Friday, August 31, 2012

Anthropological Quarterly special issue on pirates

Alexander Sebastian Dent, Understanding the War on Piracy, or Why We Need More Anthropology of Pirates, 85 Anthropological Quarterly 659 (2012):

[P]iracy is not an individualized practice, but is, rather, a group affair, despite the fact that all the current Internet pirates might be acting by themselves in lonely rooms in Russia, China, the college dormitories of New Jersey, or other subversive locales. A cat-burglar (or perhaps an overly-aggressive anthropologist) is a thief, not a pirate….

Finally, at the core of piratical practice lies a specific circulatory ideology in which objects and ideas are “supposed” to move through channels which signal attention to selected aspects of their production—an inter-discursive orthodoxy of brand-patent-trademark-copyright. When piracy is used pejoratively, this invocation smacks of an attempt to protect the commodity’s “secret”—its concealment of its character as a concatenation of social relations. When piracy is invoked positively, it sounds very much like a Marxian attempt to peel back the veil and show us all what’s “really” behind the curtain—a set of extractive and monopolistic practices where “real” producers aren’t properly remunerated. We can, in this way, see that piracy arises from an anxiety that the idealized alignment of intention with reception—a sort of fantasy of unmediated consumption such that an object or idea is received in a controlled and “clean” way—is being broken.… Both its policing and its practice seek to govern excesses, sloppiness, and the underperformance of a given circulatory system.

Constantine V. Nakassis, Counterfeiting What? Aesthetics of Brandedness and Brand in Tamil Nadu, India, 85 Anthropological Quarterly 701 (2012):

[N]on-elite youth, producers explained, find brands and commodities from abroad aesthetically pleasing. The brand garment for export is, by virtue of that very fact, a reasonable guarantee that an inspired version of it can be sold for profit....

In short, this belief that brands guarantee profits isn’t held to because producers see “demand” for such-and-such brands among young, non-elite men (their primary market); nor is it held because producers closely follow the sales of such and such brands in the West or among the Indian elite because, by and large, they don’t. Rather, this belief is grounded in an aesthetic of brandedness that producers believe that they share with their non-elite, youth consumers. That is, the branded form has that look and style which is performative of statusful modes of youth masculinity. Thus, such forms will sell, while “plain” ones without brand-esque names and designs won’t. And again, this is independent of brand identity or authenticity as such. As producers often justified the liberties that they would take with the branded form, “the customer doesn’t know the difference, and if they do, they don’t care.” And as I found out, often producers themselves didn’t know about the brands they were copying or using for inspiration, except that they were brands (and sometimes not even that). As one producer noted: “we don’t care what the brands are. We make them because they ‘move’ [sell] on the market. There is no need to know the brands, because consumers don’t even know the brands.”

… [B]rands are ubiquitous in local Tamil markets, and thus seemingly in “demand.” And yet, there is an insensitivity—an active indifference, even—towards those very same brands.

… If, indeed, branded garments in local, non-elite Tamil markets are not reckoned as instances of particular brands, but as participating in an aesthetics of brandedness, legal doctrines like “consumer confusion” and more recent notions like “disassociation,” “dilution,” or “tarnishment” of brand image do us no service in understanding the local consumption, circulation, or production of these garments. The brand surfeits that we have discussed confuse no one as to their origin. In fact, they are not even read as indexing any (brand) origin except for some vague notion of exteriority (the “foreign”). And from this it follows that they cannot dilute associations attached to particular brands. Without the indexicable brand identity as a knot to tie together a variety of brand “meanings” or associations, there is nothing to dilute, and no one for whom it can be diluted.

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