UVA Global Podcast: Interview with Aswin Punathambekar and Eli Carter


UVA Global Podcast: Interview with Aswin Punathambekar and Eli Carter

A Converation with Aswin Punathembekar and Eli Carter about their Global Media Collaboratory
CGII Brown Bag Lunch Series: Aswin Punathambekar & Eli Carter Global Media Cultures Collaboratory Friday 11/12 12-1:30pm Hotel A poster with headshots of Punathambekar and Carter
Transcript of Interview with Professors Aswin Punathembekar and Eli Carter

Emily Mellen  0:05  

Welcome to the third episode of our podcast series. I’m Emily Mellen and I'm here with Aswin Punathambekar from Media Studies and Eli Carter from the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese Department to talk about their Global Media Cultures Collaboratory. What is the Global Media Cultures Collaboratory? 


Aswin Punathambekar  0:21  

So, the Global Media Cultures Collaboratory is an interdisciplinary attempt and the goal is to put together a research network that will help us examine the unfolding impacts of both globalization and technological change across a range of spaces in the Global South. And the way we've imagined it is, as a three-year project. We have three main strands. Year one, we're going to focus on questions to do with media and cultural history. Year two will be focused on media industries, institutions, and, specifically, the kinds of programming both on visual and sonic projects that are emerging from these parts of the Global South as digital portals, streaming video platforms take off. And the third year, the research strand will focus on questions of audiences, publics and politics. So, those are the three sort of clusters under which we've organized this collaboratory. And the idea is to not just for Eli and myself to do it, but to pull together a network of scholars within North America, but more importantly, to bring in voices from scholars who are doing this work in and from various locations in the Global South. So, given our networks, it'll be Asia and Latin America to start with. But we're hoping to expand and include scholars from the Middle East and North Africa region, and other parts of the African continent as well. So, that in a nutshell is the collaboratory.


Emily Mellen  1:47  

Thank you. And where are you right now, you're in year one?


Aswin Punathambekar  1:51  

This is the beginning. We've just had our first planning meeting for the workshop that we're hoping to hold in DC in UVA’s Northern Virginia space, on the topic of turning points, and thinking about the 1990s as a really crucial decade for having laid the foundation, the political and economic foundation, but also the cultural foundation for all the change we have seen now in terms of digitalization. So, a number of countries across the world went through a process of structural adjustment policies, economic liberalization, neoliberal market-oriented policies, there's a number of ways to think about it, that that 15-odd years beginning in the late 80s, through to the early 2000s, we are arguing is absolutely crucial to understand much better in a more nuanced way, if we want to understand the current digital world we find ourselves in. And a lot of scholarship in Media Studies and in other related disciplines, has tended to sort of move on from questions of globalization that were prominent in the 90s, as satellite television took off, to just moving seamlessly to the digital as if there's only this one forward movement. Whereas given the work that Eli and I have done in Brazil, in South Asia and other places, we don't see it as this neat evolutionary, linear transformation, but a much more contingent, complex one where the digital coexists with all kinds of other media forms and technologies. And we want to really undo very Anglophone, US/UK focused narratives of media transition unfolding in this neat linear fashion.


Emily Mellen  3:29  

And that makes a lot of sense. It sounds like you guys are working on the same page. So, tell me how did your collaboration begin?


Eli Carter  3:38  

It was in the fall of 2020, Aswin had recently arrived from the University of Michigan where he was undertaking a similar project and we began to discuss… Aswin approached me about the possibility of creating this collaboratory and coming up with a proposal for the CGII. We met a number of times, worked on the proposal extensively to get it ready for submitting it to CGII, which we did, and thankfully we received funding.


Emily Mellen  4:15  

And tell me what is the future of your project with the CGII funding? What will this allow you to do?


Aswin Punathambekar  4:21  

So, at a basic level, on a year by year basis, we’ll focus on these topics. And out of those, there'll be a series of workshops, symposia, networks of scholars and so on. But one of the goals that both Eli and I share is, the research is fine, it's great, needs to happen, but we also want to make sure that we have some pedagogical components built in. So, hopefully next summer will be the first doctoral institute, which brings in early-career doctoral students from different parts of the world to come together at the moment when they're beginning to design their prospectus for their PhDs and have them interact with us and other faculty mentors that we’ll draw on from UVA, of course, but also from others in the region in the DC area, and build that kind of cohort effect, where the next generation of scholars begins tackling these questions in conversation with us and others. So, it's not just about our own personal research agendas and, you know, pulling together colleagues we know and admire their work and so on. But also ensuring that the field itself slowly, in some modest way, begins to transform as successive generations begin tackling these questions. And again, we want to make sure that we center voices of scholars from other world regions and not just those who are already in US institutions of higher education. So, there's a research component and there's a pedagogical component. And hopefully, we've talked about this, hopefully, the CGII grant is a seed grant that will lead to longer term, more sustainable funding.


Emily Mellen  6:00  

And I think that's why CGII seeks to be in general, for projects. That's wonderful. That's very exciting to think about the future of Media Studies and media cultural history, with this perspective in mind. Eli, I'll start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about your other projects and what brought you to UVA?


Eli Carter  6:22  

Yeah, so um, I first became interested in Brazil as an undergraduate student. I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in Rio for a year. I also spent some time prior to that, doing some volunteer work in São Paulo. That kind of led me to do a PhD, focused on Brazilian cultural reproduction. It was actually a PhD in Literature at UCLA. And there I was working on mostly film, but found my way to television, which was what I was interested in. So yeah, ultimately what I wanted to understand better was the interconnectedness of the Brazilian television industry and Brazilian-ness itself. How do Brazilians understand themselves? How does the television industry impact the Brazilian social imaginary, both within Brazil and outside of Brazil? 


Emily Mellen 7:28 

And Aswin? How about you?


Aswin Punathambekar  7:30  

I think, in a way, similar to Eli I had focused on one particular world region in South Asia, and looking at transformations in one media capital, like São Paulo, Mumbai, in that case, Bombay, and that, in the late 90s and early 2000s, an emerging recognition that to understand what's happening in media capitals, like Bombay, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Cairo, other places, you had to think about its connections in terms of finance, technology, migration of talent, and the imaginations of people working in those industries and thinking about other audiences and markets in other parts of the world. So, you have to develop this transnational lens to understand what's happening in this one specific place. So, we're hoping that our project also flips the discourse around and says, “you really want to understand things like streaming video or WhatsApp or the future of a platform like Facebook– the story has to begin, not from San Francisco or LA, but really from many, many other parts of the world.”


Emily Mellen  8:33  

That's a great goal. Thank you so much for talking with me today, and we look forward to hearing more about how this project goes.


Aswin Punathambekar and Eli Carter   8:39

Thank you.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai