Brian Larkin and Stefan Andriopoulos draw on the concept of comparison to examine how the same technologies work in radically different ways across the globe, juxtaposing media practices in Africa, Latin America, and Asia as well as in Western centers. There is an assumption that media, whether print, cinema, or digital media, were developed in the West and later exported to other places which were then in the place of ‘catching up’ with a media history that had already been established. But we know that cinema arrived in Shanghai and Calcutta at the same time as it did in London and evolved in those locations to produce different institutional and aesthetic forms. We also know that currently Seoul is far more ‘wired’ than New York and that Lagos is developing a film industry that is rapidly becoming dominant in all of Africa. It is clear that future media centers will emerge in places far outside their traditional Western centers.
Media emerge from a reciprocal exchange between technical forms and cultural religious, political, and economic domains. When these formations shift, features we have seen as core to media, sometimes part of their very ontology, turn out to be contingent rather than necessary. Exploring the concept of comparison opens up new questions for media studies by highlighting the contingencies of media and the specificity of historical and geographical formations.
Brian Larkin is Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of Signal and Noise: Media Infrastructure and Urban Culture in Nigeria and writes on issues of media, religion, infrastructure and urban studies in Nigeria.
Stefan Andriopoulos is Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. He is the author of Ghostly Apparitions: German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media (Zone Books, 2013), which was named “book of the year” in Times Literary Supplement. His previous book Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema won the SLSA Michelle Kendrick award for best academic book on literature, science, and the arts.