University of Rochester

National Cultures Build on Mass Media, Mass Consumption

March 13, 2003

Advertisements and consumer goods-long a foundation of American national culture-have spread to some of the most remote corners of the globe. In Materializing the Nation: Commodities, Consumption, and Media in Papua New Guinea, anthropologist Robert J. Foster accounts for some of the many mundane commercial interactions that contribute to the process of nation making.

Foster's recent book of essays is grounded in years of ethnographic and historical research in Papua New Guinea. But he addresses more general questions of what it means to be a nation in this current era of globalization. How relevant are national identities and nation-states today? What do a nation's members have in common with each other?

Materializing the Nation (Indiana University Press, $22.95 paper) reveals how products and mass media define and promote a community. Foster acknowledges the role of consumption and media as "bringing a national frame of reference to bear on the lives of people-every day, in ordinary settings-in PNG and elsewhere."

As associate professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Rochester, Foster knows Papua New Guinea well. His interest in the region began as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago; later, he earned his doctorate there doing anthropological fieldwork in the country. He has since received foundation and grant support to expand his study of Melanesian societies and cultures.

Foster is the author of Social Reproduction and History in Melanesia: Mortuary Ritual, Gift Exchange, and Custom in the Tanga Islands (1995) and the editor of Nation Making: Emergent Identities in Postcolonial Melanesia (1997). He also is the editor of a new interdisciplinary series of monographs and edited volumes, Tracking Globalization.

The series, to be published by Indiana University Press, will trace the expanding circuits of production and exchange through which objects, images, and people move. The works selected for the series will highlight consumption as an everyday activity that increasingly connects people who are worlds apart and shapes the way they perceive and enact their place in the world.

Members of the advisory board for the series are Mohammed Bamyeh of Georgetown University, Lisa Cartwright of the University of California at San Diego, and Randall Halle, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Rochester.