Transactions and Creations: Property Debates and the Stimulus of Melanesia

Transactions and Creations: Property Debates and the Stimulus of Melanesia

Transactions and Creations: Property Debates and the Stimulus of Melanesia

Transactions and Creations: Property Debates and the Stimulus of Melanesia

Synopsis

In the early 21st century, intellectual and cultural resources emerge on all sides as candidates for ownership claims. Members of an anthropological research team investigating emergent conomic relations in a part of the world renowned for its innovative approach to resources and transactions, wish to open up the vocabulary. In this unique volume, they bring an unexpected comparative perspective to global debates on intellectual and cultural property rights (IPR and CPR). The contributors bring from Melanesia their collective experience of people initiating, limiting and rationalizing claims through transactions in ways that challenge many of the assumptions behind the international language.

In a bold theoretical move, 'property¢-#157; is put alongside two other terms: 'transactions¢-#157; and 'creations.¢-#157; The former have a place in the anthropological tradition that now needs to be brought into the foreground. In turn, increasing interest in protecting intellectual and cultural resources means that questions about creativity have suddenly become pertinent to what is or is not being transacted. Yet is creativity a special preoccupation of modernity? How are we to talk about people's creative practices, when innovation becomes the basis for ownership claims? This book is full of surprises!

Excerpt

One might imagine that divisions between cultures were noncompetitive. Or one might imagine the very opposite, that there are countless situations in which a difference of culture is hauled forward to explain conflicting values, misinterpretations, opposition to certain practices, exclusions that offend and inclusions that offend. But what by definition has long been noncompetitive is the idea that the cultures of the world claim distinctiveness through claiming what belongs to them, rather as people point to their ancestors. Who would want someone else’s ancestors? There is a surprising indication that, over the last quarter-century or so, a competition of sorts has crept into cultural claims of precisely this kind: it shows itself every time culture is linked to property. For ‘cultural property’ has acquired a new currency, an expansion of its old high art or museological sense in terms of national monuments and artistic heritage into a rallying call for protection against misuse, exploitation and even theft, and of anything from designs to medical know-how. Its frequent coupling with a category borrowed directly from law, ‘intellectual property’, shows some of its new kinship. Rather than ‘cultural’ separating out one kind of property from another, the new connotations refer to making ‘property’ out of whatever appears to be culturally important. The further implication is that there are interests in ‘culture’ which need to be promulgated and defended, and by the same token that there may be rival interests requiring negotiation and remedy.

It is not often that people literally claim other people’s ancestors. Outside the rather special environment of museums, more often it is the case that they wish to incorporate some design or invention into something ancestral of theirs. This kind of intellectual traffic has always characterised human intercourse. However, it is not the borrowing or copying or incorporation of art or ideas that gives voice to a problem – that voice lies in the protest of those who see by that act something of theirs being taken away, and often something primordial. To take away is not necessarily to deprive people of continuing use or enjoyment, but it deprives them of exclusive identification, or compromises them through disrespect (Puri 1995). Ancestry can thus be ‘stolen’ to the degree that its defining features are no . . .

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