, the mundane alongside the metaphysical. It crosses borders of all kinds: national frontiers for Turkish immigrants in Germany, ethnic and caste markers in South Asia, and even prison walls for incarcerated Aboriginal peoples in Australia. Radio may be put in the service of governance and empire, and it is central to state and imperial projects around the world. Yet it also lends material and means to a wide range of minority claims and social movements, from Oaxacan marches for womens rights or indigenous mobilization against the state to Somali pirates or Zulu musicians in South Africa.


Radio routinely intensifies and elicits novel forms of imagination, meaning, and desire that exceed its informational content. This, along with the profoundly embodied nature of listening and sounding, makes radio deeply entangled with the inner lives and political agency of its users. What does it mean, for instance, for young Indian boys to come of age listening to BBC broadcasts of cricket matches or for people living on the dispersed islands of Vanuatu to valorize kastom on the radio in the context of a newly independent, postcolonial nation (Appadurai 1996; Bolton 1999)? And radio also creates expertise around its material constants of microphones, wires, and antennae, or iPods, audio streaming software, and wireless networks.


Historically such expertise has been inseparable from the forms of imagination and desire that have underwritten nationalist and postcolonial social movements, even as any media technology always exists as only one element in a larger and complex ‘media world’ (Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin 2002b). Today, radio is being transformed and extended by digital technologies and new web-based networks of distribution, a process that demonstrates how the technological specificities of audio mediation alter the reach of radio sound and its availability to different social projects at different times (Bull 2004; Tacchi, chap. 12 in this volume). Radio fields, as Frantz Fanon noted, are thus impossible to assess in their ‘quiet objectivity’ alone (1959,73).


This collection thereby offers several arguments for the ways culture matters for the study of radio — as the context in which it is deployed and gains meaning but also as the object of its transformative potential. The contributors show how cultural forms and radios technologies are mutually constitutive across time and space.


As several chapters make apparent, odd things happen to both ‘culture’ and ‘radio’ at their intersection. It is a central premise of this book that the anthropology of radio must begin by taking both radio and culture as ideal forms and ethnographic questions rather than a priori contexts. This inductive framing also entails rethinking many of the other concepts commonly used to describe radio. The chapters thus take ideas of ‘community,’ ‘autonomy,’ ‘voice,’ ‘public’ or ‘counterpublic sphere,’ and even ‘mediation’ as terms for critical analysis and ethnographic specification rather than preexisting, stable analytic categories.


In sum, this volume does not aim to encompass the entire field of radio studies or history. It is instead composed of diverse examples of what anthropologists offer to the study of radios culturally varied worlds and of what radio fields offer to anthropology. In this introduction, we first locate an emerging anthropology of radio within history and wider bodies of radio scholarship. Then we use the insights of the work collected here to suggest several conceptual axes that may be useful for future anthropological engagements with radios sociality.

Anthropology and Radio


microphone-lores People have been intensely interested in radio since its inception. Thought to travel through an invisible ‘ether,’ the disembodiment of radio voices and its ability to separate spirit from flesh was initially understood through reference to spirituality or magic (see Houdini 1922). The 1920s have been described as a time of widespread ‘radio fever’ (Sterling and Kittross 2002), and by 1926, radio broadcasts had ‘become one of the most essential elements of public life’ in Europe and the United States (Weill 1984 [1926]). Radio technology soon figured in a variety of national, colonial, and imperial projects, even as artists and writers such as Gaston Bachelard (1971), Bertolt Brecht (Strauss and Mandl 1993; cf. Kahn 1994), and Felix Guattari (1978) hoped that radio and ‘radiophonic space’ (Weill 1984 [1926]) could provide a ‘veritable feedback system with listeners’ and, thus, ‘turn psyche and society into a single giant echo chamber’ (McLuhan 1964, 299).


Intellectuals including Brecht, Rudolf Arnheim, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin began experimenting with radio technologies even as they sought to understand their implications. Benjamin alone wrote more than seventy radio ‘models’ for Radio Frankfurt between 1929 and 1933, including twenty intended for children (Mehlman 1993; see Benjamin 1999a-f). These echo features of Brechts ‘epic theater’ by questioning radios mass distribution of culture as ‘stimuli’ and encouraging ‘the training of critical judgment’ (Benjamin 1999!, 585; see also Mehlman 1993).


The parallel histories of radio and the consolidation of anthropology as a discipline have created a unique relationship between anthropologists and radio as well. Franz Boas, for example, was an advocate for using radio to spread anthropological insights (E. Boas 1945), while Margaret Mead, Alfred Kroeber, Robert Redfield, and many others regularly appeared on radio programs. Moreover, many anthropologists in the 1930s and 1940s were involved in large-scale projects involving radio, such as the Rockefeller Foundations ‘Radio Project,’ which began in 1937, and, beginning in the late 1940s, UNESCO’s Division of Radio in its Department of Mass Communication, which produced radio programs and distributed radio sets—efforts that established community-based radio stations around the world (see Lind 1950). Other anthropologists were involved as administrators and consultants for colonial projects in Africa, India, and Asia, to which radio was central.


By the 1930s, for instance, the British Colonial Office required its administrators to use radio as a tool for ‘imprinting British culture and ideas into the minds of native listeners’ through daily broadcasts, often on the battery-powered ‘saucepan special’ receivers manufactured throughout the 1940s specifically for African audiences (Head 1979; Posner 2001).


In Nazi Germany, the Reich Broadcasting Company aired extensive nationalist propaganda over a series of affordable radio sets subsidized by the state, called the Volksempfanger, or ‘the peoples receivers.’ Between 1933 and 1939, more than seven million of these sets were produced, each stamped with a swastika and an eagle (Aylett 2011).


During World War II, Axis and Allied anthropologists alike were involved in radio propaganda, including Gregory Bateson and Ruth Benedict’s ‘black propaganda’ radio programs, which successfully undermined Japanese morale in the South Pacific (Cummings 2001; Jelavich 2006; Price 1998; Soley 1989).


After the war, public anthropologists also were regular contributors to radio programs in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, such as BBC’s Third Programme. Aspiring to bring social anthropology to a broad public audience, the program featured lectures by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Mary Douglas, Max Gluckman, Raymond Firth, and Audrey Richards throughout the 1950s and 1960s. By the late 1940s, anthropologist Edmund Carpenter was also hosting his own radio show, ‘Explorations’, for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Prins and Bishop 2007). Such widespread radio use by anthropologists produced a substantial corpus of skill-based tacit knowledge that prefigures an explicit research paradigm for the anthropology of radio (see also Eiselein 1976). Carpenter (1972), for instance, later theorized the implications of his experiences with visual and aural media in Canada and Papua New Guinea.


Meanwhile, radio was broadly reshaping the diverse sites in which anthropology was practiced as an academic enterprise. This global spread of radio included its use as a ‘portable missionary’ for proselytizing Native groups, beginning when HCJB went on air in Ecuador in 1931. This was followed by the Far East Broadcasting Company in Manila in 1948 and Trans-World Radio in Tangier and Liberia in 1954. By 1964, there were forty international Christian stations operating around the world. The reach of such missionary radios has been so effective that missionaries estimated that only ninety-three major language groups were not reached by Christian radio a decade ago (Gray and Murphy 2000; see also BBC 2005). Radio sound was an instrumental tool for much early ‘contact’ work by missionaries in lowland South America (see Capa 1956).


Latin America was also the site of the earliest experiments in g-based radio stations (see Dagron and Cajias 1989). In 1947, Aymara and Quechua silver miners started a group of radio stations focused on collective advocacy for better wages and working conditions. By the 1950s, twenty-three of these stations had taken root in the Bolivian Altiplano and became known as the Miners Radio. Also in 1947, the Catholic priest and liberation theologist Joaquin Salcedo started Radio Sutatenza / Accion Cultural Popular in the Colombian Andes. This project eventually developed approximately twenty thousand ‘radio schools,’ which combined broadcasts and group discussion and focused on what Salcedo called ‘integral fundamental education’ (Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada 1998).


Such trends not only spread across Latin America (see Early 1973) but in the 1960s and 1970s were echoed across Europe and the United States, where an explosion of illegal or pirate radio stations developed the idea that small-scale and local radio practices were an antidote to mass media and crucial tools for claiming citizenship and rights (see also Shields and Ogles 1995).


Throughout the mid-twentieth century, colonizing powers and postcolonial nation-states alike turned to broadcast radio to air programs aimed at economic development, the disciplining of national subjects, and the consolidation of state power (Larkin 2008; Mrazek 2002). Yet anticolonial and protonational movements also organized around radio technologies. As Fanon wrote of Radio Algiers, radio technologies could become a tool for decolonization, insofar as radio sets ‘develop the sensorial, muscular and intellectual powers of man in any given society’ (1959,71-72). Radios social effects were never entirely contained within any single colonial agenda (see also Appadurai 1996).


