John L. Comaroff: “Ethnicity Inc.”

Event time: 
Wednesday, February 20, 2008 - 12:00am
Linsly-Chittenden Hall (LC), Room 211 See map
63 High Street
Event description: 

John L. Comaroff is Harold H. Swift Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Social Science at the the University of Chicago. Professor Comarrof’s presentation focused on how “[t]he politics of cultural identity, far from receding with modernity, [appear] to have taken on new force in the wake of the Cold War – especially with the triumphal rise of neoliberal capitalism on a global scale.” Professor Comaroff claimed that “[t]his has yielded many efforts to explain the continued salience of ethnicity in a “new” world order that, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was widely predicted to dissolve difference in the face of global flows of people, styles, and desires.”

“Less attention,” he noted, had “been paid to a subtle shift in the nature of ethnicity: its commodification.” Hence, his talk focused on “showing that, increasingly, ethnic groups across the planet are beginning to act like corporations that own a “natural” copyright to their “culture” and “cultural products” – framed in terms, also, of heritage and indigenous knowledge – which they protect, often by recourse to the law, and on which they capitalize in much the same way as do incorporated businesses in the private sector.” In his presentation he asked, “Why is this occurring? What are the political, economic, social, and ethical consequences of this political formation? How is this formation transforming the nature of ethnicity and citizenship in the nation-state? And, finally, what are the theoretical implications of the commodification of ethnicity, especially when we consider this formation in relation to foundational social science concepts such as culture and identity?”