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Exploitable knowledge belongs to the creators of it: a debate

In addressing the Fourth EASA Conference at Barcelona, Fredrik Barth urged anthropologists to be direct in what they wanted to say. An event took place which depended on directness for its effect. At each EASA conference there have been roundtable discussions; in 1996 the roundtable discussion was structured as a formal debate. The subject of the debate was drawn from a new and fraught area of emergent interests, cultural and economic, academic and non-academic. A debate in which the speakers have to take sides seemed an appropriate format to draw attention to divisions of interest. O n the one hand it would invite the speakers to take their arguments to extremes; on the other hand it would force them to defend one specific viewpoint. The reader will thus appreciate that it was a rhetorical exercise. It is important to add that the individual positions taken by the speakers were specifically for the sake of debate and may or may not have reflected their considered opinions. The four arguments, along with the moderators introduction, are given here as they were presented, with only minor editorial changes.

INTRODUCTION: Marilyn Strathern

Fredrik Barth has exhorted anthropologists to be direct in what they say. The speakers in this debate will have to be direct in order to persuade you all of the importance of their positions. They will be addressing a model - though one devised outside rather than within anthropology. The model draws o n long-standing western conventions of copyright and patent to suggest a way of not just thinking about but managing and dealing with knowledge of all kinds as intellectual property. This is more than just label for a concept. Intellectual property points to the possibility of ownership over and rights in knowledge under certain specifiable conditions. If one were to follow Euro-American copyright conventions, for example,
1 Conflicting interests, divided loyalties was the rubric for the conference topic Culture and Economy, held in Barcelona in July 1996. 2 That is, intellectual constructs have consequences. This was in response to Barths critique of

anthropologists over-intellectualisations.

Social Anthropology (1998). 6. 1. 109-126. @ 1998 European Association of Social Anthropologists


one would be identifying the authors of works and their rights to enjoy the profit to be gained from them, situations where authorship becomes an economic category. If we follow patenting conventions, then we identify the inventor of a gadget or device o r process that has commercial potential. O r we may look to rights in design, and so forth. In other words the model of Intellectual Property Rights points to a field of economic possibilities where what is at issue are the rights of a creator. It mobilises an apparatus which implies an equation of creator with owner, and it identifies what is owned as the outcome of the creators intellectual effort. Knowledge is defined as a certain kind of resource. So we can think of the producers or creators of knowledge as having economic interests. What gives them economic interests is the possibility of using or exploiting their knowledge to commercial or other profit bearing ends, the point at which knowledge enters the market place. But these are just elements of a Euro-American model for thinking about and implementing peoples relationship to the products of their creativity. Is it or is it not a useful model for anthropologists to pursue o r promote in respect of the kinds of knowledge they would otherwise think of as the products of a culture? Local ethnoscientific knowledge in relation to global pharmaceutical companies is one obvious area. As soon as one starts thinking about it, the implications in terms of the social relations involved become quite complex - including the implications for anthropological practice, and for social action on the part of the anthropologists. The debate bears on the topic of the conference in two major ways. First, the nexus between culture and economy. O n e question is whether we should recognise the cultural specificity of these ideas (about intellectual property) as they pertain to a particular economy. O r whether we are dealing with a situation we can universalise, either in terms of fundamental human rights o r in terms of our own analytical models. What kinds of systems make objects of value not just out of products but out of productive preconditions? Capital, and even more to the point labour, have long been conceptualised in this way in industrial economies. This has gone hand in hand with the idea that intellectual work has value for the potential it offers. The idea has power in turn because it also carries a potent - modernist - cultural message: the identification of the individual author with the results of creativity. The second relates to conflict and division. Conflicting interests and divided loyalties: one might add divided loyalties, divided minds. We are used in anthropology to articulating oppositions or contradictions and in the process to appear to resolve them by putting both in front of ourselves. But there are situations which no amount of reflection will resolve and where thoughts act out, as it were, a conflict of interests. I conceived this topic as a debate precisely because I could not bring my two minds together. It seemed to me that a discussion - seeing everything from all angles - would not do. The only thing was to force the issue, not in order to reach a consensus but in order to make the divisions explicit; not to gloss over conflict but to consider the issues as though they were each a set of interests. A debate seemed an appropriate vehicle. We have two sides to a question polarised in terms of speakers set up in opposition to one another. It is, of course, their arguments that are polarised - each was asked to speak to one or other of two viewpoints, and may or may not hold those views themselves. But they have to act as though they do. While one can have as many minds as one likes over something, action forces the issue. The idea of using debate as a format for discussion in anthropology has been going



on for some years, and most successfully, at Manchester University. O n e of our speakers has the advantage of having participated in such an event. But luckily Manchester does not own the design. The motion was This house believes that exploitable knowledge belongs to the creators of it.

