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to be able to make available his unpublished dissertation.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unpublished dissertation, TV Tribes - an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.
Chapter One: Introduction
Chapter Two: Exploratory Project
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
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
"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