This was true in the colonies of the colonies as well. Australian colonial administrators in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville also imagined radio as a technology for the pacification and modernization of ‘natives,’ who soon incorporated it into their own independence movements (see Bolton 1999; Carpenter 1972; Hadlow 2004; Seward 1999).


In some cases, such as the New Guinea highlands and parts of Amazonia, radio and other mass media were used to introduce the very idea of the nation-state and to cement its authority over indigenous populations, often by self-conscious staging of its technological capacities. Missionaries and government officials found that passing a vocal message over radio could intensify its desired effects of authority, solidarity, or both. Carpenter, for instance, describes how the orders of patrol officers in Papua New Guinea were at times only obeyed after they were broadcast over the radio (see Prins and Bishop 2007). Internally colonized indigenous peoples and other minority groups also appropriated radio for their own ends from a very early date, such as the Shuar Indigenous Federation of Ecuador, which began indigenous-language broadcasting in the mid-1960s.


In short, the social effects of radio have always exceeded any single colonial or governmental agenda, even while provoking forms of nation building and national identifications in the (post) colony. British and Portuguese ‘radio-colonization’ broadcasts, for example, shaped the foundations of independence movements in parts of Africa by popularizing senses of regional unity based on linguistic homogenization (Power 2000; Spitulnik 1998; Zivin 1998). Marianne Stenbaek (1982,1992) reports a similar effect of 1950s Inuit language radio broadcasting in Greenland.


Even the ‘peoples receivers’ radio sets produced by the Nazi government were capable of picking up foreign broadcasts, a fact which led Hitler to make listening to anything but German radio a crime punishable by execution (Aylett 2011). Radio B92 — an early Internet-facilitated ‘guerrilla radio’ in Serbia — provides another striking example of the ways radio’s unruly voice can destabilize projects of totalitarian governance (Collin 2002). Such scholarship draws attention to radios historical embeddings in the very concept of the (post)colony, as well as the unpredictable relationships between radio technology and hegemonic or imperial formations (Mbembe 2001; Mrazek 2002; Stoler 2002).


Driven by such diverse agendas, as well as corporate interests in radio’s commercial potential and common hopes for radio as a tool of democratic emancipation, radio technology was soon a worldwide phenomenon. Long before the re-invention of anthropology made it audible to ethnographers, radio was present in even the most remote, rural, or traditional anthropological fields.


Anthropologists and sociologists have long noted the social importance of radio practices (see Barton 1937). In the Lynds’ famous 1937 study of Middletown, for instance, they noted the transformation of American public life caused by the radio and family car (see Lynd and Lynd 1937). Yet despite several significant precedents for focusing on the social effects of radio — including W. Lloyd Warner and William Henry’s (1948) monograph on the uptake and composition of daytime radio ‘serial’ programs, Daniel Lerner’s (1958) study of the Voice of America in the Middle East, Hortense Powdermaker’s (1962) interests in radio and cinema in the context of her central African fieldwork, and Carpenter’s (1972,1975,1978) prescient analyses of the specific sensory qualities of radio (see also Eiselein 1976; Eiselein and Topper 1976) — anthropologists did not begin to develop their tacit knowledge of radio into a systematic analytical project until the 1990s ushered in the rise of ‘the anthropology of media’ (see Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin 2002a, 3).


Within such paradigms, radio sociality again became audible and relevant to a larger set of scholarly concerns. Indeed, Powdermaker’s early media ethnography was perhaps initially more influential for scholars in development and communications through its importance to Wilbur Schramm’s writing (Schramm 1964), while Carpenter’s work was vigorously engaged by ‘media ecologists’ and sound theorists but largely overlooked by anthropologists until relatively recently. [See Note 1] While pioneering work on radio was being done in the context of communications and media studies, these projects were often quite distinct from the concerns of anthropologists (see Girard 1992).


We draw inspiration from media anthropologists such as Abu-Lughod (2005), Appadurai (1996), Askew and Wilk (2002), Born (2004), Boyer (2005), Carpenter (1972), Ginsburg (1991,1994,1997, 2002), Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin (2002b), Larkin (2008, 2009), Latour and Weibel (2006), Maz-zarella (2004), Michaels (1994), Peterson (2003), Powdermaker (1950,1962), Prins (1997), Spitulnik (1993), and others who have been instrumental in constituting media as central ethnographic sites. The ethnography of radio fields shares their central concerns: it takes a global perspective on media practices, foregrounds the diversity of media practices within expansive ‘media ecologies,’ and emphasizes that ‘media’ and mediation are defined through social relations and in social practice (Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin 2002a).


However, a focus on radio sociality also requires shifting analysis away from the ‘visualist bias’ and central concerns of visual anthropology and film theory to engage with another set of debates centering on the relationships between sound, technology, and power (Askew and Wilk 2002; Fabian 1983; Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin 2002a; Hilmes 2005). To do so, the contributors to the ethnography of radio fields also draw inspiration from scholarship on relationships between music, audio media, and the voice (Erlman 2004; Feld et al. 2004; Fox 1997; Greene and Porcello 2005; Hirshkind 2006; Meintjes 2003; Samuels 2004; Weidman 2006). This is to rethink the defining questions and conundrums outlined by media anthropology through the specific issues of language, the senses, and sound that radios entanglement with social life entails (Gaonkar and Povinelli 2003; Kapchan 2008; Miller 1992).

Approaches to Radio in Other Disciplines


microphone-lores Although there are few anthropological efforts to describe radio in comparison to the explosion of anthropological scholarship on television or film, in the past two decades an increasingly sophisticated and growing number of ethnographic analyses have focused on radio in a variety of contexts. This pioneering work includes not only Powdermaker and Carpenter but also Bolton’s (1999) groundbreaking work in Vanuatu, Tacchi’s (1998) efforts to understand radio sound as material culture in the gendered space of home, Spitulnik’s (1994,1996,1998, 2002) development of linguistic ideological and material culture analyses in her work on Zambian radio, Vargas’s (1995) work on participatory media in Mexico, Fardon and Furniss’s (2000) collection on radio in Africa, and Larkin’s (2008, 2009) historical treatment of broadcast infrastructures and listening publics in Nigeria.


Anthropologists today approach radio in a variety of ways, using a broad range of theoretical perspectives. Many have assembled their analytic frames from the ground up, drawing from a wide range of radio research and broader schools of media theory to make sense of what they have found. This somewhat fragmented scholarship includes academic and applied scholarship on alternative and community media; cultural studies and art critical analyses of radio aesthetics and poetics; and sociolinguistic work on radio as a distinct domain of speech pragmatics.


In framing radio as an ethnographic question, anthropologists have thus drawn inspiration and insight from well beyond their disciplinary boundaries, while also endeavoring to reframe or question the analytical categories on which such studies often rely. We briefly sketch these important literatures here, before turning to the chapters and the ways they amplify and intervene in these conversations.

Early Tensions in Radio Theory


microphone-lores As Srinivas Melkote and H. Leslie Steeves (2001) and others argue, the social effects of radio have long been understood through divergent theories of communication. These in turn have shaped how radio technology has been imagined as a demagogic tool of capitalist expansion, deployed as an apparatus of national public making or colonial discipline, or adopted as an instrument for social change. Certainly, much radio writing continues to be shaped by enduring concerns over, and questions about, the homogenizing or dystopic effects of mass-media technologies, the capacity of ‘hot’ media to ‘swallow culture’ (McLuhan 1964), to impose state, colonial, or imperial projects, and to circulate a narrow sense of modernity (Tomlinson 1991).


Yet scholars have also found in Jurgen Habermas’s (1989) concept of ‘the public sphere’ or Benedict Anderson’s (1983) idea of ‘imagined community’ a more nuanced vision of media sociality than that presumed in models of cultural imperialism. In doing so, work in media and communication studies has drawn from theorizations of ‘counterpublic spheres’ and resistance (Calhoun 1992; Fraser 1991; Hall 1980,1997; Radway 1984; Warner 2002) to recuperate radio from the critique of mass culture, signaling instead its capacity to generate alternative social forms at the local level. Rosalia Winocur (2003, 2005), for instance, has written extensively of radio’s expansive entanglements in negotiations around citizenship and political participation, while Clemencia Rodriguez (2001) has described how community radio practices create a ‘fissure in the global mediascape’ where unexpected forms of political agency may arise.