For the motion: Professor Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, Chicago Against the motion: Professor Philippe Descola, EHESS, Paris Seconding the motion (for):D r Carlos Alberto Afonso, Coimbra Seconding the opposition (against):Dr Penelope Harvey, Manchester

F O R THE MOTION: M a n u e l a Carnelro da Cunha

In Chamissos story, a man (Peter Schlernihl) sells his shadow to the Devil, who rolls it up and takes it away. A shadow is an awkward thing to sell, although it is undoubtedly ones own. Strange things are being transacted nowadays, both material and immaterial: blood, tissues, organs, sperm, ovules, embryos, but also ideas, shapes, images, voices . . . In other times or other places, people were sometimes selling their very souls. O u r debate today could actually be phrased: Are we selling our souls by allowing knowledge to become its creators private property? I will try to show that it is precisely the ultimate obstacle to putting our souls on the market. One could argue that rights in knowledge are actually not really new. Information and knowledge, or at least some of it, have been property for a long time in many societies. Intellectual Property Rights western genealogy is usually traced to the Middle Ages and to guild trade secrets. What knowledge and information mean and cover, however, was greatly expanded and this is what we are talking about today. That there should be new objects of ownership need not surprise us. Property rights have a history and topography. The appearance of such objects of ownership is related to two kinds of production: the production of things and the production of identities and status, that is of relationships. Res and personae as they appear in Roman Law, if you wish. Technology, or more generally how people conceive of the process of production, entails that rights should be ascribed over each and every input. We all know of societies in which proper names, ornaments, songs or spells are crucial for the process of production and thus subject to ownership o r other kinds of rights. Technological change or, more broadly, changes in representations on production create new objects of rights. O n the other hand, as Veblen, LCvi-Strauss, Barth, Bourdieu, Baudrillard and Sahlins (among others, including myself) have pointed out, systems of objects, which emerge and disappear, stand for systems of people and produce identities. Taste and knowledge, which are then relations to these objects, are also ways of distinction among people, something quite exploitable in itself. This is not a different kind of knowledge, something we could call expressive knowledge: it is rather a different role for it. We thus have two capacities for exploitable knowledge: knowledge in the
3 The first six have now been published as Key Debates zn Anthropology (ed. T. Ingold, Routledge


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production of objects and knowledge in the production of identities. They should be discussed separately since they bring up different problems. What has changed, besides the extension of what is defined as exploitable knowledge, is the degree to which rights in knowledge have entered the market and become alienable property. For property is a highly variable bunch of rights. In particular, property is not necessarily alienable: land, for example, in Babylonian Law, had been property for long, but was only painstakingly made transactable through a number of ritual fictions (Cassin 1952). Knowledge follows a similar pattern: although having been property in many places and for a long time, it often was or is not transactable. It has been pointed out in connection, for instance, with conservation issues, that regulation of resources is highly dependent on property regimes. At this point it is important to stress the distinctions between such regimes. A simplistic division is sometimes made between regimes of free access and private property. What is simplistic here is that such a division, although fundamental, fails to consider more elaborate distinctions within private property and takes all private property to be individual private property. Yet there are other viable forms, such as for example collective or even state ownership. As Daniel Bromley (1991) has insisted, there has been an unfortunate confusion between common property regimes and open access resources. Open access is the kind of regime that is most liable to indiscriminate predation. Let me give you an example from outside the usual anthropological stock. Robert Crumb, the underground cartoonist of the sixties, decided, in a counter-culture move, not to ask for copyright for his characters. As a result, the cartoon Keep Trucking was appropriated by the advertising industry, and Crumb now writes an ironic C at the bottom of any of his drawings. Property is not - and we have that already in Roman Law - just an exclusive right to use and dispose of things. More than a relation between people and objects, it is also and maybe chiefly a relation between people about objects. It is a way of preventing other people putting certain objects to a use one might object to. Property does not necessarily entail the consequence, as I have reminded you, that objects should be put into the market: rather the contrary, it is the only way, given the planetary system of trade, in which they can actually be kept out of the market. What is the present situation? After a long period of attempts at revising the 1967 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in the framework of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the main industrial countries moved to a different forum and were able to have trade sanctions linked to the infringement of Intellectual Property Rights in the GATT/TRIPS Agreement signed in April 1994 (Oman 1994). GATT stands for General Agreement o n Tariffs and Trade (from 1947), and TRIPS for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Including Trading in Counterfeit Goods. While the emergence of new knowledge-items is related, as we have seen, to changes in technology and in society, the value they have acquired and the insistence, particularly by the United States, on their global enforcement has been linked by some to the particular position of developed countries in the global system of production. As manufacturers are increasingly located in countries where labour is cheap, inputs from developed countries become chiefly technological o r industrial innovation. Hence the pressure by developed countries to have patents recognised and enforced



worldwide. It would correspond to an effort by powerful countries to reap more benefits from production in a transnational division of labour. An expanded and revised political economy in which information stands as a productive force (Lash and Urry 1994: 4), would then be accountable for the unprecedented valuation of Intellectual Property Rights (hereafter IPR). It is only a further proof of the place of power in the value attributed to knowledge that it should be denied to so-called collective knowledge. Such denial is based on two grounds: that what has to be stimulated by rewarding it with ownership is invention (as against tradition) and that invention is ascribable to individuals and not to collectivities. Invention is taken in its contemporary sense of creation of the mind ( a b nzhifo?),while the former sense of discovery (as, for example, in the expression The invention of the Holy Cross for the discovery by the empress Helen of the True Cross of Christ) is suppressed. Take traditional peoples and their discoveries. These can involve the recognition of the utility of substances, such as rubber o r curare. They can be discoveries of processes such as those complex ones involved in the preparation of manioc or of ayahuasca. In ayahuascu it is not one plant but rather the combination of different plants that produces the desired effect. There is a growing amount of prospecting on the part of pharmaceutical companies, and even the US National Cancer Institute, of the resources particularly of tropical forests. It has been pointed out that indigenous knowledge provides pharmaceutical companies with a priority list for screenings, and that it therefore increases the efficiency of research by 400 per cent (Balick 1990). As for seed varieties, a 1994 study commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that indigenous peoples seed varieties account for most of the five billion dollars a year value of germplasm in rich nations crops and calls UNDPs attention to the fact that the commercial value of developing-country seed varieties and germplasm is not acknowledged and compensated for (Conserving indigenous knowledge by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, quoted in Dayal 1994). Much indigenous knowledge is thus appropriated yet not compensated for. It is on the market, whether one likes it or not. The point then becomes, as Cunningham (1991) has ably argued, whether it is equitable to have an open access regime for resources at the indigenous end and an ownership property regime at the multinational corporation end. Given that indigenous knowledge is on the market (presently for free), and that is a state of affairs that we are unable to alter, should we not support the proposition that its creators receive a share of the profits? This is why a growing number of anthropologists (such as Boom, Brush, Davis, Elizabetski, Greaves, Kloppenburg and Posey) have been urging the recognition of IPR for indigenous peoples. Recognising IPR, some say, is a legal framework alien to the way traditional societies handle knowledge. So? The same could be said of the whole political and legal situation in which such societies move nowadays. Were it not so, why should we uphold their rights to have land recognised and demarcated? Is property in land not equally a concept possibly foreign to most indigenous societies? And have anthropologists not realised that foreign concepts are put to new use and strategically appropriated by weak societies? That they might be, while used as weapons, kept so to say on the boundaries, within spheres that d o not mix with internal institutions? O r else, couched in new institutions that follow rules different from the world at large?



