Eric Michaels


Biographical Sketch - Eric Michaels was a pioneering visual anthropologist who conducted a reception study long before other anthropologists were thinking about audiences and the media. His work on Australian Aboriginal media is likewise ahead of its time. It is therefore truly tragic that he died of AIDS at the age of 40 in 1988. Born in Philadelphia just after World War II, Eric led an adventurous life that lead him to become a member of a commune in Taos and one of the editors of Screw magazine. When the academic world again became interesting, Eric returned to Temple University in Philadelphia to finish a BA in anthropology. Eric then moved to the University of Texas where he received a Masters' degree in anthropology and finally in 1982 a Ph.D. in anthropology and international communications. WAVA is fortunate to be able to make available his unpublished dissertation. Immediately upon finishing his doctorate he accepted a research position in Australia to study the impact of television on remote aboriginal communities. He completed the field research in 1986 and served as a lecturer in Media Studies at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia. He published his findings in a number of scholarly and popular outlets and was most known for two monographs, The Aboriginal Invention of Television in Central Australia and For a Cultural Future: Francis Jupurrurla Makes TV at Yuendumu. When Eric discovered he was HIV positive he began to keep a journal that was published posthumously as Unbecoming (1997 Duke University Press) A collection of his essays including For a Culture Future have been edited by Paul Foss and published as Bad Aboriginal Art (1994 University of Minnesota Press)

WAVA is proud to present Michaels' unpublished dissertation, TV Tribes - an ethnographic reception undertaken before the term came into currency and cultural studies people understood the merits of ethnography. WARNING - This should be regarded as an incomplete work. Eric intended to return to it with rewriting and revising for publication in mind. His untimely death prevented him for doing so. We make it available because it represents an early attempt to do an anthropological study about how people receive and accomodate television programs. We are able to offer the dissertation because Eric's father, Abraham Michaels, gave us his kind permission to do so. The original pagination has been preserved so that readers may cite properly. Please give WAVAa credit line.


by Eric Philip Michaels, B.A., M.A.


Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of



December, 1982



Forward and Acknowledgements

Chapter One: Introduction

Chapter Two: Exploratory Project

Chapter Three: A Performative Model of the Television Message Transmission System

Chapter Four: Follow-up Study, August 1982

Chapter Five: Conclusions

Appendix I: Questionnaire Forms, 1979

Appendix II: Questionnaire Forms: 1982



Publications by and about Eric Michaels

There is an entire issue of Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture vol. 3 no 2 (1990) entitled "Communication and Tradition: Essays after Eric Michaels" edited by Tom O'Regan that contains a number of essays critiquing Michaels' work, a bibliography of his publications, and the complete text of
"A model of teleported texts (with reference to Aboriginal television)
and "The belly of the beast: Eric Michaels and the anthropology of visual communication" by Jay Ruby.

Ask a Foolish Question: On the Methodologies of Cross Cultural Media Research by Eric Michaels in Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Volume 3 Number 2 December 1985