McDonnell, T. E.
McDonnell, T. E. (2010). Cultural objects as objects: Materiality, urban space, and the interpretation of AIDS campaigns in Accra, Ghana. American Journal of Sociology, 115(6), 1800–1852.
AIDS media lead unexpected lives once distributed through urban space: billboards fade, posters go missing, bumper stickers travel to other cities. The materiality of AIDS campaign objects and of the urban settings in which they are displayed structures how the public interprets their messages. Ethnographic observation of AIDS media in situ and interview data reveal how the materiality of objects and places shapes the availability of AIDS knowledge in Accra, Ghana. Significantly for AIDS organizations, these material conditions often systematically obstruct access to AIDS knowledge for particular groups. Attending to materiality rethinks how scholars assess the cultural power of media.
The author finds that once AIDS prevention media are released into public places, they encounter material and social conditions that limit their effectiveness. Advertisement materials fade and decay over time, become obscured behind political posters or street vendors, and remain out of sight for those who ride public transit. Innovative advertisement materials, such as aprons and umbrellas for contraception vendors, are co-opted and diffused, which can be good for advertisement but bad for customer experience. The author argues that media organizations should adopt their strategies to support the ways in which residents use and interpret advertisements.
Description of method used in the article
Over incremental periods lasting 15 months, the researcher conducted observations in public space and interviewed AIDS campaign producers and street passersby.
Of practical use