Knowledge can be put on the world market by indigenous societies and yet be put in common o r distributed along different paths within the group (as it is in traditional academia). The issue that intrigues me, rather, is why we should be discussing this matter here, while no one would contend the right of indigenous peoples to their land? There might be a subtle reason for this. Would it not be that, although we support indigenous land struggles with no restrictions, the issue of knowledge strikes more close to home, as intellectuals and as anthropologists? Traditional academia is a bastion of internal freedom of knowledge, but such freedom is under global and insidious attack (Hill and Turpin 1995). It might seem contradictory to defend ownership of knowledge abroad and open access at home. Furthermore, as anthropologists, we deal precisely with other peoples knowledge. Some might feel post-modern scruples to write about it. Others might fear that by restricting what we can freely write about other peoples is to be cutting the very branch we are sitting on. I d o not share those scruples nor those fears. In fact, securing ownership of exploitable knowledge would leave us in a much more easy position. I am presently editing a book, called the Encyclopaedia ofthe Forest, which is all about knowledge. This is a result of large team research involving rubber-tappers and three indigenous societies who live on the headwaters of the Jurui river, in Brazilian Western Amazonia. O u r guidelines are not to publish anything that could possibly have commercial value, since it would presently amount to putting commercially valuable knowledge into public domain. If IPR were recognised for traditional societies, such problems would not arise, since they could be secured and published at the same time. But knowledge also appears in connection, as I pointed out at the beginning of my talk, with the production of identities and status. Many current dilemmas about ownership of knowledge and cultural items in general, for traditional peoples as well as for anthropologists, concern what has been called cultural appropriation. This involves things such as myths, themes, patterns, artefacts, religious practices and ultimately image, voice and representation. I dont think the issue is to worry about conflicts over representation between anthropologists and the people they talk about. After all, journalists handle that quite well with more exacting people. The real issue lies elsewhere. That culture is a flow, not a thing, a production not a product, is by now common anthropological wisdom (e.g. Carneiro da Cunha 1992; 1995). Can we, as anthropologists, uphold the idea of cultural ownership at the same time as we realise that culture is in constant flow? Better than answering this in the abstract, we should look into cultural ownership debates in their political and historical context, as Coombe (1993) has done for the First Nations in Canada. First Nations claims in Canada were perfectly comprehensible when thought in situ: a history of definitions of identity by a bureaucracy which was committed to the disappearance of language and ceremonies of political weakness, of dispossession of land and pride (Coombe 1993). Let me sum up. I have argued that exploitable knowledge can be related to the production of objects and to the production of identities. In its first capacity, its presence on the market has increased. So too has its value, possibly due to the novel place of developed countries in the multi-national process of production. (Manufactures being increasingly located in third-world countries, the input of powerful countries in production is chiefly knowledge and information. Hence the immense and



successful pressure by developed countries to have IPR infringements linked to trade sanctions in GATT/TRIPS agreement.) Indigenous peoples have developed knowledge that is valuable for production. Yet that knowledge is not compensated for, due to a western individualistic definition of patents and IPR in general. It is only fair that it should be recognised and rewarded. The present situation is still to have an ideology of common heritage o r open access at the indigenous peoples level and of private property a t the corporations level. O n the other hand, how can we reconcile our disbelief in a set of things called culture with the support of culture ownership? My point is that cultural appropriation debates are ways for dispossessed peoples to phrase claims for power. What is at stake is the authority to define, to represent, to keep o r to dispose of, in a word, for lack of a better word, agency. There is nothing contradictory in acknowledging culture to be invented and yet upholding ownership of culture, since cultural ownership is but the local translation for agency and it is agency we are deemed to support. My basic point is that recognising ownership of knowledge in the production of objects is nor equivalent to putting it on the market. It is actually the only way in which it might not be sold. The same principle applies to knowledge in the production of identities. If identitary signs are common heritage, they are like fish in the open ocean, subject to everyones predation. Collective ownership is the only way to prevent a hunting season for signs, to avoid their becoming a commodity. In other words, if we allow exploitable knowledge to belong to its creators, rather than selling our soul to the Devil, we are actually building a barrier, as Polinyi has put it, to the satanic mill. Addendum. Two days ago, just before catching my plane, I received the news of a press report by COICA, the Co-ordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin. C O I C A is objecting that the US have registered under number 5751 the formula for ayahuasca, submitted by Loren Miller, owner of the International Plant Medicine Corporation. C O I C A urges everyone to protest to the President of the United States for such an appropriation of knowledge, and I submit this pledge to EASA, irrespective of what the results of our debate here might be.
Professor Manuela Cameiro Da Cunha Department of Anthropology University of Chicago 1126 East li31dStreet 60637 Illinois USA

