Performance and vitality: circulation and the value of culture
Location G
Date and Time 9th December, 2008 at 10:30


James Leach (CNRS)
Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)
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Short Abstract

This panel will explore and exemplify the descriptive language available to anthropologists and others to describe the simultaneous creation of multiple types of value in the creation and circulation of cultural expressions.

Long Abstract

Intellectual and Cultural Property laws clearly recognise traditional and contemporary cultural expression as creating value, yet all too often the registers of value in these regimes obscure the diverse and complex values people themselves recognise. Propertization has the effect of transforming socially created values for participants, and audiences, into (economically based) value contained by objects which can be simply attributed to a creator, or owner, as if this were the extent of people's interest in them. As such, their circulation is facilitated, but under specific conditions, thereby creating different kinds of social relation from that of their original context (which may in turn be appropriative). We invite contributions which explore the language available for expressing and affirming diverse kinds of value. We look to contribute to developing more nuanced descriptions of people's attachments to, and ownership of, cultural expressions. We invite paper proposals on all aspects of cultural expression and performance. As an example we mention one such form, without intending to limit contributions to that focus. Dances are often at the centre of the commodification of tradition for tourist consumption, or for appropriation by a state that wants to parade a harmonious pluralism of traditional cultures. The contemporary valuation of dances and dancing thus presents an opportunity to examine transformation, ownership and appropriation of cultural expressions. While acknowledging the value form of property, we seek to expand the possible register of value to include the constitution of persons and social roles, to cosmological action, and to cultural vitality itself.

Discussant: Alexander King

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Introduction- circulation and vitality

Author: James Leach (CNRS)

Short Abstract

See panel abstract


A short introduction to the panel drawing on recent work with Lorraine Aragon on articulating the value of artistic practices in Indonesia and PNG.

The De-valuing of Circulation and Contradictions in the Rise of Property on Woodlark Island, formerly Muyuw, Milne Bay Provence, Papua New Guinea

Author: Frederick Damon (University of Virginia)

Short Abstract

This paper explores Western ideas about property for the creation of “Woodlark Island,” a concept replacing “Muyuw,” a place in the northeast Kula Ring. The consequence of this replacement is a new consciousness thrilled by the experience of new forms of power and lulled by the consumption of beer.


This paper explores the development of Woodlark Island and the rise of Western ideas about property from the middle third of the 19th Century to the present. "Woodlark," a Western identity, is becoming the defining force for an island that has increasingly been placed at the originating end of Western commodity chains rather than one of the strategic nodes in the interisland Kula Ring through which its original place, "Muyuw," was reciprocally determined. On the one hand the paper traces the key moments in the making of Woodlark stemming from the (English) King's formal appropriation of roughly 95% of the island in the 1890s to the indigenous populations treating its land as a commodity today. On the other hand it discusses the alternative systems of circulation from which many actors have their original orientations. The paper concludes with a hypothesis about the coupling of these two dimensions showing how a consciousness is created that is more thrilled by the experience of new sources of power than by the articulation of earlier forms of action and lulled by the purchase of beer as a new circulatory process comes to a full stop.

The values of traditional dances in Kamchatka and Alaska

Authors: Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)
Hiroko Ikuta (Aberdeen University)

Short Abstract

We describe how tradition moves from background to artistic figure among two indigenous Arctic peoples. Similarities among Koryak and Eskimo traditional indicate a common modernity on both sides of the Bering. The contrasts seem to have more to do with local priorities than differences between ‘post-Soviet’ Russian and ‘capitalist’ America.


Dancing among indigenous peoples of the arctic presents an ideal case for examining transformations of value across different contexts and value systems. This paper compares the values of dancing and associated activities among indigenous Kamchatkans in the Russian Federation and indigenous Alaskans in the United States. Koryak (Kamchatka) or Eskimo (Alaska) dancing is usually labelled 'traditional', and foregrounds analytical problems of understanding the operation of creativity, tradition, agency, structure, individual and group in everyday life. While anthropologists have rejected the opposition of tradition and modernity, it remains a powerful dichotomy for 'natives' on both sides of the Bering Strait. The movement of dances in different contexts highlight the processes of value creation and circulation, and the creation of property, which is about making that socially created value stick or inhere in objects which continue to circulate under different parameters. Dances are often at the centre of the commodification of tradition for tourist consumption of exotic others or appropriation by a state that wants to parade a harmonious pluralism of differentiated groups. We define tradition as the background of practices upon which people innovate new figures. 'Ethnic' dances have become iconic performances of 'culture' in a figure-ground reversal that makes 'traditional' arts figures against the ground of 'modernity'. This paper describes the character of these transformations, noting a similar operations of modernity on both sides of the Bering, but with some interesting contrasts that seem to have more to do with local priorities than differences between 'post-Soviet' Russian and 'capitalist' America.

