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Western norms and local media in Africa

Project initiative in the context of the research field "The historicity of normative rules" of the excellence cluster "The formation of normative rules" at the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main.
Project leader: Prof Mamadou Diawara.
From April 2008 support from the Cluster was made available for the carrying out of this project.

The many-sided processes of reinterpretation that the colonial transfer of western values and norms set in train in Africa encounter established bodies of knowledge and life practices in different African societies, each being interpreted against the background of local cultural models of interpretation. Through this, an entirely indigenous dynamic of change is set in motion, during which these other forms are introduced as the originally intended goals. Hardly any research exists on the background to these partly conscious, partly unconscious strategies of mutual influence. Even feedback of the African effect on Europe has mostly been left completely out of account. In addition, within Africa normative learning processes and changes have originated from neighbouring societies or the spread of Islam. Changes to normative rules stimulated by other globalization actors form another important field of research. A further field of vigorous international debates over the establishment of norms concerns ways of dealing with copyright and patents, which has assumed particular relevance both in Africa and internationally in relation to cultural and natural resources.

Local and international justificatory narratives are produced by the media and as a result contribute to changes in norms to a particular degree. The impact of the media has been debated sufficiently in elaborate theoretical reflections, but hardly confirmed ethnographically at all in relation to Africa. This was criticized by Abu Lughod ten years ago, but so far hardly without anything changing. Ferguson and Gupta suggest that this is due to the fact that the mass media can only be localized with difficulty. Media are broadcast internationally, but locally processed by individuals and organizations against a particular cultural background. These complex processes can only be understood by being researched directly on the ground. This will enable us to contribute to a practice-relevant theory of this development.