INTRODUCTION: Understanding the War on Piracy, or Why We Need More Anthropology of Pirates

By Dent, Alexander Sebastian | Anthropological Quarterly, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

INTRODUCTION: Understanding the War on Piracy, or Why We Need More Anthropology of Pirates


Dent, Alexander Sebastian, Anthropological Quarterly


Would the Real Pirates Please Stand Up?

What is piracy? Is it an occasional immoral tear in the fabric of an otherwise harmonious market? A justified critique of a coercive labor system or pricing scheme? Both? Or something altogether different, such as Johnny Depp channeling Keith Richards (with permission, one hopes)?1 One of the problems with answering these questions is that the term "piracy" can polarize any discussion into which it is introduced. But this polarization only increases the urgency of answering the questions. Due to the increased policing of intellectual and material properties on the part of corporations, governments, and law enforcement agencies both public and private, we are all (yes, all) pirates. We all have truck with "stolen" music and movies, text-artifacts (perhaps including these very words you're reading, you thief), or own a pair of fake designer sunglasses and a knock-offsoccer shirt. So as we begin, we should probably all admit that this special collection is partly an exercise in self-analysis. Dawdy and Bonni (this issue) admit as much when they engage in some lighthearted soul-searching over the popularity among undergraduates of a course they taught which explored the possibility that pirates might form "a culture."

While Dawdy and Bonni start offwith comedy, however, they conclude in decidedly less funny territory with the argument that monopoly capitalism in the present may have much in common with its predecessors in the days of the classic Caribbean pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries. For them, piracy is the lens through which to see the modernized mercantilism in which we currently live. So deciding who the real pirates are is not just a question for our memoirs. Exploring the topic of piracy is anthropologically significant for a series of reasons, among them, because pharmaceutical companies, fashion designers, NGOs, football players, and tribes, to name just a few, are increasingly appropriating the concept of "intellectual property." From the perspective of those claiming to own the infringed ideas, violators of such properties are most assuredly pirates.2 Piracy is also important to anthropology because our status as consumers lies at the core of neoliberal economic and social practice, and the complementary opposition between fully "consummated" (Dent 2012) consumption and degenerate knock-offs orients that status. Contemporary ideologies surrounding brands, trademarks, copyrights, and patents, provide the ground upon which our appropriations become either moral lapses, victories over oppression, getting a good deal, or just plain stylish (see Nakassis, this issue). Corporate dictums say that piracy in its intellectual and more material forms clearly leads to an inadequate form of consumption, and the repercussions for diverse forms of self-awareness and self-definition are immense. Piracy becomes a way of fashioning subjectivities that draw on local histories (benevolent Jamaican gangsters for Galvin, this issue) and mechanisms of social control (envy for Guatemalan clothing producers for Thomas, this issue). Piracy has also become an increasingly important way for developmentalists of various stripes to evaluate the success or failure of "states;" indeed, what "the state" might be in the first place: think Somalia, most obviously, though as Skinner reveals in his treatment of music piracy (this issue), postcolonial African countries such as Mali should be included here, too. In such contexts, successful states are able to curtail the naughtiness, while unsuccessful states seem to live by it.

But what becomes clear in the context of a collection in which contributors juxtapose varied geographies and histories is that while some of this discourse associated with piracy is brand new, other elements are decidedly not. As Gaynor shows in a detailed historical account (this issue) piracy has been at the center of debates over boundaries between oceans, polities, castes, dynasties, and even religions for quite some time. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

INTRODUCTION: Understanding the War on Piracy, or Why We Need More Anthropology of Pirates
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.