AGAINST THE MOTION: Philippe Descola

My response to the persuasive arguments put forward by Manuela Carneiro da Cunha in favour of the motion will be a step-by-step semantic exegesis of its wording. The first question that we have to ask ourselves is: How d o we define exploitable knowledge? In the most general sense, any knowledge, even the most abstract, is exploitable or potentially usable for practical ends. Language may provide a good example. The four participants to this debate are expressing themselves in English, although only one of them is a native speaker of the language, and despite the fact that we have several other languages in common to which we resort in private conversation. This is because English has become a sort of Latin of the late twentieth century, a



convenient vehicle for exchanges within the scientific community. But when I was learning English at school, sweating over translations of Paradise Lost o r Pride and Prejudice, I certainly had no idea that the knowledge I was so painfully acquiring would serve me many years later in an anthropological career. I had no idea, for instance, that this knowledge would get me invited to this roundtable, entirely conducted in English and inspired by a typically British institution, that of Oxbridge debating societies. Several other languages have a similar function, although to a lesser extent, especially in Third World countries where a good mastery of the language of the former colonial powers may open many doors. In that sense, proficiency in a vehicular language is exploitable knowledge; it is also a highly marketable personal asset, as any job-seeker will know. If language, as the collective product of a culture, can become exploitable in certain contexts, then the wording of the motion is misleading, for no one will seriously argue that English or French belong to the creators of it. It should be clear by now that we are not discussing exploitable knowledge as such; we are not even discussing marketable knowledge in the sense of a desirable expertise that can be bought or sold on the labour market; we are in fact addressing the issue of knowledge as commodity, that is to say knowledge as a series of bounded and reproducible pieces of information endowed with a market value because of the profits they may generate. Now, when does knowledge become a commodity? This certainly took a long time to achieve. When Adam Smith or Marx defined the economic system of the modern era as one where land and labour were commodities universally exchangeable on an open market, they left aside knowledge as a factor of production o r a productive force. It was only with the growth of mechanisation and the development of such branches as applied chemistry that the question of patenting knowledge and technical know-how embodied in objects became crucial to industrial competition. In that sense, knowledge became a commodity in much the same way as land and labour became commodities: when its exchange value became independent of the social context in which it was used. For knowledge as commodity is not merely a piece of knowledge owned o r appropriated by a person or a group of persons; its very value as a commodity depends on its capacity to be radically separated from the relations within which it was embedded. Let me illustrate this point with an example to which Marilyn Strathern (1996) alludes in her discussion of intellectual property rights: the case of the Malanggan. These are ritual objects, typical of the northern part of New Ireland, which have attracted the attention of collectors because of their aesthetic qualities; there are approximately 10,000 Malanggan in museums and private collections all over the world. Despite their heterogeneity in form, design and material, their function was similar: they were briefly displayed and then destroyed during funeral ceremonies and rituals of initiation (Derlon 1994). Now, each class of Malanggan was subject to a right of reproduction belonging to specific individuals or social units, a right of ownership, then, not of the object as such but of its mental blueprint and ritual use. This copyright could be transferred in certain cases as a temporary lease and as an expression of the desire to build a political alliance with the group of persons to whom it was entrusted. Although it circulated, the use of the copyright of a particular class of Malanggan thus remained confined to a restricted area where it served specific social and ritual purposes. The right of reproduction was appropriated but it was not a commodity, since it had no universal exchange value - and this in spite of the fact that the objects



themselves, now disembedded from the context which rendered them meaningful, became commodities with a high value on the international market of native art. So we may reasonably assume that the motion we are discussing is in fact: Should knowledge as commodity belong to the creators of it? This begs a new question: How are we to identify and define the creators of this type of knowledge? The least difficult case, one which is covered by laws of patent and copyright, is when there exists a single identifiable creator of a single creation embodied in a marketable object such as a book o r a piece of music. However, even this apparently straightforward situation is more complex than it appears. Indeed, even if the single creator is identifiable, the knowledge that he or she has produced may prove difficult to untangle from the production of other creators. Let me take the example of philosophy which, following Deleuze, may be conceived as the art of creating concepts. I d o admit that philosophical concepts are not commodities (not yet, fortunately), but the books through which they are conveyed can certainly be qualified as such. Now, when Merleau-Ponty attempts to define the perceiving subject in relation to the cogito in his PhPnomPnologie de la perception (1945), he is commenting upon a book by Husserl, the MPditations cartksiennes (1931), a series of lectures which are themselves a critical commentary of the Meditutiones de Prima Philosophia (1641) in which Descartes elaborates a radical (although largely implicit) critique of scholastic philosophy. Thus, the knowledge that Merleau-Ponty is creating in his book is not born in a vacuum, but stems from a reworking of concepts and hypotheses that have been elaborated over the centuries by a transnational and transgenerational community of scholars committed to the pursuit of usable knowledge. Assessing who is responsible for a creation is even more difficult in the case of collective authorship: research teams, corporate industries and ultimately the virtual community on Internet. The exponential growth of lawsuits in molecular biology and computer programming is a sure indication of the difficulty of establishing what is a creative act in certain fields of scientific research and to whom precisely it may be assigned. However, the highest degree of complexity is attained when one deals with a collective and anonymous creator such as a culture. Although there exist guidelines in this domain, particularly in the field of ethnobiological knowledge (Greaves 1994), no legal consensus has been reached at the international level. I suspect that this is the real issue we have been asked to address during this debate, not so much the deceptively simple question Should knowledge belong to the creators of it? but rather Should cultural knowledge, under whatever form, be considered as a commodity? As such, the question goes far beyond our ethnographic competence and should be dissociated from our own legitimate concerns for the well-being and protection of the tribal minorities with whom some of us have been associated. Although it may go against our deeper feelings, it implies that we take a moral stance and pass a general judgement as citizens of the world, rather than act as spokespersons for the peoples to whom, as ethnographers, we feel committed (a role which we may take in other circumstances and in other places). It implies, in other words, that we measure all the consequences that the universal commoditisation of cultural knowledge may entail. Before we embark on such a task, however, we have to ask ourselves: What is cultural knowledge? We all know that cultures are not easily defined and neatly bounded sociological entities that would lend themselves to a straightforward jural, not to say juridical, identification. H o w then are we to assign an entirely specific knowledge to an entirely specific group of people? Let us consider Greek culture, for



