My most inspiring fieldwork experiences have always been with community media, including this one at the Suusamyr community radio in Kyrgyzstan.
To get to Suusamyr village we had to go through a high mountain pass that right at the top offered us a spectacular view of the Suusamyr Valley that lies at 2,500 meters above the sea level between two ranges of Tian Shan mountains. Once there we were treated with full Kyrgyz hospitality by our host Aizada Kalkanbekova. The valley is predominantly used as "alpine summer pastures full of herbs and wild flowers – carpeting the valley floor in many colours”, so we promised to return to experience it later in summer.
It made my day speaking with these awesome school volunteers who spoke with such maturity and confidence about their work and observations of what it means to them to live in a remote mountainous community: “we are not isolated, we are in contact with the world and the world is in contact with us through our community radio and the Internet”. Their programs range from community news that hold accountable the local authorities to civic education, cultural preservation and what the future holds through technology.
The community had no access to radio before this initiative started a few years ago. Some of its past volunteers went on to study journalism after school, showing the impact of media literacy. And as it often happens in these cases, you need a catalyst for change that in Suusamyr came through Aizada Kalkanbekova the station manager who is part of the community and committed to this project. It makes me wonder why don’t all communities have their own radio? It makes such a difference to have a community that hears its own voice. Community radios and multimedia centers started evolving after 2000s in Kyrgyzstan.
This visit to Suusamyr is part of a new project that is collecting data for a comparative ethnographic research that maps the communicative ecology of islands and mountainous communities with the aim of exploring the role remoteness plays in shaping communicative environments. I am interested in exploring remoteness through the lenses of communicative sociality, conviviality, communicative rhizomes and storytelling networks created by community members, community agents and local media.
The research draws on observations and interviews from Amami islands in the south of the Japanese archipelago and remote mountainous communities in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. Despite their apparent geographical differences, these islands and mountainous communities share some common characteristics: they are both located far away from the center with distinctive cultural identities. They are also experiencing a community radio trend that is reshaping and in turn shaped by their communicative ecologies, redefining the way they experience their communicative sociality.
I see communicative practices of remote communities as part of a more fluid interconnected network system that embraces both individual and collective agents, reflecting strong reciprocal relationships that are necessary for living in remote areas.
See here an article by my colleague Kalinga who accompanied us on this trip: radio-connects-a-kyrgyz-community-with-the-world