Such tensions between a critique of popular and commercial cultural production and efforts to identify modes of counterhegemonic media production were already present in early twentieth-century studies of radio media. Brecht’s (1979-1980 [1930], 1993 [1932]) interest in reshaping radio as a communicative, rather than distributed, media remains an inspiration for community and alternative media scholars and activists (cf. Hartley 2000). Similarly, Rudolf Arnheim’s (1972 [1936]) interest in the aesthetics of radio sound and editing extended to the ways this had the potential to transform perception in politically consequential ways (cf. Cardinal 2007). While it is often observed that in this period many observers were preoccupied with the threat mass communications presented to functioning democracy through the stultifying effects of media’s mass ‘distraction,’ Adorno and others also saw in media technologies novel possibilities for critical cultural production and began to develop methods for its analysis (Adorno 2009; Benjamin 1999a, 1999c; Levin and von der Linn 1994; cf. Born 1995).


Paul Lazarsfeld’s ‘Radio Project’, first at Princeton University and then at Columbia U, focused on the empirical study of radio audiences and provided a North American research home for both Arnheim and Adorno. This project produced foundational studies of North American media audiences, from studies of audience consumption of radio news to Adorno’s own writings on radios mass reproduction and sonic miniaturization of musical form (Adorno 1941, 2009; Cantril 1940; Lazarsfeld 1940; Lazarsfeld and Stanton 1941; cf. Hullot-Kentor 2009). While the Princeton ‘Radio Project’ initially lent material support to Adorno’s emergent critique of mass culture, under Lazarsfeld’s direction it also conducted some of the first large-scale market research that was to fundamentally shape much twentieth-century corporate media practice (Hullot-Kentor 2009). The tension between these quite different methodological perspectives — the aesthetic and cultural criticism of Adorno, the gestaltist phenomenology of Arnheim, and the empirical and comparative efforts of Lazarsfeld (and later Wilbur Schramm) — echo through much of the scholarship and critical cultural analysis of the past seventy years.

Community and Alternative Media: From Political Analysis to Political Praxis


microphone-lores This emphasis on radio’s particular social properties took on increasing importance in the 1970s and 1980s, as media activists and academics began to seek fissures in dominant mediascapes in which alternative media forms could engender resistance, open spaces for participatory democracy, or find recognition, tolerance, and occasionally state support (Murillo 2008; Rodriguez and El Gazi 2007; Rodriguez and Murphy 1997; Tuffe and Metalopulos 2009). These developments emerged in concert with increasingly sophisticated critiques of dominant, corporate, and national media monopolies and arguments that community-based media catalyze forms of citizenship and inclusion (Huesca 1995; Ojebode and Akingbulu 2009).


This has been most vigorously engaged by scholars working on, alongside, and within minority, diasporic, and indigenous communities in diverse sites around the world (compare Barlow 1999; Meadows 1992; Meadows et al. 2006; Valaskakis 1983,1992). Lorna Roth (1993, 2005), for instance, describes how call-in radio became a central site for negotiating Mohawk claims to sovereignty and self-determination, a process that also illuminates the longstanding disjuncture between First People’s efforts to appropriate media and the forms of governance implied by media regulation. Like Roth, many radio scholars are also media activists, and their work links scholarship with political praxis (Girard 1992; O’Connor 2006).


Such trends are particularly evident in scholarship that focuses on the decades-long use of small-scale or community radio transmitters as tools for promoting development and democracy by a variety of communities, international funders, and national NGOs. Extending the normative, teleological perspective of many colonial projects, the predominant paradigm of development in the 1970s assumed that development was a process of modernization ‘via the delivery and insertion of technologies, and / or inculcating values, attitudes and behaviors in the population’ (Melkote and Steeves 2001, 38).


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, such models of development communications were effectively challenged by scholars pointing out the persistent inequalities and forms of dominance occasioned by these projects (Escobar 1995). For such critics, communication and radio technologies were the means to develop class awareness and foster resistance, ‘antibodies to the ‘neglect, insensitivity and insanity’ of both conventional media and neocolonial projects (Lewis 1993,15; also Berrigan 1981; Mody 1983). Building on these insights, communication scholars and activists throughout the 1990s and 2000s increasingly began to assert that small-scale radio was more adequately seen as an ideal tool for an ‘emancipatory’ communication (Raboy 1993; see also Couldry and Curran 2003; Critical Art Ensemble 2001; Downing 2001,2007; Garnham 2000).


Drawing heavily from liberation theology and the writings of Paolo Freire (1973) on ‘dialogic communication’ proponents of this view argued that communication is not an exchange of information but a complex interplay of information and culturally specific context that will give voice to the voiceless and ‘free people to determine their own futures’ (Melkote and Steeves 2001, 38; Querre 1992). This emancipatory paradigm presumes (often uncritically) that empowerment is the actual and the ideal result of small-scale radio practice. Empowerment, in turn, is increasingly viewed as a crucial element for developing civil society, strengthening institutions, and promoting democracy (Hill 2003; Rozario 1997; Stern, Delthier, and Rogers 2005).


As the goal of much development work shifted from a ‘trickle-down’ model in the 1980s to a ‘bottom-up’ approach of ‘participatory development’ in the 1990s, empowerment has become widely used by development agencies and international organizations as the justification for founding and funding small-scale radio stations around the world (see Brownlee 1983; H. Fisher 1990; Myers 1998; Norrish 1999; Tabing 1997). The primary definition of community radio—as a ‘powerful source for empowerment, especially for disenfranchised and marginalized groups in society’ (Center for International Media Assistance 2007,4)—is now echoed by development officials, media activists, and communication scholars alike.


UNESCO itself has been an important funder of radio research from the early 1960s (see Schramm 1964). It has been particularly influential in promoting the spread of community radios in Africa and Asia, a commitment which has also entailed actively developing new, widely accessible radio technologies (Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada 2001; UNESCO 1997). In the preface to the 2001 Community Radio Handbook, Claude Ondobo, the director of the Communication Development Division, describes a vision of community radio that has now become standard (see AMARC 2008; Panos Institute 2008; Shanks 1999).


UNESCO sees community radio as a medium that gives voice to the voiceless, that serves as the mouthpiece of the marginalized and is at the heart of communication and democratic processes within societies. With community radio, citizens have the means to make their views known on decisions that concern them. The notions of transparency and good governance take on new dimensions and democracy is reinforced. (Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada 2001, iii)


This framing of alternative and community media finds strong empirical and critical support in studies of Latin American radiophony. Such works often draw on a Marxist critique of commercial and state-produced media as forms of ideological domination. They commonly underline the necessity for participation in noncommercial media production by politically marginalized groups and those uprooted by capitalist economies, such as migrant Bolivian communities in Buenos Aires (Grimson 1999) or the Andean migrant radios of Lima (Llorens 1991; Martin-Barbero 1988,1993). Many accounts of radio in Latin America thus describe radio technology as an ideal tool for popular or class protest (Dagron and Cajias 1989; but see Martin-Barbero 1993).


Thus, a number of ethnographically oriented works on radio in Latin America focus on the preconditions for political participation (see Winocur 2003). Anthropologist Diana Agosta (2004), for instance, points to the ownership of new alternative radio stations in El Salvador as an emergent civil society in which participation is itself a value emerging from the practice of radiophony. Robert Huesca’s (1995) account of miners’ radio in Bolivia stresses the ways in which production techniques maintain the anonymity of women speakers, enabling critique as a form of participation.


While these issues are clearest in environments where radio clearly speaks in the voice of state interests, this perspective has traveled to other social contexts as a normative trope for radios real voice. Small-scale radio, then, becomes described as a technology that produces a predictable democratizing effect opposed to the alienation of mainstream media (cf. Spinelli 1996).


From Media and Communication to Radio Studies


microphone-lores While this stress on media’s democratizing potential informs a significant strand of radio writing, it should be read alongside historical and cultural studies writings on radio that question the legacy of the Frankfurt School’s critiques of popular culture. Valuable historical scholarship has demonstrated how commercial and popular cultures became increasingly linked through radio’s development and national integration (Hilmes 1997), exploring in detail the imbrications of popular media and national publics in the early twentieth century. Others have described the ways radio media—commercial, state sponsored, and community based alike—may provide the building blocks for a range of social identities and social movements (Chignell 2009; cf. Hall 1980). While such work embraces a holistic approach to understanding the significance of media as the foundation of cultural production in modern life, and such projects have grown increasingly important in a broader ‘radio studies,’ there remains a tension within much recent writing on radio between critical celebration of noncommercial, alternative, and community media production (as in Howley 2009 and discussed earlier) and the tacit valorization of popular culture and the vernacular or idiosyncratic uses of commercial media by different audiences and individuals (see Hilmes 2002; Scannell 1995,1996). Bull (2004), Schiffer (1991), and Zilm (1993), for instance, each draw attention to the ways that the portable nature of the radio set, including its important status in the automobile, shapes its social uptake.


