Rosemary J. Coombe’s, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law, was a very difficult read for me, but it was also very insightful. Coombe finds it necessary to not only identify how we, as subjects are interpellated into Western hegemony, especially in the realm of legal discourse, but in addition reconceptualizes culture as both a production of hegemony and a site for “expressive struggle” (24). I really liked her analysis of these contradictions, especially when thinking about intellectual property within the realm of law, and the ways cultural politics can allow us to complicate the not-so-static relationship between production and consumption.  She says, 

legal regimes of intellectual property shape (although they do not determine) the ways in which cultural signs are re/appropriated by those who assert difference in the spaces of similarity, imitating, and mimicking signs of authority to express relations of alterity (27). 

This particular quote is an essential part of her call for a critical cultural legal studies because she reconceptualizes our static perceptions of the law by forcing us to rethink the law as a “historically structured and locally interpreted” process. Not only does she destabilize our assumptions that the law only serves to reinforce hegemony, she also challenges us to find counterhegemonic struggle in the law, since it is culturally explored and lived. Therefore, she declares the law as both a legitimate and a contested production of social hierarchies (26). Therefore, subaltern practices of appropriation represent, in both explicit and implicit ways, the unstable-ness of the law since it is highly influenced by that particular historical moment, which is why counterhegemonic struggle is so prevalent to Coombe’s work, because expressive struggle allows identities to be made over and over again.

In chapter 5, Coombe examines the politics of authenticity and cultural authority. Coombe complicates cultural tradition by addressing the potential dangerous of cultural essentialism since it is often shaped by Eurocentric ideas of culture (214). Our conceptualization of property rights is rooted in a westernized logic that fails to understand other modes of property. For instance, Loretta Todd reveals that First Nations people discuss “property in terms of relationships that are far wider than the exclusivity of possession and rights to alienate that dominate European concepts” (245). Not only is the romantic author narrative ruptured in these discussions of cultural appropriation, but it also exposes the limitations of hegemonic Western conceptions of property.


1.    In chapter 5, Coombe demands non-Native people to recognize the limitations of western conceptions of property since they are built by colonial foundations, but in doing so, do we reinforce a type of violence when we try to acknowledge a new reality? The reason I ask this is because the language we have historically created in order to understand the properties of culture(s) is historically contingent upon a Western hegemony. How can non-Native people, in this case, be held accountable when acknowledging other realities?

2.    Can strategic essentialism be a form of counterhegemonic struggle? If so, what are the potential dangerous of this political agenda? 

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