instance. Everyone agrees that most contemporary Greeks have a strong sense of belonging to a millennia1 civilisation rooted in an ancient and prestigious tradition. This continuity may be contested, of course, but I suggest that we define cultural identity here as we usually do as anthropologists, i.e. as based on self-ascription. Assuming that we consider contemporary Greeks as forming a culture with a deep historical heritage, could we say that logic, for instance, belongs to Greek culture? More specifically, can we say that the syllogism - which was formalised by Aristotle but routinely used as a mode of reasoning by Plato and the Sophists - belongs to its creators, i.e. Greek culture? In a sense, we can certainly say so, and history books do not do otherwise when they expatiate on the Greek miracle. But from that positive answer we cannot seriously argue that the theory of the syllogism should be patented for the benefit of Greek culture. Nevertheless, predicative logic forms the foundation of modern logic, which is itself the main tool for the creation of highly marketable products, namely computer programs. My example appears absurd because when we are talking of cultural knowledge as a possible commodity, we are not actually referring to the cultural knowledge of Greek culture, of French culture o r of Chinese culture. We are referring, albeit implicitly, to the cultural knowledge of cultural minorities. So the real question we are debating tonight is in fact: Should the cultural knowledge of cultural minorities be considered as a commodity? You can replace cultural minorities, if you wish, by native cultures or by indigenous societies, but whatever the term we choose, how are we going to define these social entities without reverting to substantialist definitions of the past and without setting these entities apart from the situation of ordinary humankind, with all the risks implied by such a selective identification? Even if we did that, however, even if we resorted to this (hopefully) positive discrimination, many practical problems would still arise, the main one being the question of ownership: to whom does a specific knowledge belong to within a specific cultural minority or indigenous society? Suppose, for instance, that a specific cultivar of manioc, maize or sweet potato, used by a native community in Amazonia, proves to be resistant to some pest or disease, and may thus become marketable worldwide as a crop variety. This is undoubtedly knowledge, born out of careful experimentation and embodied in a product. Who is the creator of this crop variety? You may answer the culture where it was found. But the cultivar may be used by only a tiny fraction of a local community, and it may have been acquired in a not so distant past from a neighbouring community belonging to another tribe or culture, where, for lack of adequate studies, its presence will remain ignored. The Jivaroan Achuar of Upper Amazonia, with whom I have done fieldwork, have close to a hundred cultivars of manioc. However, each local group has its own cultivars, and although the genetic diversity can be said to belong to the Achuar tribe as a whole, a specific cultivar with a potential market value may be propagated by only a handful of families. Are we to consider that only these families should benefit from the possible royalties that an hypothetical patent may bring? O r should the whole tribe benefit from it? In the latter case, how would this corporate ownership be expressed? By a native grass roots organisation? But suppose that, as is often the case, there is no such organisation. O r suppose that, as is even more common, the tribe is divided between two or three conflicting organisations. From a moral and juridical point of view, there are no straight answers to these questions. And the fact that unscrupulous individuals o r firms have managed to patent



biotechnological knowledge elicited from native Amazonians does not render these issues less tricky (although it says a great deal about the ethical standards and the degree of expertise of patenting offices). For instance, the well-publicised and shameful patenting by an American citizen of the hallucinogenic drug known in Amazonia as ayahuarca does not make the question of its original ownership any more clear, since several dozen ethnic groups in the region currently use this preparation. As an anthropologist who has been actively engaged for many years in the ethnoecological study of native Amazonians, let me assure you that I fully understand the issue of not depriving them of the little that is left to them, namely their traditional knowledge. But I also realise very clearly that, once granted, the ability to patent biological knowledge cannot be restricted to native Arnazonians. Do we really want the laboratories engaged in mapping the human genome to file patents for gene sequences? By focusing the question of intellectual ownership on issues of ethnobiological ethics, we also risk misconstruing serious drawbacks in other domains entailed by advocating the commoditisation of cultural knowledge. This process is undoubtedly under way, both in the western world and in developing countries, on the assumption that immaterial culture must be treated as a patrimony (national, regional, ethnic, etc.) of the same kind as culturally salient artefacts, landscapes o r buildings. But such a western concept of ownership - and nationalistic closure - does not consider the fact that cultural items coming from the outside may be highly valued by cultural minorities. In the greater part of Upper Amazonia, for instance, shamanistic knowledge - i.e. exploitable knowledge used for the treatment of misfortune - circulates over vast distances as each ethnic group, each local community tends to regard the shamanistic knowledge coming from afar as having a higher efficacy than their own or, at least, as being a necessary complement to it. Should this knowledge become a commodity? Is it desirable that it be protected by patents, import taxes, copyright fees? These questions may appear absurd at this stage, perhaps in part because of a certain ethnocentric prejudice that makes us consider ethnobiological knowledge as genuine and legitimate (and thus potentially convertible into a commodity) and shamanistic knowledge as superstition (and thus unworthy of legal protection); however these questions will not remain absurd for long - especially with the current fashion of Euro- American shamanistic schools - if we concede that knowledge should not be free. I deeply believe that it is not by advocating an increased commoditisation of knowledge that we will alleviate the plight of tribal minorities, but rather by fighting for a world where ownership would not be the sole measure of ones ability to control ones destiny. A utopia, perhaps, but an indispensable one.
Professor Pbilippe Descola Laboratoire dhntbropologie sociale College de France 52 rue du Cardinal Lemoine 71005 Paris France