Christening 'drama' in two Pacific island communities

Author: Wendy Cowling (University of Waikato)

Short Abstract

The performances of versions of ‘drama’, seen in church-sponsored, public presentations in Tonga and in the Cook Islands, unite the sacred and the social, foreign theatre styles with indigenous forms, including dance genres, and generate deeply-felt cathartic experiences.


The performances of versions of 'drama', seen in church-sponsored, public presentations in Tonga and in the Cook Islands, unite the sacred with the social, foreign theatre styles with indigenous forms, inluding dance genres, and generate deeply-felt cathartic experiences. In the Cook Islands there is invariably a ludic element and some utilization of the theatrical norms inherent in group performances of traditional dances. In contrast, the 'dramas' and other religious narratives performed in Tongan Wesleyan church services, whether in the home islands or in diasporic communities, and which commemorate special events, are solemn. The performance modes have evolved locally, with minimal influences from western theatre styles. Any ludic elements are left at the church door, but seen in other presentations, including dance.

Conflation and critique: transnational articulations of artistic value in international development.

Author: Polly Stupples (Massey University)

Short Abstract

This paper explores the ways in which art projects in Central America, funded transnationally through international aid, operate as sites for the articulation and transformation of diverse values associated with artistic expression.


In the last 15 years, a new space for cultural production has emerged from the coming together of artists in 'developing' countries with funding from a handful of European development organisations interested in promoting a more holistic approach to development. In this context art 'projects' operate as sites for the articulation, contestation and transformation of diverse values associated with artistic expression.

Based on fieldwork undertaken with independent artists' associations in Central America in 2006 and 2008, this paper explores the ways in which diverse values are articulated and transformed in this transnational arena of arts funding and artistic production. It focuses on the values articulated by artists working in contemporary visual arts in Nicaragua who operate independently of the state, outside of mainstream gallery spaces and who receive almost no recognition for their practices within their own regional context. It emphasises the situated, historical and strategic aspect of these articulations and examines how they may be transformed and/or appropriated by their positioning within the discourses and structures of international development.

Finally it discusses some donors' attempts to articulate non-instrumentalised and non-economic values for artistic practices as part of their monitoring and evaluation systems, and their intention to use these articulations strategically to influence cultural policy within international development.

Free Software and a vitality of circulation

Author: Gregers Petersen (Copenhagen Business School)

Short Abstract

Free software is in constant circulation and this raises questions about value, exchange and relations.


Free software and a vitality of circulation.

When you encounter a free software project certain things can make one wonder. There is the fundamental aspect of turning copyright upside-down, through the reproduction of the copyleft license. There is a whole other, and not less puzzling, question: Why are people placing so much of their life, time and work in a free software project? In these days and times it seems more logical to expect that individuals would invest their valuable skills in much more market oriented activities, e.g. selling ones craft to the highest bidder. Instead the work is placed under a license which proscribes free access, rights to use and change and enforces constant re-distribution. It is all very odd.

This paper will explore different kinds of acts of owning, based on 'giving-while-keeping'. The setting is located within a free software project and the subject is the projects particular kind of cultural expression which goes against a conflation into commodities. This is a dividual world - the merging and emerging of relations - and this makes one wonder, what it is which is given and what is kept? Free software is in constant circulation, it stands out with a robust vitality and efficiently fends against appropriation. This vitality of circulation pushes different aspects of value and hereby social relations and persons are transformed.

"Expressive Heritage and Cultural Revitalisation: Haka and Kapa haka in contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand"

Author: Simon Valzer (Waikato University)

Short Abstract

This paper will present how the uses and the significations of Maori traditional actions songs known as “haka” can be different in various contemporary contexts in New Zealand such as cultural competitions, schools and universities; and overseas in Europe or in United States when theses dances are appropriated by other people, carried in other hands, for other purposes.


