Treasured Possessions

Indigenous Interventions into Cultural and Intellectual Property

Treasured Possessions


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Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 26 illustrations, 2 maps Published: June 2013

Author: Haidy Geismar

Anthropology > Museum Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Native and Indigenous Studies

What happens when ritual practitioners from a small Pacific nation make an intellectual property claim to bungee jumping? When a German company successfully sues to defend its trademark of a Māori name? Or when UNESCO deems ephemeral sand drawings to be "intangible cultural heritage"? In Treasured Possessions, Haidy Geismar examines how global forms of cultural and intellectual property are being redefined by everyday people and policymakers in two markedly different Pacific nations. The New Hebrides, a small archipelago in Melanesia managed jointly by Britain and France until 1980, is now the independent nation-state of Vanuatu, with a population that is more than 95 percent indigenous. New Zealand, by contrast, is a settler state and former British colony that engages with its entangled Polynesian and British heritage through an ethos of "biculturalism" that is meant to involve an indigenous population of just 15 percent. Alternative notions of property, resources, and heritage—informed by distinct national histories—are emerging in both countries. These property claims are advanced in national and international settings, but they emanate from specific communities and cultural landscapes, and they are grounded in an awareness of ancestral power and inheritance. They reveal intellectual and cultural property to be not only legal constructs but also powerful ways of asserting indigenous identities and sovereignties.


“The author seamlessly shows how localized indigenous issues have influenced, if not shaped, national and global legal mandates and policies concerning intellectual and cultural property rights of tangible and intangible resource. . . . Recommended.” — G. R. Campbell, Choice

Treasured Possessions is a very welcome and much-needed book, one that really moves anthropological conversations fast-forward in the area of indigenous intellectual and cultural property (ICP)… [It] is a compelling work, and an ideal and stimulating text for a course in the anthropology of intellectual and cultural property.” — Steven Feld, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Treasured Possessions is a vital read for scholars and practicioners in the field of cultural and intellectual property, illustrating how global legal regimes are put to use in indigenous discourses. The book’s findings are relevant to indigenous issues, and more generally constitute a counterpart to research on the emergence of global norms and shed light on the interplay between international processes and their implementation in local contexts." — Stefan Groth, Journal of Folklore Research

" . . . Geismar's attention to provincializing and indigenizing processes shows us how to do so." — Tressa Berman, Museum Anthropology

“These Indigenous interventions in international debates about cultural and intellectual property raise powerful issues of entitlement and self-determination in an increasingly global world that compromises national sovereignty by means of multilateral trade agreements and other international conventions. Although Vanuatu and New Zealand may seem rather peripheral in global terms, the author has clearly demonstrated that the models of cultural property being developed in those countries make it necessary to rethink not only the relationsbetween the Indigenous people, the state and the global market but also between the boundaries of property, the entitlements of culture and the terms of sovereignty. Indeed, Geismar has offered a superb analysis of these debates in this ethnographically rich and theoretically sophisticated book.” — Toon Van Meijl, Journal of Pacific History

“[I]mpressively detailed. . . . By demonstrating that in Vanuatu and New Zealand ‘(indigenous) culture is not the alternative to the market, but increasingly a condition for its existence’ (p. 213),Geismar successfully provincialises the anthropology of property.”  — Magdalena Craciun, Social Anthropology

"A must-read for those working on indigenous intellectual and cultural property rights."   — Anna-Karina Hermkens, Pacific Affairs

“The rich material and analysis in Treasured Possessions are enough to recommend it, but the book also performs a pedagogical service to anthropology. Geismar assumes no background in intellectual and cultural property issues but manages to draw the reader efficiently into the core contradictions and dilemmas at play, deftly interweaving concrete examples with insights from key figures in the field. . . . Consequently this book may serve as an accessible introduction to anthropological approaches to cultural and intellectual property, as well as an exciting new contribution to that field. It should be useful in courses on native and indigenous studies, museum studies, and the anthropology of law and property theory.” — Kathryn E. Graber, American Anthropologist

"[T]hrough a detailed analysis of cultural and intellectual property in Vanuatu and Aoteroa New Zealand, Treasured possessions tells a different story – one in which indigenous perspectives reshape existing and emergent notions of property itself." — Sharon Macdonald, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Treasured Possessions is a wonderful achievement of presenting the contemporary entanglements of indigeneity with a range of globalizing cultural forms (copyright, trademark, and cultural property), accounting for these articulations as extending local agencies but not simply a pure culture of a past. Haidy Geismar's mastery of the intricacies of cultural forms and histories not only in Vanuatu but also in New Zealand is impressive, detailed, and provocative. It is undertaken in a clear-eyed fashion that shows indigenization is not a simple thing, a single strand, or even always one-directional, but it is a process constituting new alternatives for thinking about culture in the twenty-first century." — Fred R. Myers, author of Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art

"In this exciting and original study, Haidy Geismar moves us well beyond the stale and stereotypical dichotomies that characterize too many discussions of intellectual property and indigeneity. She scrutinizes the dynamic ways that ongoing explorations of property models for cultural resources promise to transform understandings of polity and sovereignty." — Rosemary J. Coombe, author of The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Haidy Geismar is Lecturer in Digital Anthropology and Material Culture at University College London, and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at New York University. She is coauthor (with Anita Herle) of Moving Images: John Layard, Fieldwork, and Photography on Malakula since 1914 and Associate Editor of the International Journal of Cultural Property.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

1. Introduction: Culture, Property, Indigeneity 1

2. Mapping the Terrain 25

3. Indigeneity and Law in the Pacific 45

4. Copyright in Context: Carvers, Carvings, and Commodities in Vanuatu 61

5. Trademarking Maori: Aesthetics and Appropriation in Aotearoa New Zealand 89

6. Pacific Museology and Indigenous Property Theory 121

7. Treasured Commodities: Taonga at Auction 151

8. Pig Banks: Imagining the Economy in Vanuatu 175

Conclusion 207

Notes 217

References 249

Index 283
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5427-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5412-3
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