SECONDING THE MOTION: Carlos A l b e r t 0 Afonso

In supporting the motion, I am defending the position that, when knowledge is inherently commodified, cultural identity is most clearly grasped in economic terms. Let me start with shamanism.



Shaman Pharmaceuticals@, a California-based company, is a N e w Age multinational which, by its own narrative: exclusively screens wild plants and ethnobotanic information originating with shamans and other traditional healers. I n spite of the transformation of the indigenous lore into a transnational commodity, the local informants and communities d o not have legal rights of proprietorship o n any eventual patent for a drug, o r its commercialisation. This is because traditional systems of knowledge are not recognised in the international law regulating the protection of intellectual property. Made explicit by the brand name itself, Shaman@ is representative of a form of intellectual appropriation that Native American critics deprecatingly call white ~hamanism.~ Among other things, the firm sponsors shamanic apprenticeship programmes so that traditional healers can pass on their knowledge to a new generation. The governing irony in a mass-production corporation copyrighting the mystique and technique of natural healers is that the shamans are no longer seen as being in a position to cure their own societies from current environmental depletion and disappearing culture without the material presence of the corporate patron. In the trendy New Age movements of the late twentieth century, a great many other white shamans and shamanesses have been gaining wealth and a certain kind of notoriety by publishing books, giving classes, holding clinics and organising conferences, without any profit reverting to the societies from which they claim to have acquired their knowledge and pedigree. More often than not, the claimed associations with native mystics and tutors are deliberate fabrications. Dharamsala, in North India, and Kathmandu, in Nepal, where I have been doing fieldwork with Tibetan refugees and New Age people, are favourite locations for wannabes aiming at validating some future commercial exploitation of Tibetan Buddhism, medicine, art or astrology. After a period of perfunctory and unskilled apprenticeship, they are able to claim I have been there, I learned with my guru o r I learned with a lama who escaped from Tibet. Whereas Native Americans are critical of such usurpation, the Tibetans in exile use the appropriations as utilitarian symbolic capital to expand western audiences and to extend sympathy for the Tibetan cause across the spectrum. Yet, today, the strategies of appropriation are not entirely predatory. If one takes the case of biodiversity prospecting, it has effectively become the practice to make contractual arrangements stipulating just compensation. In fact, compensation contracts are a market strategy used by transnational corporations and government bodies, and they are not actually a recognition of intellectual rights. It ensures exclusivity of access to biological, genetic and biochemical trade and research in the face of growing corporate competition. The returns are given as compensatory justice and not on the basis of economic equity and intellectual partnership between creators.
4 See Valuing local knowledge. Indigenous people and intellectual property rights, eds. Stephen B. Brush and Doreen Stabinsky. Washington DC: Island Press, 1996; Intellectual property rights and biodiversity conservation. An interdisciplinary analysis of the values of medicinal plants, ed. Timothy Swanson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; Intellectual property rights for indigenous peoples. A sourcebook, ed. Tom Greaves. Oklahoma City: Society for Applied Anthropology, 1994. 5 Wendy Rose, The great pretenders. Further reflections on white shamanism, in The state of Native America. Genocide, colonisation and resistance, ed. M. Annette Jaimes. Boston: South End Press, 1992: 403-21. I am indebted to my friend Ralph Shain for this reference.



