Media Culture in Africa? A Practice-Ethnographic Approach
Information and communication technology (ICT) is becoming an ever more important part of everyday life all over Africa. In addition to newspapers, magazines, radio and television, various new media platforms-like mobile phones and computers-increasingly affect people’s lives. To understand and analyse contemporary social life in Africa, we therefore need to include in our analyses the role of media in everyday life. Thus, to study media as social phenomena requires studying people’s media practices. This means that we need to include in our analyses people’s conceptions of the technologies they use, and this entails a study of culture. Africa is, however, a large place; a diverse history and uneven development mean that the roles media play in people’s lives vary tremendously. This heterogeneity represents analytical challenges. On the one hand, we need to be true to the variations and uniqueness of empirical data. All media use is unique because use is always situated and hence part of a cultural landscape. On the other hand, practices are not random in their distribution and form. The analytical challenge lies in finding a sound balance between the particularity of practices and the patterns that they generate. We need, in other words, to find perspectives, concepts and theoretical foundations that provide us with tools to make valid and fertile analyses of media uses in such a large and diverse continent as Africa. Is it at all possible? If yes, how do we do it? With what concepts and on what level of generalization? And last but not least: with what methodology? These are the challenges that this chapter confronts.