Emerging in part from the broader attention to media within British cultural studies and coalescing around the term ‘radio studies’ and a listserv under the same title, more recent radio research aims programmatically to transcend the older normative frameworks that might divide commercial from public or governmental from pedagogic (see Chignell 2009; Hendy 2000; Hopkinson and Tacchi 2000; Scannell 1995). For instance, John Hartley’s (2000) neologism ‘radiocracy’—or government by radio—makes explicit the frequent co-occurrence of the governmental and commercial, the instructive and the entertaining, the demagogic and the distracting. While Hartley and his interlocutors are preoccupied with the promise of radio to


elicit forms of public identification and imagined community, they observe that the actual practices that such communities engage in can vary widely (Hopkinson and Tacchi 2000). For David Hendy, the tension between accounts of radios demagogic potential and its popular, democratic appeal has instead been a powerful rubric for questioning the degree of power we lend the medium itself. Hendy (2000, 202-214) observes that Rwandan genocide and Bolivian popular resistance have both been linked to radio broadcasting (see also Des Forges 2007; Kellow and Steeves 1998; O’Connor 1990; Thomson 2007), and he suggests that such entanglements cannot be attributed only to ‘radios power.’ Rather, broader features of mediascapes, national publics, and the politics of popular culture are crucial for how radio voices are understood to address and constitute their audiences (see also Shandler 2009).


The contributors to this volume take such features as central ethnographic questions, but not merely as empirical problems to be solved with better data. For instance, several contributors to this collection note the social variability and complicity between forms of liberal governmentality and the understandings of voice and subjectivity encouraged in forms of participatory communication. Such ethnographic analyses suggest that we question the givenness of both ‘communication’ and ‘community’ as ahistorical categories and thus as the paradigmatic lenses through which to analyze or understand radio media. This perspective also benefits from broader analyses within both anthropology and media and communications studies that open the very concept of communication to historical and metapragmatic critique (Axel 2006; Peters 1999; cf. Kittler 1999).


Radio and Place, as Art and in Cultural Studies


microphone-lores Cultural studies and art writers have also provided significant critical frameworks for rethinking radio’s relationship to place and the particular ways it builds an audience through appeals to the local. Influential critical writings posit that radio’s seeming local character and intimate address may in fact conceal radio’s industrial production of locality and profound relationship with capitalist logics of space, time, and commodification (Berland 1990, 1993.1994; cf. Schafer 1977). Jeffrey Sconce (2000), for example, locates the anxiety and panic surrounding Orson Welles’s famous broadcast of the ‘War of the Worlds’ in the loss of media’s mysteriousness and its new link to entrenched institutions of broadcasting and the bureaucratic machinery of modernity.


R. Murray Schafer (1977) echoes Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan (1960) to argue that radio’s schizophonia (the splitting of sounds from their sources) ‘ventriloquizes modern life’ and that radio sound colonizes space. Jody Berland (1993, 1994) echoes these anxieties about radio’s spatial expansion, arguing that the voices of commercial radio DJs interpolate a local listening community in the interests of a nonlocal dynamic of market expansion. Such perspectives begin to theorize the mediated sonic environment and point to the interactions between capital, technology, and expressive form by which radio emplaces listeners in a variety of ways (see also Corbin 1998).


While such trends support the efforts of alternative radio activists and scholars, they are also in critical dialogue with earlier efforts to rethink radio as a practice by artists such as Glenn Gould, John Cage, and Pierre Shaefer, among others [See Note 2] (Cage 1961; cf. Bazzana 2004; Strauss and Mandl 1993). Their explorations of the aesthetic implications of audio media have inspired a range of recent radio criticism that lends insight into how radios possibilities encourage reexamination of the relationship between sound, technology, and social life (Kahn and Whitehead 1994; Weiss 1995).


The English-language publication of Jacques Attali’s Noise (1992) also stimulated scholars, artists, and producers to assess the transformative potential embodied in digital media (see also Augaitis and Lander 1994; Kahn and Whitehead 1994). In Attali’s celebratory account, we are on the brink of a new age of ‘composition’ — in which the tools of music production are dispersed to act as ‘noise’ in the stockpiling and commodified distribution of music as product. We are all, Attali’s text suggests, producers. Such experiments in writing and radio continue to prove inspirational both within anthropology and without (Erlman 2004; Feld 1996; Westerkamp 1994, 2002) and have been an important resource for reimagining radio as both art and expressive culture.


Indeed, Attali’s writings have been a catalyst for broader conversations about audio media that now provide a new set of coordinates for thinking about radio beyond the dichotomous opposition between an alienating mass media and empowering community voice. This emerging scholarship on the social life of sound frequently places audio technology at its center and often employs conceptual frames drawn from science and technology studies.


Such work includes writings about the acoustics of concert halls (Thompson 2002); the soundscapes of infirmaries (Rice 2003) and village squares (Corbin 1998); the history of sound reproduction, telephony, and radiophony (Gitelman 1999, 2006; Sterne 2003); and anthropological attention to the institutional production of expertise around digital music and the engineering of sonic culture (Born 1995; Greene and Porcello 2005; cf. Pinch and Bijsterveld 2004; Pinch and Trocco 2002). This work builds on a broader effort to bring together social history and cultural analysis with an interest in the technological entailments of media forms more broadly (cf. Kittler 1999; Liu 2004).


For example, Jonathan Sterne (2003) deploys the concept of transduction, a term from physics which refers to the conversion between one form of energy to another, to gain critical distance on the materiality of sound (cf. Helmreich 2007), while Lisa Gitelman (2006) writes of the broader protocols and conceptual claims that coalesce around new media technologies (by comparing recorded sound and telephony with the World Wide Web). In this more recent work, the question is less one of a relationship between an electronic medium and its audience and more between technology and epistemology. While not about radio per se, such expansive attention to sound and its mediation provide significant axes for thinking about radio fields.

Radio and Language


microphone-lores While writings from communications and cultural studies provide powerful suggestions for rethinking radio, perhaps more familiar to anthropologists are sociolinguistic approaches to radio speech, which frequently refer back to Erving Goffman’s (1981) attention to distinguishing features of broadcast speech as significant for establishing the routines of everyday talk, and to Allan Bell’s (1983) descriptive account of broadcast news registers as prestige standards and normative frames for speech communities (cf. Bhimji 2001; Coupland 2001; Scannell 1996).


Others have focused on the complex ways in which media language practices interpellate listeners into wider constituents of a nation, ethnicity, or social collective (see Barnett 2000). Such sociolinguistic research has entailed substantial (albeit not thematically coherent) contributions from anthropologists and ethnographically focused scholars. Craig Palmer’s (1990) interests in two-way radio communication among commercial lobster fishermen in Maine emerges from extended ethnography and focuses on radios potential to amplify the availability of valuable information and on the ways this may shed light on forms of secrecy and sharing of information around scarce resources. Martin Spinelli (2006) extends such concerns by examining how the editing practices entailed by radio’s recent digital extension affects the language practices and rhetorical forms around which radio speech is organized. Linguistic research has also been an important source for articles on indigenous radio production as a kind of archival resource for further exploration of the pragmatics of speech genres (Shaul 1988).


Although a good deal of such work presumes radios transparency and neutrality as a channel for language rather than as constitutive of its socially specific forms and practices, many such scholars also foreground the effects of audio media on speech pragmatics. Much of this work has focused on the particular format of talk radio (see Katriel 2004; Matza 2009). Ian Hutchby (1999), for instance, describes the initial turn-taking sequences of calls to talk-back radio shows, drawing on Goffman’s notion of ‘footing’ to discuss the ways that participants, callers and hosts, creatively entail the interactive contexts of the broadcast frame.


Douglas Coupland (2001) draws on Bakhtin’s work with speech genres to analyze the ‘dialect stylization’ and ironic distance established by Welsh DJs, whose phonological performances both index their Welsh identities and yet, by virtue of their heteroglossic play, also deauthenticate and distance themselves from that identity as well. This harks back to Goffman’s sense that to speak on the radio is to perform in a very literal sense. Linguistic anthropologists working within this broad domain focus on the interanimation of media and linguistic form, foregrounding how radio has provided new forums for valuing language practices for many minority and indigenous communities (see Browne 1990,1992,1998; Cormack 2000; Eisenlohr 2004; Fava 1989; Luykx 2001), including [the languages of the] Aymara (Albo 1974; Swinehart 2009), Navajo (Klain and Peterson 2000; Peterson 1997), Lakota (Smith and Cornette 1998), and Kuna (Gerdes 1998) [peoples]. Such scholarship begins to suggest the numerous linguistic resources speakers engage on the radio in order to key social difference and to establish effective mediatized communicative frames. Such accounts also begin to locate such media practices within a wider set of social, political, and economic conditions.