The result is objectifying and immobilising the identity of indigenous people, making them stewards of biodiversity and traditional resources of knowledge. I am also concerned with other liberal appropriations of the creative activity developed through the experience of dispossessed cultures and populations, and which, in this case, does not fit easily into the mainstream category of traditional knowledge. A fascinating instance is provided by the controversy involving a video clip made by Michael Jackson and Spike Lee in February of 1996, in Rio de Janeiro. The video illustrated the song They dont cure about us, an aestheticisation of social injustice filmed in various places around the world, including one of Rios notorious slums. The singer got off the plane wearing a conspicuous black surgical mask and a large, floppybrimmed hat, which were supposed to ward off tropical viruses. His image cunningly conveyed an identity between that of an innocent victim of such a diseased society and the techno-healer who was bringing them the cure. Michael Jackson and Spike Lee were nevertheless accused by local politicians of trying to make money out of misery. In my interpretation, misery in Rio is an idea, an intellectual asset which only has a meaning in that one place, in that one biocultural topography, which combines the bay, the hills, the expensive apartment blocks and the scattered slums on the hillsides. This contradictory landscape has been, so to speak, patented by a tradition of musical, poetic and visual urban culture, specially shaped in the middle years of the twentieth century. Rio is the informal intellectual property of popular musicians and artists who aestheticise misery in their claim of emotional engagement with the community. These middle-class artists are proverbial in appropriating creative imaginations, which have been culturally inscribed in the slums, for commercial media and popular culture. The inclusion of this imagined space into the production of commodities and images by a global media singer overstepped the localism of appropriation. The hybridity of a black mask on the face of a whitened black is now the perfect representation of a white shaman. The slum-dwellers welcomed the singer enthusiastically amid huge razzmatazz. Michael Jackson paid $6,000 for the slum choreography which combined shacks and open sewers with the magnificent view of the bay and its multi-million dollar apartment blocks. The residents association supposedly used the payment for the improvement of child and health care installations. It was compensatory justice, characteristic of the current mode of annexation of intellectual property. What I mean is that, here, misery itself is the idea. My point is that technological artefacts such as music videos instantiate the expansive capacity, in the liberal capitalism of the 1990s, for the transformation of anything into an intangible product or a good idea. It is in this new merging of the commodity form with the form of t h ~ u g h tthat ~ corporeal entities such as misery and oppression become exploitable abstractions, particularly in the shape of mass media images. More arenas of cultural invention and sites of autonomous creativity lose their
6 Veja, Michael Jackson no Pais d o CarnavaVO Ridiculo Sururu PrC-Carnavalesco, February 1996. 7 I retain here a fragment of Joseph Tabbis description of electronic culture and commodity capitalism which are not thought, but which in their essential abstraction have the form of thought, in Postmodern sublime. Technology and American writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995: 10, original italics.



privacy and scale (as happened in Rio), and are re-copyrighted in multinational media and business. Appropriation in the growing market of simulacra1 and cultural products - including New Age shamanism - is becoming a privileged site where, in Fredrik Jamesons summation, the cultural and the economic.. .collapse back into one another and say the same thing. In supporting the motion exploitable knowledge belongs to the creators of it, I want to stress that, under the ubiquity of intangible accumulation, knowledge is not simply a money-maker, but the commodity in late capitalism. It seems crucial to me that, when definitions of knowledge and authorship are inherently commodified and intertwined with international proprietary rights, the struggle of disfranchised populations for an empowered identity resides in their capacity to dictate the terms of their own commodification. Viewed in this light, the present legal doctrine of intellectual property rights, and its derivative practices of just compensation, are tropes for the way the identification of cultural commodities with authenticated appropriations is maintained. Inverting Franz Fanons metaphor, it is a means of putting black masks on white skins.
Dr Carlos Albert0 Afonso Departamento de Antropologia Universidade de Coimbra Rua do Arco da Traipio 3000 Coimbra Portugal


Vandana Shiva (1993) writes compellingly about how multinational corporations exploit indigenous knowledge to enhance profits for shareholders. In the local Indian contexts she describes, women have custodianship of a complex local ecology and their skill resides in their ability productively to interrelate multiple aspects of this diverse environment. Capital-intensive agribusiness has no respect for the fine balances which sustain local productivity. Womens knowledge of seed varieties, for example, is used in the initial selection of seed for what then become engineered hybrid versions, designed to flourish in the more intensive monocultures which enhance profits, due primarily to dramatically reduced labour costs. As Vandana Shiva points out, these hybrid seeds are effectively biologically patented, in that the engineered seeds produce only one crop and the farmer now has
8 As the N e w York sociologist Sharon Zukin points out: In our debased contemporary vocabulary, the word culture has become an abstraction for any economic activity that does not create material products like steel, cars or computers, in The cultures of cities, Oxford: Blackwell, 1995: 12, original italics. 9 Fredrik Jameson, Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism, London: Verso, 1993: xxi, original italics. 10 Marilyn Stratherns suggestive analysis of the articulations between identity, ownership and proliferating modernities seems to me consistent with the conjuncture I am proposing here: Late twentieth century cultural politics makes it impossible to separate issues of identity from claims to the ownership of resources, in The new modernities, unpublished paper given to the conference of the European Society for Oceanists, Knowing Oceania: Constituting Knowledge and Identities, Basel, December 1994. 11 Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, London: Pluto, 1986.



to go back to the corporation to buy seed every year. And, [wlhere hybrids d o not force the farmers back to the market, legal patents and intellectual property rights

