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The Form of Value in Globalized Traditions

Recently, I had a unique and wonderful opportunity to participate in a small conference and workshop hosted by the Center for Folklore Studies at The Ohio State University (in partnership with the Berkeley Folklore Program).  Titled “The Form of Value in Globalized Traditions,” the workshop continued an ongoing series of discussions that were inaugurated in 2007 by Charles L. Briggs at the University of California, Berkeley.  The program for the public presentations (which were held on Friday, March 6, 2009), along with paper abstracts, can be found online at here. The overview summary describing what we were up to read:

This international working group considers the career of vernacular traditions under globalization. As cultural forms circulate ever more widely, recycled, restructured, and hybridized as they travel, regimes of value insist increasingly on point of origin. Since economic value is predicated upon scarcity, in a global framework cultural objects are marked—and marketed—as local. Form itself is fetishized as social interaction becomes attenuated. Rather than contesting the reification of culture into exchangeable goods, the resistance of impoverished groups and social movements increasingly takes shape as a struggle for control over the manner of commodification and the profits thereof. In the face of restructurings of value initiated by the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, free trade agreements, and transnational corporations, intellectual property rights become a key locus of contention between distributors and cultural producers. The public component of this year’s group meeting will explore form and value as both categories of action and tools of analysis. We hope that attendees will help us with the work of comparison and synthesis.

My own presentation considered the current reshaping of the system of scholarly communications in which folklorists and ethnologists circulate (and find expanded publics for) their work in an era of corporate enclosure, media consolidation, and library crises on the one hand and open source technologies and open access movements on the other. The participants were a great group. In addition to many wonderful students and faculty members from the OSU folklore program, the participants were: Sadhana Naithani (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), Lee Haring, City College, CUNY), Mbugua wa-Mungai (Kenyatta University, Nairobi), Galit Hasan-Rokem (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Candace Slater (University of California, Berkeley), Amy Shuman (The Ohio State University), Dorothy Noyes (The Ohio State University), Javier León (Indiana University), Diarmuid Ó Giolláin (University College Cork), and Charles L. Briggs (University of California, Berkeley).

Thanks to everyone who helped bring this great event into existence. Thanks especially to the OSU folklore students who brought great energy (and a great Saturday lunch) to the event.

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