Media and the Politics of Belonging

Two decades after the breakdown of the earlier East-West divide along which cold war alliances and confrontations had been organized, nation-states witness an upsurge of particularistic identities and movements that frame their aspirations in various idioms of cultural belonging and/or religious difference. Whereas some of these idioms relate to a search for “authentic” cultural origins, other idioms center on issues of “authentic” religious practice and interpretation.

The adoption of new media technologies, and their integration into conventional forms of articulating cultural identity, “authentic belonging”, and of claiming religious and moral authority, have been pivotal to these developments. Private radio and television stations, for instance, generate new platforms for religious debate, for claiming religious leadership, and for the experience of shared sentiment and cultural taste. Media technologies may thus play an important role in fueling a “politics of recognition” (Taylor 1994) at local, regional and sometimes even transnational levels. The different research projects explore from a comparative angle the different modalities and phenomenological forms in which these politics of religious difference and of cultural belonging manifest themselves.


Media, Muslims and the Politics of Belonging in Uganda

Project Leader: Prof. Dorothea Schulz, Ph.D.

In many parts of the world, religious actors, organizations and idioms have gained in public prominence and appeal, along with the ongoing liberalization and decentralization of markets, politics and social welfare arrangements. These developments raise new anxieties, concerns and hopes about the promises and challenges of a rapidly transforming world; they also testify to the role played by religious organizations and infrastructure in the contemporary restructuring of state-society relations. The various social, moral and political engagements of Christian and Muslim religious actors and interest groups in Uganda, point to religion’s invigorated significance to national politics and in a transnationally interconnected world. Yet the legacies of British colonial administration and of the Christian missionary endeavor have created unequal and unven conditions for Muslims and Christians to partake in debates over the common good and in political decision making processes. The research project takes the growing significance, and public presence, of Christian and Muslim groups in Uganda as a starting place to examine the changing dynamics of such movements in their interlocking with new media technologies. Based on this analysis, the project assesses the highly discrepant political and social conditions under which Muslims and Christians may claim inclusive citizenship and articulate their visions of an equitable social order.

Local Radio Stations and the Politics of Belonging in Mali

Project Leader: Prof. Dorothea Schulz, Ph.D.

In Mali, multiparty democracy and freedom of expression stipulated in the constitution of 1991 have facilitated a diversified media sector unparalleled throughout Subsaharan Africa. These radio stations have been widely hailed as establishing an arena critical opinion making and debate, a potrayal that tends to posit, rather than explore the political, social and aesthetic resonances of local radio broadcasting. Also missing from most accounts is an analysis of the politics of cultural belonging and authenticity fueled by local radio stations in Mali. The research project investigates the constitutive features and inherent dynamics of the public collectivities that presently emerge around practices of local radio consumption, production, and debate in Mali. The project seeks to document and analyze the transient forms through which audiences come into being during broadcast reception and evaluation, and come to view themselves as communities of shared taste, often in contradistinction to the national community claimed on state radio. 

Mediality and Local Creativity in the Negotiation of Social-Ecological Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation

Sub Project of the DFG FOR 1501:  Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation in Social-Ecological Systems of East- and South Africa's Savannahs

Project Leader: Prof. Dorothea Schulz, Ph.D.
Researcher: Christoph Matthiä, M.A.

In recent decades crises and catastropheson the African continent have been at the centre of media coverage at the global and the national level. The mass media coverage of social-ecological crises in Africa has contributed to apocalyptic visions of sub-Saharan Africa, and informed national and global policies and perceptions about environmental transformations. At the same time, long-standing, sometimes highly exoticising harmonic human-environment relations continue to exist. At present, these images persist in representations of African landscapes as immaterial goods of a globalizing world that require international attention and protection. Such positive narratives are often linked to the marketing of African sites for global tourism. Due to the increasing accessibility of global media messages such narratives are locally consumed and reinterpreted.

The research project focuses at the interface between global media messages, local media production and local discourses on social and ecological transformations in the Lake Naivasha area in Kenya. It views local processes of media consumption and reinterpretation as creative processes in which various groups of media consumers partake as they selectively construct new ideas about environmental challenges and about possible remedies to local problem constellations. Media messages and media engagements are conceived of as the product of the crossing of local, national and international narratives of crises, resilience and reorganisation. Texts, concepts, images and other elements of media discourses intertwine and create new messages that, in turn, inform the conditions under which local, national and international interests, options and strategies are shaped and interact.

Charismatic religious Leaders as Navigators in Socio-Ecological Crisis in the Lake Naivasha Region, Kenya (working-title)

Sub Project of the DFG FOR 1501:  Resilience, Collapse and Reorganisation in Social-Ecological Systems of East- and South Africa's Savannahs

Project Leader: Prof. Dorothea Schulz, Ph.D.
Researcher: Nicole Wagner, M.A.

The research project focuses on charismatic religious leaders in the Lake Naivasha region. It explores these leaders' narratives and prophecies about social, economic and ecological change and assesses their strategies of disseminating their teachings on vernacular radio stations and in direct interactions with their followers.

Of central import are the political, social and economic conditions that provide the backdrop to religious narratives about socio-ecological change and that enable their circulation and reception in the Lake Naivasha region. The project pays particular attention to the ways in which the audiences of these religious leaders reinterpret and reformulate these mass-mediated preaching's and prophecies, and how they mobilize religious metaphors and moral idioms to make sense of and respond to socio-ecological crisis. With its focus on religious discourse and actors, the project makes an innovative contribution to current scholarly explorations of people`s capacities for resilience in situations of radical socio-ecological change.