SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Comparative Media Theory

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1
The course considers the relevance of media and cultural studies' theory to contemporary media in Asia and Africa. Existing media studies mostly lean towards either sociological or literary textual approaches - to media. This course will review both trends and relate them to the critical examination of media as - social and cultural practices to be studied by intensive ethnographic inquiry.

The course will also address a number of themes, including the problems of the Eurocentric nature of media theory, media theory's dependence on Anglophone case studies and the inadequacy of existing kinds of research methods, whether surveys, interviews or ethnography. The course questions assumptions in the analysis of production, distribution and reception, and will consider alternative approaches as diverse kinds of cultural practice. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • An working familiarity with key debates in media and cultural studies as well as anthropology of media with a preliminary understanding of the productive and creative tensions existing between these disciplines;
  • the ability to reflect in a critical and informed manner on media practices in western and non-western contexts with reference to ethnographic examples;
  • a critical understanding of the relationship between ethnography and theory in the construction of anthropological knowledge about media.

Scope and syllabus

The first term examines: 

  • the applicability of contemporary media theory to Asia and Africa; 
  • earlier approaches to communication, popular culture and mass media; 
  • semiotics, interpretation and audiences; 
  • feminism and psychoanalytical models; 
  • media and the public sphere; 
  • postmodernity and globalization. 

The second term considers: 

  • the relationship of medium and content; 
  • changing film genres, popular music and spectatorship in Indian cinema; 
  • television, interpretation, commentary and viewing practices in Indonesia; 
  • news, documentary discourse, local and transnational news media in China.

Method of assessment

100% Coursework.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules