Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Place of Counterfeits in Regimes of Value: An Anthropological Approach

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Place of Counterfeits in Regimes of Value: An Anthropological Approach

Article excerpt

In this article I consider the values ascribed to prestige valuables in terms of the social regulation and manipulation of two distinct properties: charisma and sacredness. I do this by considering four separate 'regimes of value' (Appadurai 1986: 15) in which copies and counterfeits of prestige valuables circulate. In two of these regimes copies are not distinguished from originals. In this first type of regime the appearance of copies augments the number of prestige valuables and consequently results in their devaluation. In the other two regimes, however, the primordial value of originals is strictly policed. Consequently, copies, reproductions and counterfeits are thought of as being essentially different from, and having less value than, the originals from which they are copied. In this article I show that an analysis of the tension in this second, primordialist type of regime of value between the virtual physical identity of original and reproduction on the one hand, and the differences between original and reproduction in terms of value on the other, affords us a unique route into the question of how meanings are actually ascribed to objects.

Counterfeit records

Writing specifically about phonograph records, Gonzalez (1977: A1) offers a useful typology for the classification of illegal copies or reproductions:

The following is a list of terms and simplified meanings which are generally accepted by the record industry to define various illegal releases:

1) BOOTLEG: An unauthorized manufacture, release, and sale of a record which contains one or more previously unissued recordings.

2) COUNTERFEIT: An unauthorized reproduction, manufacture, and sale of a record that has been released, whether previously or currently, where the label is an exact duplicate of the original.

3) PIRATE: An unauthorized reproduction, manufacture, and sale of a record that has been released, whether previously or currently, where the label is not the exact duplicate of the original or has been changed and was not manufactured by the legal owner.

In this article I am specifically concerned with records classed by Gonzalez as 'counterfeits' and 'pirates'. Modifying his nomenclature (though not his classification) and following the usage of my informants, I use the terms 'bootleg' and 'boot' as generic terms to refer to both counterfeits and pirates. I also refer to counterfeits as 'repros'. In other words, I am interested here in 'bootleg' records (or 'boots') of which there are two types: the repro, an exact copy of an original record in terms of recorded sound and packaging (label artwork); and the pirate, an exact copy of the original in terms of recorded sound but very different in terms of packaging. Repros are thus copies in two ways, in that they involve copying of the recording and artwork; pirates are copies only to the extent that the sound recording is reproduced.

The records I am specifically concerned with are 45 r.p.m. seven-inch single releases in four very different musical styles - Northern Soul, Jump Blues, Rockabilly and Doo Wop - each of which has been associated with a distinct culture or subculture whose members collect these records. Recordings of each of these types of music are rarely made nowadays and most of the records issued in these styles have been long deleted. Many of these, however, have come to constitute powerfully fetishized prestige valuables and in these four cultures a number of the most desirable deletions have been illegally copied (or bootlegged) for sale to collectors. Interestingly, in two of these cultures these copies are mainly pirates, while in the other two they are predominantly repros. In the remainder of this article I attempt to make sense of why this is so. I begin by exploring the ways in which bootlegs are produced, distributed and consumed within these four cultural contexts. I then go on to present a written text from one of these cultures in which a particularly problematic but illuminating instance of record reproduction and classification is described within a primordialist regime of value. …

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