Introduction to the Chapters


microphone-lores This volume defines an anthropology of radio in relation to the intellectual trends and projects discussed in the preceding sections. In doing so, it draws a crucial distinction between radio scholarship based on fieldwork methodologies in general and the specific conceptual concerns of media anthropologists as applied to radio. Moreover, such concerns are not homogeneous or uniform. In this section, we bring the insights of the chapters into dialogue with one another, as well as with some of the major questions in radio scholarship detailed earlier. The aim is to illustrate the diversity of radio sociality and productive tensions within analyses of it.


Here, we argue that the anthropology of radio fields opens expansive and provocative ways to rethink foundational assumptions about how media creates social collectives within complex political fields, the changing character of expressive economies in the context of neoliberal state reforms, phenomenological questions about how sound influences the subjective experience of space and time, or radio’s capacity to alter and key distinct contexts of perception, affect, and everyday politics. Radio encompasses a range of electromagnetic frequencies, broadcast formats, wireless networks, and programming genres, which range from two-way dyadic handsets to corporate news broadcasts or from live link-ups with cell phones to Internet streaming of popular music that extends far beyond the reach of actual radio waves.


Together, the contributors illustrate a staggering diversity of radio technologies, even as they reveal the unpredictability of their social effects. Each contribution follows radio into unsettling and provocative questions. The authors underline radio’s excessive nature and make it clear that it is impossible to understand radio sociality without taking seriously the interlocking cultural meanings that radiate outward from any particular radio field.


All the contributions, however, share a basic focus on the complex intersection of radio technology and emergent social relations. The authors question the givenness or stability of both ‘communication’ and ‘community’ as analytic categories and thus as the paradigmatic lenses through which to understand radio media. Rather, they describe how the communities empowered by radio technologies must be understood as constituted, to some degree, by the very media forms they adopt. In the examples described in this volume, the contributors each show how this relationship is shaped by the particular qualities of radio, as an assemblage of expertise, material circuitry, listening practices, and sound. In doing so, they expand on the central insight of such different writers such as Frantz Fanon (1959) and Friedrich Kittler (1999) and more historicist analyses of communication (Axel 2006; Peters 1999).


The chapters are loosely organized along five conceptual axes. Each axis represents a widespread approach to radios sociality. At the same time, however, we have argued that radio is a compelling ethnographic site precisely because it exceeds any singular analytic heuristic and entails putting multiple interpretative frameworks to work. This means that each of the chapters may offer a distinct set of orienting concerns, even while speaking to multiple axes or approaches. Such groupings, then, are far from rigid or deterministic. Instead, they are intended to reveal some of the central resonances and tensions around which this volume has taken shape. In what follows, we signal the divergences and overlaps of the concerns illustrated by the chapters, both singly and in dialogue with one another, and suggest what theoretical significance they may hold for the future anthropology of radio fields.

Axis I: The Voice


microphone-lores Several contributors make ‘voice’ a central focus of their work. As a figure, ‘voice’ frequently links the social potentials of vocal address to longstanding tropes of social agency and liberal personhood. To have a voice is, in this understanding, to ‘have’ agency (Bauman and Briggs 2003; Weidman 2006). Yet such generic equations risk overlooking the specific ways this figure has become widely compelling and consequential. The voice has thus been problematized by ethnographers concerned with theorizing agency, with pursuing a phenomenology of social interaction, and with detailing the ways in which new media technologies inform or problematize local expressive economies (Feld et al. 2004; Hirschkind 2006; Inoue 2006; Weidman 2006).


As the contributors to this volume make clear, radio offers a unique site for the ethnographic analysis of the mediatized voice; the specific and variable ways it interpellates listeners as members of audiences, collectives, and publics; and the means by which it shapes and shades affective experience. At the same time, they call attention to the ways such dynamics vary according to the particular forms of radio transmission (commercial, pirate, small scale, two way) and to how they are embedded within larger social, political, and historical contexts.


Such questions are taken up explicitly in the first two chapters by Laura Kunreuther and Daniel Fisher. Kunreuther (see also 2006) draws from extensive fieldwork to trace the cultural history of FM broadcasting in Nepal and its significance for the democracy movements of the 1990s. She analyses a local equation of radio with ‘free speech’ and ‘voice’ as agency, a correspondence that became prominent following the 1990 ‘Peoples’ Movement’ that ushered in a democratic government. She describes how, in many accounts of modernity, the voice is nostalgically recalled as a primordial site of agency and authenticity, in contrast to the presumed distancing effects of sight. Kunreuther notes that while vision is often figured as the quintessentially ‘modern’ sense, the figure of voice, as a cultural construct, has gained significance in this modern moment of neoliberal democratic reforms and with a corresponding explosion of new media. Yet while Nepalese discourses of the modern foreground the immediacy and transparency of a radio voice, Kunreuther also describes how older forms of social relations persist in forms of radio-station ownership and programming.


Fisher (see also 2009) describes how Aboriginal radio producers at FM stations in urban Australia negotiate tensions between their understandings of the voice as a technologically malleable site of expressive practice and as the foundation of indigenous identity and political agency. As with Kunreuther, this chapter questions the global spread of a particular expressive ideology and its problematic relationship to media technologies. Voice here comes to matter as a relationship between a global discourse of ‘the voice’ as a sign of agency and therapeutic self-expression, even while the technological practice of producing the voice for radio destabilizes and unsettles its a priori character. The techniques of radio and its globally mobile musical content make the sounds of Aboriginal voices provocative and problematic. They become imbued with an uncanny character, at once of particular Aboriginal selves and other to them. Fisher describes how Aboriginal radio producers bring two poles of ‘voice’ together.


In Fisher’s analysis, then, the voice becomes a lively terrain for political negotiation and indigenous self-fashioning, while indigenous radio stations figure as institutions that enable insight into the emergence of a local ‘voice consciousness’ (Feld et al. 2004).


In these chapters, as well as in contributions by Dorothea Schulz, Jeffrey S. Juris, Kira Kosnick, Lucas Bessire, Anderson Blanton, Jo Tacchi, and Debra Vidali-Spitulnik, the voice is inseparable from its technological and institutional mediation. More than an expression of resistance or personal expression, it gains its social life through particular technologies, local linguistic ideologies, and specific institutional practices. Expression, in different degrees, is shaped by the particular social practices and materials (institutional, technological, and cultural) by which radio sound is produced. Yet these broad suppositions emerge from particular historical moments.


Thus, Kunreuther’s description of the voice of the democratic, neoliberal citizen claiming equality shares in a globally mobile linguistic ideology but remains quite distinct from the voice of Aboriginal Australians grappling with the ontological ramifications of media technologies and their appropriation of global musical genres, as well as from the voices of Free Radio DJs in Mexico City described by Juris, the female Islamic radio preachers in Mali described by Schulz, or the self-conscious stagings of the voice in German ‘MultiKulti’ radio documented by Kosnick. Kunreuther and Fisher thus join other contributors to show how particular radio publics are constituted in dialogue with local and changing conditions of cultural production. Together, they illustrate a variety of distinct domains in which radio media — as institution, technology, and discursive provocateur — creatively entail those forms of social relation they often seem merely to reflect.

Axis II: Radio and Nation


microphone-lores Chapters by Danny Kaplan (also 2009) and Dorothea Schulz similarly comment on the technological production of radio’s voice but foreground its power to interpellate audiences. Whereas Kunreuther and Fisher focus on social poetics and discourses of personhood and identity in a national context, Kaplan and Schulz turn to the nation as an explicitly central frame for exploring such questions. As Benedict Anderson’s (1983) landmark book Imagined Communities suggests for print media, media forms such as radio have been conceptualized as central technologies for constituting a national ‘public sphere’ and regimes of citizenship (Born 2004). Pioneering scholarship by Martin Hadlow (2004), Rudolf Mrazek (2002), and Lissant Bolton (1999) underscores the crucial role that broadcast radio plays in constructing national imaginaries.


Bolton (1999), for instance, describes how lingua franca radio programming in the dispersed islands of Vanuatu enabled the postcolonial emergence of an image of the nation and citizenship based on a shared discourse of ‘kastom.’ These contributions to the collection show that while globalization may have restructured such identifications, the nation — as both assembly of hegemonic institutions and as a potent social imaginary — remains a vital part of everyday life for many people around the world (Ginsburg, Abu-Lughod, and Larkin 2002a, 11).


