Mehita Iqani

Faculty / Academic Staff
Consumer Culture and the Media
Intellectual Biography: 

In my intellectual work, I am motivated by big questions about the relationships between media and consumer culture. My research is aimed at explicating the relationship between consumer culture(s) and media forms and thinking through how the public is constituted in and through consumer media, how consumer media construct relationships of power, and how consumer media construct class gender and race identities in the context of globalized neoliberalism. My PhD is in media and communications from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (2009). In 2011, I joined the field of the Witwatersrand as a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies. My research is situated within the discipline of media studies, particularly the hermeneutic and discourse analysis traditions. I focus on the interface between media texts and consumer culture in order to deconstruct the ways in which commercial discourses promote very particular narratives of self-identity (as shaped primarily by forms of consumption and self-commoditisation), visibility and appearance (as the dominant form of public connection), and relationships of power (regulated by market exchange and the internalised gaze). My work is based on the argument that one of the reasons that consumer culture has become so naturalized and ubiquitous a feature of everyday life is the role that media texts play in ‘selling’ it. As such, it is crucial to critically analyze those texts, in order to deconstruct the discursive mechanics of consumer media and give a detailed account of how neoliberal ethics are communicated in commercial media. My research has contributed to the field of media studies by explicitly linking it with sociologies and anthropologies of consumption and interdisciplinary theories of consumer culture, and to these latter areas by making explicit the role of the media. In 2012, I published a monograph titled ‘Consumer Culture and the Media: Magazines in the Public Eye”, which critically articulates the relationship between media forms and the ethics of consumerism, as well as related articles in Social Semiotics, Space and Culture, Consumption, Markets & Culture . I am currently working on a second book, which has been contracted by Palgrave Macmillan and will be titled, Consumption and Media in the Global South: Empowerment Contested (expected 2015). This book will build on my former work, but introduce an entirely new focus and ask important (as yet un-examined) questions about the ways in which consumer culture and the media are related in societies of the global south, some at the margins of globalised western hegemony. The book will examine comparative points in the global south, analysing case studies from South Africa, Cameroon, India, the Philippines, Brazil and China and looking at a variety of media forms (including travel websites, magazines, television shows, and newspapers). This book will present original research examining key themes in the ways in which consumption in the global south – by elites, the middle classes, and the poor – is discursively constructed in both local and global media. The book is an important project for a number of reasons. Firstly, with the global triumph of capitalist economies and neoliberal values, consumption is increasingly viewed by populations in so-called “under-developed” or “developing” countries as both a right to which they are denied access and, once accessed, as evidence of an improved life. The ways in which this debate plays out on the stage of the media is an important element of the picture. Secondly, it is precisely the global flow of media forms that has propelled certain discourses of material empowerment and consumption to visibility even in societies with histories of colonialism, oppression and exploitation. As such, it is necessary to interrogate the role that the media have played in the global flows of ideology that have culminated in the aspiration towards consumer societies. The book will be distinctive both in terms of its subject matter and its scope. By exploring a number of carefully selected case studies across a variety of media genres, the book will touch on key nodes of mediated consumption across the global south. Case studies to be addressed include: slum tourism in Brazil and South Africa, ‘first ladies of the global south’ and conspicuous consumption, the rise of ‘new’ middle classes, and discursive links made in news reports between corruption and consumption. The book will put these key case studies from across the global south into dialogue with one another. It will not homogenise what consumption means in different cultural and political contexts in the global south, but draw out similarities and differences in order to contribute empirically-rooted theory to contemporary debates about economic empowerment, globalisation and the media, as well as sketch out a broader framework for future research. Although the methodological approach will focus in on the analysis of media representations, the book will draw on theories and literature from several disciplines, including development studies, consumption studies, media studies, gender studies, politics, and sociology. As well as this writing, I am a founding member of an interdisciplinary research network working on consumer culture broadly defined. The Critical Research in Consumer Culture (CRiCC) network aims to encourage collaborative work and support the development of a community of researchers. Since 2012 the CRiCC network has hosted several discussion and reading groups, seminars and panel presentations, one two-day symposium and one research workshop. One of the outputs of this collaborative work will be a special issue of the journal Critical Arts, with the theme ‘Consumption, Media and Culture in South Africa” which I am co-editing with Bridget Kenny, and which will come out in 2015.

Presentation Title: 
I would like to present either a draft journal article or some notes towards one of the book chapters. At this stage I'm not sure what will be ready by when, so if possible I would rather submit a title at a later date.
Bosch, Adel, Jannie Rossouw, Tian Claassens and Bertie du Plessis. 2010. A Second look at measuring inequality in South Africa: A modified Gini coefficient. School of Development Studies Working Paper No. 58. Durban: University of Kwazulu-Natal. Burke, Timothy (1996) Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. Chouliaraki, Lilie (2012) The Ironic Spectator: Solidarity in the Age of Post-Humanitarianism Ferguson, James. 2007. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham: Duke University Press. Ganguly-Scrase, Richira and Timothy Scrase (2009) Globalisation and the Middle Classes in India: The Social and Cultural Impact of Neoliberal Reforms Griffiths, Michael (2013) Consumers and Individuals in China: Standing Out, Fitting In Gupta, Akhil (2005) ‘Narratives of corruption: Anthropological and fictional accounts of the Indian state’ Ehtnography 6 (1) Gupta, Akhil (2012) Red Tape: bureaucracy, structural violence, and poverty in India Jain, Subhash C. (Ed.) Emerging Economies and the Transformation of International Business: Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs). Jaffrelot, Christophe and Peter van der Veer (Eds.) (2008) Patterns of Middle Class Consumption in India and China Mazzarella, William (2003) Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India Mazzarella, William (2006) ‘Internet X-Ray: E-Governance, Transparency, and the Politics of Immediation in India. Public Culture 18 (3) Narunsky-Laden, Sonja. 2010. Cultural economy in post-transitional South Africa. Critical Arts 24 (1) O’Dougherty, Maureen (2002) Consumption Intensified: The Politics of Middle-class Daily Life in Brazil Orgad, Shani (2012) Media Representation and the Global Imagination Owensby, Brian P. (2001) Intimate Ironies: Modernity and the Making of Middle-Class Lives in Brazil Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt (2011) Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection Visvanathan, Shiv, and Harsh Sethi (Eds.) (1998) Foul play: Chronicles of corruption Zhiyan, Wu, Janet Borgerson and Jonathan E Schroeder. 2013. From Chinese Brand Culture to Global Brands. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
There is a chance I might be accepted to a conference in the UK from 15-17 May, in which case I will not be able to particiapte in the entirety of thewriting retreat after all.