Postill, J. forthcoming. Public anthropology in times of media hybridity and global upheaval. In S. Abram and S. Pink (eds.) Media, Anthropology and Public Engagement. Oxford: Berghahn.
The growing popularity of new social and participatory media at a time of global turbulence raises challenging questions for anthropologists wishing to engage with publics beyond academia. In this chapter I draw from my experience as a media anthropologist researching activism and social protest to explore some of these challenges. I argue that an updated public anthropology is required if we are to reach out beyond the mass media channels familiar from previous decades. The new digital media environment is a ‘hybrid’ system made up of old and new technologies, actors and practices interacting in contingent ways (Chadwick 2011) as well as a domain of cultural production mired in a deep political and economic crisis. This situation demands open-ended, idiosyncratic, and collaborative approaches to public engagement that take into account both the unique affordances of today’s digital technologies and the aftereffects of the 2011 and 2013 waves of social protest around the globe. I exemplify this argument through my experience with four distinct platforms, namely a mailing list, a research blog, Twitter and Facebook, in a range of public contexts.