Kaplan and Schulz reveal distinct ways that radio sound is intrinsically entangled with the narratives, sentiments, and images of a national imaginary or the ‘unevenly spread’ authority of governing institutions (see also Abu-Lughod 1990; Postill 2003, 2008; Tsing 2003).


Kaplan (see also 2009) underscores the role of radio engineering as ‘a bottom-up practice of nation-making’ in Israel. He describes how radio sound is self-consciously ‘crossed’ in editing practices with shared public events, from banal shifts in weather to profoundly fraught events of commemoration or violence. Radio stations across Israel, he argues, use such crosses within their broadcasts to intentionally shift ‘the national mood’ by evoking well-rehearsed narratives of nation and self. Favoring the logic of live editing over predetermined programming, radio engineers become active interpreters of what it means to be an Israeli citizen. They use radio sound to mark certain events as nationally significant, including the states of emergency that are all too familiar for most residents.


Moreover, Kaplan describes how such strategies are taken up by private broadcasters as a way to remain publicly relevant in a rapidly changing media environment. For Kaplan, the conditions of broadcast radio production play a crucial role in defining events and imbuing them with significance within wider imaginaries of the nation. Radio sound, in his analysis, is explicitly imagined to evoke and ‘engineer’ the nation.


Broadcast radio and talk programs do not always reinforce or produce a shared imaginary of the nation. Rather, this technology may also reflect profound tensions implied by negotiating gendered citizenship within the variety of competing social interests organized within a single state. Such frames are complicated even further in cases where citizenship is overlain or held commensurate with the moral values of a dominant religious faith or a foundational narrative of persecution.


Schulz describes broadcast radio’s central role in widening public discourses of Islamic moral renewal in Mali. She explores how the terms of public debates around Islam are related to the recent proliferation of private FM radio stations and examines the increasingly prominent public presence that radio practice implies for Muslim women, specifically female ‘radio preachers.’ Cautioning readers against interpreting such media effects as evidence that media use results in ‘resistance’ by oppressed Muslim women or a ‘democratization’ of religious interpretation, Schulz argues for a less instrumentalist notion of radio technology — an argument supported by many of the other contributions to this volume.


Like Kunreuther, Fisher, Lynn Stephen, Bessire, and Blanton, Schulz explores how radio broadcasting, as a relatively new technology of mediating religion, inflects the message it publicizes with culturally specific notions of voice, sound, and authority. In the case of Mali, radio broadcasts circumscribe audience engagements with religious texts and reconfigure public debate by fostering new imaginations and norms of religious community as well as moral difference. Rather than assuming that audio reproduction technologies introduced radical ontological changes or focusing on the disruptions in the foundations of religious authority they generate, Schulz illustrates several significant continuities in how authority is claimed and assigned over the radio, as well as the ways in which listeners attribute significance to a variety of social practices or discourses through their media engagements.


Citizenship, for Kaplan and Schulz, then, is indelibly shaped by radio technology. As in the chapters by Kunreuther, Fisher, Kaplan, Juris, Kosnick, Bessire, Tacchi, and Vidali-Spitulnik, it arises from complex negotiations organized by radio networks whose social effects routinely exceed any single national project or state agenda. While broadcast radio plays a central role in setting the terms of discourses of the nation, a process intensified when listeners are able to call in and talk back to the messages they are hearing, as in the talk radio described in chapters by Schulz, Melinda Hinkson, and Blanton, or the two-way radio described in the chapter by Bessire. Each of the chapters signals that such relationships between radio production and national imaginaries are deeply linked to the experience of listening to and speaking with radios voice.


The chapters of this collection draw attention to the phenomenological and affective components of citizenship, or how it arises from particular bodily practices and cultivated sensibilities. In doing so, tracking radio sociality also comments on a central concern for anthropologists interested in the senses and the critical ethnography of sentiment (Hirshkind 2006; Seremetakis 1996). The contributors to this volume suggest that it is precisely such qualities of radio sound that may allow it to reinforce or subvert projects of governmentality and to graft public/private boundaries onto living bodies.


In the case of Russian radio call-in programs examined by Tomas Matza (2009), for example, radio technology enables widespread anxieties about neoliberal political economies to be envisioned as an interior subjective space and mediated over the airwaves. Such processes open new spaces for surveillance and subjection but also point to the ways radio technology promotes complex entanglements of self-making and public-making that can be channeled into a variety of agendas and outcomes, including but not limited to those controlled or regulated by states.

Axis III: Community Radio


microphone-lores Earlier we described a prominent trend in radio studies that focuses on community or alternative radio forms as the clearest expression of radio’s emancipatory and empowering potential. Scholars have located such potentials in the free circulation of information within a ‘counterpublic sphere’ that gives ‘voice to the voiceless’ and is opposed to the dominating policies of the state and the corroding local effects of mass media produced elsewhere (Fraser 1991; Tacchi 2002; Tamminga 1997; UNESCO 1997; Urla 1994). Often these notions are taken as givens when radio use involves members of indigenous, peasant, or minority groups that have historically been figured in both romantic and derogatory terms as outside of history and radically other to modernity and its projects. Mario Murillo (2008), for instance, describes Radio Payu’mat in northern Colombia as intrinsically resistant indigenous radio but labors to distinguish this resistance fundamentally from the support it receives from the state as well as the marketing of commercial music it at times includes.


This volume follows sophisticated accounts by Kathy Buddie-Crowe (2002, 2008) and Lucila Vargas (1995) in taking the relation between community and radio as a primary ethnographic question. Chapters by Lynn Stephen, Melinda Hinkson, and Jeff Juris describe three distinct modes of small-scale, local radio practices in relation to larger social and political contexts. Stephen describes what happens when a popular uprising targets radio, in this case a landmark 2006 womens march in Oaxaca, Mexico, that took over state-owned and commercial radio stations.


She explores why community radio suddenly spread across the area after the march and relates new opportunities for participatory democracy in Oaxaca to the postmarch integration of testimonial speech genres as central to regional radio broadcasts. Stephen argues that the potential of broadcast community radio to become a political force in this case arises because it provides a forum for expanding the speech genre of personal testimonial. Such testimonials, which emphasize inclusive participation and emotional expressions, are a longstanding feature of local community governance in Oaxaca. The women marchers, by inserting their voices into radio broadcasts, effectively claimed a valid space for participation within the democratic process of the nation, precisely because they made personal testimonials a central part of radio sociality For Stephen, the antihegemonic or empowering potentials of radio broadcasting depend on direct action and language ideologies or communicational style. The ideal aim of the community uprising in Oaxaca was not generalized resistance but, rather, the specific inclusion of a variety of minority voices within the democratic political process; radio technology played a pivotal role in realizing this aim.


Hinkson describes a distinct relation between local communities and broadcast radio in central Australia. Whereas Stephen focused on the ways commercial stations became a negative catalyst for community mobilization, Hinkson describes how local broadcast practices are related to Aboriginal cultural reproduction. The Warlpiri Media Association was established in Yuendumu, central Australia in 1984, two years before national broadcasting was introduced into remote Australia. Over the subsequent two and a half decades, the activity undertaken by this organization has been influenced by changing funding and policy circumstances as well as the shifting dynamics of intercultural collaboration. In this chapter, Hinkson explores broadcasting by the Pintupi Anmatyerre Warlpiri radio network, which operates across eleven communities spread across a vast region. [See Note 3]


She focuses on the distinctive approach of young Warlpiri people to on-air broadcasting and locates their media practices within particular Warlpiri cultural imperatives. In this chapter, Hinkson describes how Warlpiri people utilize on-air dedications to publicly proclaim and cite an expanding field of mobile and dynamic interpersonal relationships. Radio, for Hinkson, does not simply reproduce ‘tradition’ in the present. Rather, she shows how broadcast radio is a critical tool for reproducing the defining values and subjectivities of a contemporary Warlpiri community within the complex conditions of postcolonial Aboriginal Australia.


Juris explores similar questions from the perspective of illegal urban radios in Mexico. His chapter explores the role of radio within grassroots movements for social change, specifically examining the relationship between illegality and autonomy among Mexican ‘free’ or pirate radios. Given the extreme concentration of Mexican media in the hands of two large conglomerates, one response has been to attempt to build a democratic movement for communication rights. The work of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) to promote the legalization and proliferation of community radios in Mexico represents one example of such an approach.


The free media movement proposes an alternative strategy: instead of pushing for legal access, free radios encourage communicational autonomy by taking the airwaves through illegal transmissions, posing a significant challenge to both private and state-oriented media.