are used to prevent farmers from saving seed (Shiva 1993: 172). Through seed patents, corporations claim the seed as their creation. In the process local knowledge is not simply exploited but erased. Creativity is claimed by those with the power to own. And the power to own knowledge is the power to enforce a particular understanding of the boundary between natural phenomena and their cultural elaboration - o r as the US patent law puts it, the boundary between obvious and non-obvious knowledge. Furthermore, once the distinction between invention and resource comes to determine the way in which knowledge operates as property, commercial investment in knowledge production begins to make sense - at least to investors! The problem with the increasing commercialisation of knowledge production is that it generates idioms of ownership that extend the concept of a viable resource and thereby multiply the fields in which ownership can operate to generate profit; yet at the same time it mitigates against further development or dissemination of those knowledges that cannot be owned, either because the possibilities for exploitation are too broad or because they d o not appear to offer any obvious commercial profit. In this respect I was amazed to read recently that despite the fact that the entire modern electronics industry depends, at a fundamental level, on applied quantum mechanics, quantum mechanics would not have been a good private investment, even with the benefit of hindsight, because no one company could have appropriated quantum mechanics as its own share-holders intellectual property (The Independent; London: 28 May 1996: 14). Another problem with the notion of intellectual property rights is that it obscures the fact that the knowledge process is always one of recontextualisation, not simply abstraction. Recontextualisation is the creative process as many indigenous peoples recognise. It is our concern with ownership that tends to obscure this fact. So what happens when recontextualisation itself becomes a resource, as in rap and hip-hop music productions that systematically exploit the technology of the sampler. Samplers are computers that can digitally duplicate any existing sounds and play them back in any key or pitch, in any order, and loop them endlessly (Rose 1994: 73). Through the use of this technology authorship is redistributed. Performers maintain a high profile but are joined by producers and DJs who can themselves acquire star status. The original artists of the sampled sounds, typically from the 1960s and 70s black soul and jazz traditions, are identified as part of the overall performance. This explicit recontextualisation of previous skills and technological effects distinguishes the contemporary use of the sampler from earlier uses when it was quite common to disguise the origin of the sample which was basically used to save the costs of studio musicians. Rap and hip-hop artists extract a small but recognisabfe part of what was there previously and build and improvise around it. As with many other musical and oral traditions, the voices of past artists are invoked but made to say new things. The difference here is the extent to which copyright interests have come to define the possibilities of making music in this style. Recording companies did not bother to follow up copyright infringements until the rap musicians had begun to net huge profits. But today, ownership of the resource from which the rap musicians fashion their product has become the overwhelming concern of the industry. Nevertheless it is interesting that the sampling technique can undermine the power of record labels to patent a particular sound, for it enables the revival of a



sound without reviving the relationship between the original artist and the original recording company. Identifiable samples can to some extent be employed as a communal resource that functions in opposition to the recording industrys fixation with ownership (Rose, 1994: 90). The exploitation of knowledge as a means of distributing ideas stands in an indeterminate relationship to the exploitation of knowledge for the accumulation of wealth and the exercise of power. The outcomes of these relationships and recontextualisation processes are, of course, context specific and it is to this specificity that anthropology should attend. So let me move to another specific example concerning those cases where knowledge and identity are intrinsically and explicitly linked; I have no time to discuss footballers and musicians, but will look briefly at the tourist industry which has enabled the commercialisation of ethnic identities to the advantage of some and the detriment of others. When thinking about the exploitation of indigenous knowledge in this domain we need to ask who creates ethnicity and to whom does it belong? And what market decides which ethnicities can be appropriated as generative resources, while others serve simply to block all possibilities of participation. The Otavalo Indians of Andean Ecuador illustrate this process well. They are a people who have, since Inka times, successfully exploited their ethnicity. However in todays market it is clear that those who can exploit this ethnic resource most successfully are those who also have the necessary non-indigenous knowledges, already appropriated from western social domains. Rich Otavaleiios are bilingual in Quechua and Spanish, many educate their children in the major cities of the western world. They have long advocated the importance of bilingual education, for they need to ensure that despite their complex international networks and connections, their children can continue to occupy the very specific cultural niche which now forms the basis of their trading power in the tourist market. In the process of this endeavour, however, they are in effect appropriating Quechua from the poorer Otavaleiios who are less enthusiastic about the bilingual education programmes and would rather maximise whatever exposure their children might get to the Hispanic world and its productive cultural capital. We thus find in this region a situation in which Otavaleiios who are successful in the marketing of their ethnicity argue that their poor rural neighbours do not speak Quechua properly: it is too contaminated by Spanish and they need bilingual education in order to learn proper Quechua. It is clear that the social conditions required to exploit Otavalo ethnicity today are an urban base, capital to set up trading links with tourists, resources to travel, and forms of communication to capitalise on wider networks of commodity exchange. Local knowledge as ethnicity is exploitable. But it requires a bit of creative invention and an elaborated articulation to the market that gives the knowledge its value. A final warning about the effects of accepting the motion: the extension of ownership will reconfigure the value of what is owned, before it reconfigures the power to own. To illustrate this I turn finally to my study of the Universal Exhibition (Harvey 1996). One of the main distinctions between the Worlds Fairs of the mid nineteenth century and those of the late twentieth century is the general extension of the culture concept. All nations have culture, and all cultures in Worlds Fairs are more or less of a kind: more nations, more culture but in the monocultural form of the heritage industry. What distinguishes nations now, in these huge representational



extravaganzas, is technological capacity. The nations of the world at Sevilles Expo92 were distinguished by the ownership of technological expertise, which interestingly, they used to make explicit the opportunities for self-creation, to the extent that some nations reflexively deconstructed their own cultural integrity. Switzerland does not exist the Swiss pavilion starkly proclaimed. Nation states at the end of the twentieth century use these occasions to market themselves through the use of branding techniques. The establishment of brand involves the ownership of an essence that goes beyond the product. The most valuable commercial property of companies such as Coca-Cola and Benetton is not a unique product: Coca Cola is widely copied; Benetton sells a hugely disparate range of products. What they sell are the products symbolic associations, its visibility in the market. Expo nations used the most recent film technologies to d o this also: IMAX, giant screens, spherical auditoriums, wrap-around sound, even seats synchronised to move to the films image. The western nations at the Expo92 (or some of them) generated images of cultural capacity without the need for exhibits of colonised natives. What Expo92 showed quite explicitly, was that all nations can create but not to the same effect. What the exhibition erased was the social relations through which some nations emerge as technologically more advanced than others, with more exploitable knowledge than others. The notion that exploitable knowledge belongs to the creators of it has become disturbingly self-evident and now that culture joins nature as a universal resource we might d o better to formulate our concerns in terms of accountability and responsibility rather than ownership.
Dr Penelope Harvey Department of Anthropology University of Manchester Brunswick Street Manchester M13 9PL England

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