ANTH 5180: Commodifying Culture: Ethnographic Explorati ons in Knowledge Economies from Global Intellectual Property to Moral Economies of Exchange

ANTH 5180: Commodifying Culture: Ethnographic Explorati ons in Knowledge Economies from Global Intellectual Property to Moral Economies of Exchange

Course description

ANTH 5180 3.0 credits

This course addresses the ethnographic exploration of the implications of the global expansion of intellectual property (IP) into new regions, new subject areas, new fields of technology, and new areas of human life since the 1990s. We explore how the field of anthropological research and practice has been transformed by these developments, considering all areas of IP and drawing examples from societies around the world, including our own. The course will begin by providing an interdisciplinary sociolegal framework to introduce students to the Western philosophical rationales for protecting IP and the significance of corporate interests and technological developments in consolidating what is variously known as “informational capitalism,” the ‘knowledge economy,” or “cognitive capitalism” in global trade regimes through the Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPs). These changes in the global political economy set the stage for an ever-increasing expansion of IP rights into new countries and new fields — from human cells to plant genetic resources, traditional cultural expressions and heritage foods, hip hop music and new dance forms, biotechnologies and digital software – as well as new social movements of resistance to this encroachment of the commodity form. We will then turn to ethnographically-based scholarship to show how anthropologists have explored the impact of IP in field-sites as various as open-source software development hubs, pharmaceutical firms, social movements for food sovereignty, and museums and indigenous cultural heritage centres.

Topics include the emerging relationship between IP and human rights, new concerns about the ethics of anthropological research and publishing practice, indigenous peoples’ rights and responsibilities with respect to biocultural resources, state usurpation of ‘traditional’ goods as national patrimony, the costs and benefits of community protection of cultural heritage, controversies over patents on medicine, protests against the extension of IP into food and agriculture, biodiversity preservation and the use of collective marks of origin, the role of IP in new forms of territorial governmentality, trademark counterfeiting and moral panics about piracy, the nature of new social movements of resistance to IP, as well as recent legislative innovations in the Global South.

The course is modular in nature. After six weeks discussing the historical and political framework in which the issues and topics emerge, the following six weeks will address topics that students will collectively choose, by vote, from a wider range of modules the order of which will be determined once selections are made from the larger list. There are currently fourteen modules from which students will choose six, depending upon their interests.

Syllabus PDF

Course Number: ANTH 5180
Field: Anthropology
School: York University
Date Published: January 11, 2021