Through an ethnographic account of the politics of excess and transgression within Radio Autonoma, an urban, largely youth-based free radio station in Mexico City, as well as comparative interviews with their counterparts in other urban and rural/indigenous communities, Juris develops the notion of communicational autonomy and considers the consequences of illegality for Mexican free radios within the domains of autonomy, security, and repression. On the one hand, free radio activists view their refusal to apply for legal permits as part of a growing politics of autonomy among Mexican grassroots movements. On the other hand, this oppositional stance means that free radios are under constant surveillance and threat of repression. Juris thus argues that illegality is a necessary condition and also an obstacle to the politics of autonomy among free radios in Mexico. In his account, such free media are ‘privileged institutional arenas for the construction of autonomy as a discourse, ideal, and mode of social practice.’


These chapters describe three distinct kinds of relations between minority or indigenous communities and small-scale broadcast radio. Along with contributions to this volume by Fisher and Bessire, they reveal how such technologies are used to expand a wide range of practices and social projects, as well as the range of technological assemblages grouped under the label ‘community radio.’ These include locally controlled AM or FM stations intended only for regional audiences — the classic ‘radio by the people, for the people’ — as well as community-specific programming embedded within wider broadcast networks, unlicensed FM broadcasters transmitting illegally or diverting satellite signals, or even commercial stations that are taken over by direct action.


Despite these differences, the contributors to this volume are in accord on four main points. The first is that the terms of community, resistance, and autonomy are each set to varying degrees by local radio practices. Radio technology is generative of such effects in ways that are specific to both auditory media and particular contexts of control and adjudication. Second, each of the accounts illustrates the central role of mediated voice and vocal address to the constitution and circulation of authority at various social scales. Third, a key component in radios ability to shape forms of authority in each case derives from the fact that its users hold multiple subject positions simultaneously. Radio use itself may be seen to constitute a unique form of subjectivity across these domains: that of ‘the media producer,’ host, or participant. Thus, the voices of Oaxacan marchers simultaneously figure as the voices of gendered subjects, members of a ‘peasant’ or lower class, representatives of domestic labor, universal citizens, and savvy, progressive media makers.


Juris’s chapter draws attention to the ways illegal radio broadcasts enable a recursive relation between the idealized autonomous space of radio and the personified sites for the romantic or stigmatized oppositions often located in the wilderness or the rural, including the subject position of the ‘peasant,’ ‘youth’ ‘guerrilla,’ ‘laborer’ or ‘Indian.’ Such insights also resonate with descriptions by Kunreuther, Fisher, Kosnick, Bessire, and Vidali-Spitulnik.


Finally, these dynamics unsettle the notion that small-scale radio use necessary implies an antihegemonic stance. Rather, community radio use can further a variety of contradictory social agendas (see also Flueckiger 1991). Even in cases where resistance is the explicit aim, each of the chapters shows how the technological features of broadcast radio imply a series of complex negotiations and outcomes.

Axis IV: Transnational Circuits


microphone-lores A common theme linking all of the chapters is the tension between local social projects and the border-crossing potentials of radio technology. For many anthropologists and each contributor to this volume, attending to radio and its vocality has called attention beyond explicit staging of identities in a single place to the highly mobile and fluid registers of belonging that characterize much everyday engagement with uncontainable radio waves (cf. Appadurai 1990, 1996). Radio has proven a particularly apt technology of dramatic emplotment, sentimental scripts, and feelings of longing, nostalgia, desire, or hope as they move over time and space, including international borders (see Abu-Lughod 2005; Fink et al. 1981; Grimson 1999).


Chapters by Kosnick and Bessire, as well as other contributors, examine how radio offers a unique vantage onto the debate about how deterritorialized media practices within a global mediascape reorganize a variety of identifications and senses of belonging to the local, the nation, and diasporic communities. Despite some claims to the contrary, the new order of globalized interconnection often noted by scholars has intensified local anxieties about social boundaries of all kinds and has produced new forms of distinction, even within discourses of ‘multi-’ or ‘pluricultural’ states.


In this volume, Kosnick in particular tracks radio practices among peoples and institutions whose social lives contest old boundaries and create new spaces of imagination from which to engage the global reordering of politics and economics. Her chapter presents fieldwork material gathered in the context of working as an intern and freelance journalist at Berlin’s public-service radio station ‘Radio MultiKulti’. Given that the stations stated mission is to give a voice to ethnic minorities on its airwaves, Kosnick describes how it negotiated the manifold difficulties associated with rendering ethno-cultural diversity audible on its airwaves. Contrasting the station’s claims to inclusiveness with the day-to-day processes of constructing audible representations of ethnic difference, she demonstrates the strengths of participant observation in being able to reveal the actual power dynamics that inform daily practices of audio representation.


She analyzes how difference was constructed through various aspects of Radio MultiKulti’s production, including the use of accents in its German-language programs in order to denote a ‘foreign view,’ questions of editorial control in the backrooms, and the construction of an imagined ‘native’ target audience.


Kosnick’s account shows how such self-conscious participation in a global discourse of ‘the voice’ as a site for resistance undermines the station’s claims to give a voice to immigrants and to contribute to minority empowerment. Kosnick troubles the notion that giving voice is itself a transparent process or alone sufficient to allow for expanded political participation, even as she shows how radio technology may be a central technology for imagining political sensibilities through recognizably foreign sounds. In doing so, she offers a distinct perspective on the transnational politics of voice and vocal citizenship.


Bessire’s chapter approaches similar questions from a very different perspective, by describing the intensive use of a transnational, solar-powered, two-way radio network among recently contacted Ayoreo-speaking people of the Bolivian and Paraguayan Gran Chaco. Ayoreo-speaking people use two-way radio sets to build cross-border alliances around formulaic expressions of everyday emotion and news of suffering or ill bodies. Such expressions, in turn, are believed to catalyze the circulation of a metaphysical soul-matter that is widely considered to have been reconstituted by contact and conversion and that provides the source of radio’s power to heal and assist its participants.


Two-way radio becomes an effective technology for collective self-objectification by linguistically standardizing a unique Ayoreo vision of moral modernity around phatic exchanges in a transcendent acoustic space. Yet Bessire also argues that such Ayoreo media practices have long been misrecognized by outsiders, who have either ignored their generative effects altogether or only interpreted these relative to the artificially limited set of practices that count as indigenous tradition or cultural authenticity in the region. Thus, Bessires chapter locates the political potentials of Ayoreo radio in a fundamental disconnect between fluid ontological understandings of radio’s voice and encompassing discourses about what electronic media entail for relatively isolated indigenous populations.


For both authors, radio tunes the researcher in to the complex social interplay that renders borders simultaneously porous and surprisingly durable. Like other scholarship on this area, Kosnick and Bessire, as well as Kunreuther, Fisher, Hinkson, Schulz, and Blanton, emphasize that radio may increase access to a global set of signs and symbols that are always locally coproduced and that the meaning of this access is rooted in particular ways of understanding the relationships between voice, information, power, and space.


Similarly, Andrew Skuse (2006), writing about the production of BBC radio soap operas intended for audiences in pre-2001 Afghanistan, has examined the fraught process by which corporate and state agencies attempt to anticipate, activate, and export such sentimental sequences. Such soap operas are not intended for entertainment but rather seek to cause ‘discrete development goals’ around human rights, hygiene, and education. Georgina Born has brought ethnographic attention to the BBC, figuring such institutions of cultural production as ‘cultural states,’ intentionally designed to cultivate a ‘normalized’ citizenry through radio broadcasts (2004, 66-67).


Viewing such scholarship on radio as a governmental instrument from the perspective of Kosnick’s and Bessire’s work, as well as that of other contributors, we begin to see the ways that radio’s travels at times may also exceed such governmental aims, becoming instead a resource for a variety of border-crossing projects that are by no means predictable or predetermined.

Axis V: Language and Perception


microphone-lores Ethnographic analyses of radio’s social life commonly foreground issues of language practices and bodily perception. Each of the chapters shows how radio technology may act as a sociolinguistic catalyst or resource, while radio sound may itself ‘key’ contexts of speech and conversation, shape practices of listening, popularize or stigmatize dialects, and extend or extinguish speech genres, codes, and dialogic conventions (Goffman 1981; Myers and Brenneis 1984). It may also pattern or structure other kinds of perception. Bennie Klain and Leighton Peterson (2000), for example, describe the emergence of a ‘broadcast Navajo’ in vernacular commercial radio. Through rapid tempos of speaking, lexical creativity, and liberal code switching, broadcasters bring together cultural practice and technological innovation to provide a space to index the limits of a Navajo community. At other times, broadcast styles or vocal inflections associated with elsewhere are mimicked or parodied.