This paper aims at understanding how the forms, the practices and the meanings of the set of ritual dances known as "haka" and their scenic form, "kapa haka", can differ according to the social context in which they take place. In fact, haka today has world visibility, being relayed by powerful vehicles such as sport, diplomacy and advertising. It is used as a symbol, or even as an icon of Maori culture: but like every icon, its carries its own myths, anachronisms and misunderstandings, especially when it is taken overseas.

In New Zealand, these traditional Maori dances -and like Maori culture as a whole- underwent major developments during the twentieth century, developing in three different contexts: they became central to national performing arts competitions, along the way being "rationalized" and "normalized" to be evaluated on the same basis, yet many tribal traditions entered in conflict. Kapa haka has also been "nationalized" by entering in the general New Zealand educational system: today it is taught early to young pupils, without differentiating between Maori, Pakeha, or other ethnic groups. It is also integrated in high schools, because each institution has its own haka and often performs for public occasions. Finally, it also entered universities and is today part of the academic teachings offered by Maori and Pacific studies programmes. I will try to see if the uses and significations of these dances differ across these three different contexts.

Exceeding appropriation: meanders in the field of Waiwai translations

Author: Evelyn Schuler Zea (University of São Paulo/Free University, Berlin)

Short Abstract

The core subject of this communication is to rethink some presuppositions of the concept of “appropriation” within the context of cultural circulations among Amerindians known as Waiwai in Northern Amazonia.


As there are many and specific "yesamarî" (ways, paths, or detours) linking one household to another, there are also many and specific ways among the Waiwai to translate the relations with beings who live close or far to them, permanently or temporarily, humans and non-humans. In Waiwai translations a direct and immediate relation constitutes a minimal form, a kind of level zero of relatedness and not much more than the instance from which knowledge only starts to develop. There is no appropriation of knowledge without translation - this is the maxim that seems to prevail among them. Far from being a pour of possessions, Waiwai translations renounce to the logics of property and identity to expose themselves to "transformation" (Derrida) and to achieve modes of "afterlife" (Benjamin). Supplementary, this Waiwai way of translating indicates that the limits are not anterior to translation, but phenomena of it, showing in the same movement the scope of translation in every appropriative connection.

Dreaming in thread: from ritual to art and property(s) between

Author: Katie Glaskin (University of Western Australia)

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the tensions surrounding the transformation of objects, traditionally used in corporate ritual, into individual artworks, for what they reveal about notions of property, creativity and intersubjectivity in an Indigenous Australian community.


This paper draws on a case study in which a genre of dreamt material, locally understood as ancestrally revealed and incorporated into ritual form, is transformed into artworks and sold. The commodification of one ritual component and the failure to 'bring out' the others - and the (apparent) accompanying transition from rights embedded in a society to those exercised by the individual, can, I argue, be interrogated further than this apparent societal/individual divide, to reveal more nuanced understandings of property, creativity and intersubjectivity in an Indigenous Australian community.

Shifting relational possibilities by making culture a resource for peace: some observations from Bougainville

Author: Katharina Schneider

Short Abstract

In post-conflict Bougainville, relational processes and outcomes have often been re-apprehended as locally owned resources for peace. The paper explores ethnographically how reliance upon this dominant register of value has expanded but also reduced Bougainvilleans’ relational possibilities, and will point to less reductive alternatives.


Anthropological research on cultural property shows that the language of property can more adequately register some relational processes and their outcomes than others. Reliance on this particular register of value can therefore intervene in relational processes in ways that alter the relational capacities of participants significantly. This paper offers an ethnographic investigation of such an intervention by discussing two cultural performances staged in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, as part of the ongoing peace process in 2005.

The participants and audience' commentaries on the first performance, the installation of "traditional chief" during the regional election campaign, suggest that some Bougainvillean relational processes and their outcomes were being re-evaluated here as locally owned and transactable resources for promoting peace. I argue that this particular register of value was integral to specific trans-Pacific circulations of persons, things and knowledge, which Bougainvilleans re-entered during the peace process and valued highly. Regional relations were increasingly re-conceptualized in their terms.

However, certain Bougainvillean relational processes refused such re-apprehension. In a second cultural performance in 2005, a group of people attempted to draw attention to these. But the audience reduced the event to just another demonstration of locally owned resources for peace. The increasing dominance of a specific register of value, then, rendered ineffective other possibilities of making value apparent, and correspondingly reduced the relational capacities of those who insisted on them. The paper aims to suggest how the register of culture as a resource for peace could be modified so as to avoid its reductive effects in Bougainville.