Aurolyn Luykx (2001) addresses the significance of satellite radio technologies for vernacular broadcasting and language maintenance programs in Quechua-speaking regions of the Andes, arguing that the significance of this technology emerges in the lack of support it receives from state agencies and the not-unrelated sense of ownership its listeners experience through hearing familiar sounds. Karl Swinehart (2009) describes a distinct dynamic, in which programmers at Radio San Gabriel, the oldest Aymara-language station in Bolivia, intentionally edit content for linguistic purity. These chapters, as well as chapters by Kunreuther, Fisher, Schulz, Kosnick, Bessire, Blanton, and Vidali-Spitulnik, emphasize how radio’s sociality emerges at the juncture of speech practice, language ideology, and political context.


Chapters by Blanton, Tacchi and Vidali-Spitulnik explicitly make language and perception central to their analyses and extend existing insights in unexpected ways.


Blanton draws from ethnographic observations of Appalachian radio faith healers to explore the unanticipated centrality of tactile experience within listening to prayer over the radio, usually understood as an exclusively auditory phenomenon. He describes how the faithful listener in ‘radioland’ must put his or her hand on the radio apparatus in order to receive the healing power of the Holy Ghost. Charismatic practices such as skein prayer and radio tactility, he argues, can be seen as performative negotiations of a specific technologically mediated environment just as much as attempts to influence and instantiate supernatural power. He suggests that there are crucial moments within the ritual context when the performance of prayer and the technical apparatus of radio become indistinguishable. For Blanton, the phenomenon of radio tactility shows how radio technology becomes a ‘prosthesis of prayer’ and an ‘apparatus of faith’ that supplements and extends the spiritualized language practices and rhetoric of faith healing. In his analysis, the language of prayer is fundamentally altered when it is passed through radio circuitry, even as radio sets themselves function to extend the perceptual and tactile capacities of the listening, praying subject.


Whereas Blanton examines how radio practice organizes subjective dispositions, Tacchi is concerned with the ways the digital extension of radio sound organizes the affective management of the everyday in what she calls the ‘(i)home,’ a digitally enabled private sphere with multiple channels for the reception and circulation of media content. Informed by a long-term ethnographic study of people’s perceptions of radio sound in Great Britain, she notes a striking generational shift in ways of defining radio as a technological form. While young adults nostalgically associate radio with the past, their uses of digitally mediated audio, including streamed radio, closely mirror the domestic role occupied by radio some two decades ago. Tacchi argues that this tension between a changing technological form and a durable domestic utility should be understood in terms of a consistent subjective need for ‘stillness’ and domestic privacy, a function that is at the heart of contemporary digital media’s social appeal in the metropolitan north.


In her analysis, the digital extension of radio sound reveals the degree to which ‘the technological’ has become central to defining perceptions of the novelty or urgency of the present moment and the appropriate techniques for affective management these entail. In such ways, Tacchi’s chapter also exemplifies some of phenomenology’s key methodological insights and their applicability to radio ethnography. When Tacchi describes her interlocutor’s apprehension of mediated sound as a form of ‘affordance’ (Gibson 1979; cf. Merleau-Ponty 1962; Norman 2002), she provides an experiential account of continuities between radio’s domestic life and contemporary digital technology in the (i)home.


While Blanton and Tacchi foreground the relations between the nature of mediated sound and social experience, Vidali-Spitulnik uses radio to describe a relationship between language and perception. Her chapter draws from long-term Zambian fieldwork to locate radio within a range of arenas that are ‘tangential to the immediate moments of media production and media reception,’ and she uses linguistic evidence to describe how radio technology and mediated talk changed local ways of perceiving modernity.


Vidali-Spitulnik makes this argument, in large part, by describing nouns and verbs for radio broadcasting from the Bemba language. She shows how different orders of linguistic data — such as nicknames for radio personalities, modes of address, circulating radio phrases, word choices of radio listeners, and the very words used to denote radio, including their grammatical patterning — provide important arenas for exploring the entanglements of meanings and experiences within sonic cultures and ways-of-hearing.


For Vidali-Spitulnik, radio also fundamentally transforms language, meaning, and perception (see also Fox 1997; Kapchan 2008; Morris 2000; Pazderic 2004). This also suggests a particularly potent avenue for analyzing radio’s broader social life and its increasingly complex entanglements with other ‘new media’ forms (Black 2001; Priestman 2002; Spinelli 1996,2000).


Taken together, these five axes by no means exhaust the potential conversations suggested by the following chapters. For instance, Vidali-Spitulnik, Tacchi, and Blanton join Fisher, Bessire, and Stephen to illustrate how phenomenologically influenced methodologies make radio’s varied social lives newly available to ethnographic understanding. These contributions each employ phenomenological approaches to denaturalize experience and perception and to foreground the varied ‘somatic modes of attention’ radio affords (Csordas 1993; see also Buck-Morss 1996; Desjarlais and Throop 2011; Husserl 1999 [1919]; Merleau-Ponty 1962).


Other potential conversations focus on the particular orientations toward speech entailed by radio. Chapters by Schulz, Bessire, and Blanton, for instance, identify a similar relationship between radio sound, the perceptual constitution of religious faith, and the efficacy of prayer (Oosterbaan 2008,2009). Chapters by Fisher and Kosnick suggest that radio production may encourage a broadly reflexive understanding of vocal expression, opening speech to both technical manipulation and social examination (cf. Hirschkind 2006; Silverstein 2008).


The contributions of Kunreuther, Schulz, and Stephen, in turn, raise important questions about how radio informs a range of gendered expressive repertoires (cf. Buddle-Crowe 2008; Imam 1991). And as the contributions from Fisher and Tacchi both suggest, radio technologies are being transformed and sustained through their imbrication with digital media. This latter potential conversation represents an exciting area for further research that may clarify how the specific capacities of any media technology are fundamentally consequential to its social uptake (cf. Black 2001; Postill 2003, 2008; Wall 2004). The aim of this collection, then, is not to restrict analysis to only five axes but rather to suggest both the potentials and the challenges entailed in developing a programmatic approach to radio as a terrain for anthropological exploration.



microphone-lores This volume brings the conceptual tensions described earlier to an emerging anthropology of radio. We note that this project is only possible to imagine because of important interdisciplinary interlocutors, but we also suggest how anthropological methods and concerns may further and reorient work on radio’s social life. The following analyses of radio fields begin to unsettle a common trope in media studies that there is a single ‘radio’ that spreads over the globe as if it were an ontologically coherent blanket, differing only in its cultural content or institutional organization. But these essays also provoke us to think comparatively about what radio does in fact unsettle, alter, create, or evoke across such diverse domains.


While this volume aims to de-essentialize the boundaries of its primary object, it also seeks to encourage conversations about relationships between social context and technological form, radio sound and governance, and between transnational forms of media activism and political agency. These conversations necessarily attend to the daily practices and embodied perceptions by which radios ontology is made intelligible and effective within a given social context, as well as the material, institutional, and technological features that link such practices in any locale with those in another. In short, the chapters that follow ask us to approach radio as historically specific assemblages of technology, technique, and social relations that are also interconnected, of consequence for one another, and amenable to comparative ethnographic analysis.


We offer the concept of ‘radio fields’ as an alternative heuristic to radio as an abstract singular. We understand radio fields as interrelated domains in which radio technologies, audiences, and electronic sounds shape the social lives of our subjects, even as they enliven the anthropological imagination and orient ethnographic research and analysis in new directions. Radio asks anthropologists to think about the relation and disconnect between their different fields in a distinct register.


The contributors point to the fact that radio may be about circuits of kinship or personhood, as much as about communication or the aesthetics of electronic sound. Indeed, we argue that such distinctions themselves pose new questions. The contributions that follow demonstrate how ethnographic attention to radio enriches anthropological perceptions with the insights from media and sound studies, and vice versa. This may begin with a productive hesitation and a willingness to tune into radio’s social circuitry, wherever it may lead.

Endnote links: If you click on the number that identifies the endnote, you will be taken back to the point in the text where the endnote anchor occurs; and vice versa.

[1] Schramm read widely in anthropology in his studies of global media and development, and both Malinowskis Trobriand work and Powder makers attention to media informed his writings on the role of media in social change and economic development.

[2] This notably includes Glenn Goulds early radio documentaries and their orchestration of ‘contrapuntal voices’ and the musicalization of sound in twentieth-century avant-garde composition, most famously in John Cages writings and compositions but equally significantly in Pierre Shaefer s Musique Concrete. Cage, for example, used the ‘kinesthetic input ports’ created by analogue synthesis pioneer Don Buchla to draw electronic music from an FM radio receiver (Pinch and Trocco 2004, 44).

[3] These are three predominant languages of the region served by the Warlpiri Media Association.


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