promotes custody or control of things, and claims to be insured against interference. Coombe's critiques the existing intellectual property policy based on which she states "criminal charges may be laid by state officials whose sense of the public interest seems shaped primarily by profit-oriented actors" (p. 4). She calls for critical cultural studies of intellectual property and invokes the anthropological roots of cultural studies as a means to criticize intellectual property doctrines that rely on a philosophical tradition. Coombe refers to
Foucault, De Certeau, Derrida, Gramsci, Zizek and Jameson in her analysis of the conditions of late capitalism. The core of her work is an anthropological view of intellectual property issues. Coombe examines how "cultural studies dilute anthropology's trademark" (p. 16), which becomes the central issue of her book.
Her analysis is based on the ethnographic paradigm of cultural studies through which she reviews the extant frameworks of intellectual property doctrine. In her critical review of the legal scholarship on intellectual property, Coombe also builds upon cultural theories from Bakhtin, Benjamin, Baudrillard, Habermas and Foucault to study the latest commercial culture. She justifies her theory usage by indicating "intellectual
property issues press upon me in the commercial culture I share with my students, but eighteenth-century philosophical frameworks are deemed the appropriate academic vehicles with which to explore the dusty doctrines of copyright" (p. 5). Coombe undertakes "a critical cultural studies of law" in order to analyze how intellectual property law is complicit with some inappropriate cultural conditions that are embedded in the customs, precedents, and rules of the 21st century cultural practices. She points out that throughout the last century, political scientists have been accusing that anthropologists and ethnologists have insufficiently differentiated between power and authority and ignored the informal aspect of social pressure as the
dominant means of social control. Coombe evades this problem by focusing on cultural authorship in a wide sense, with reference to Foucault's discourse and to the arbitrary character of some judicial decisions about intellectual property and social control (p. 100).
Coombe's book was a great reader. Her critical ethnographic approach has significant contribution for both cultural and legal theories. While she remains pessimistic about potential reforms of high-tech policy by high theory, she argues that any systematic analysis of knowledge work must address technology and its discursive powers. Her emphasis on the growing importance of an inquiry into the current and coming debates over copyright and authorship generates a different dimension as she values complexity and subtlety over special interests and manages to establish the virtues of theorizing and the importance of its futures. Further, her explanation of dialogic democracy that deftly accommodates articulations of alterity in the political sphere is significant as she combines social theories of identity politics with a much-needed
rethinking of intellectual property for cultural critique. Finally, I was particularly drawn to her discussion of gender politics and feminism in the "Doing gender" (p. 107) section. She quotes Butler to emphasize Foucault's notion how "systems of power produce the subjects" (p. 108). The section also reminded me of Foucault's conception of "repression" (Foucault, 1978) and his argument regarding the terms of repression, which he indicated were conceived for the utilization of labor capacity. Coombe's concern with feminism and gender politics offers important building blocks for an ethical reinterpretation of the technocratic administration of signs, beyond binary simplifications in the political process.
1. The section "Postmodernity and the rumor" was fascinating. Coombe states that,
"When the recording of corporate signifiers is articulated in the form of rumor, it may be impossible for a manufacturer to stop alien others from speaking its language with their own voices or colonizing its systems of exchange value with their own experiences and life worlds" (p. 145).
2. Coombe's intervention in cultural studies and legal scholarship offers an interesting alternative to critical legal studies that tends to counter two dominant models of legal thought. On one side, it questions the law and economics that is the market concept (the invisible hand) to invoke conservative normative requirements, addressing mainly private law and on the other, it critiques rights and principles, the concept of a moral majority to invoke liberal imperatives that addresses mainly public law. Coombe states quite
clearly, that the flow of capital and imperial biopower cannot only be traced in legal code; codification remains open to interpretation, judicial and otherwise. She therefore calls for an ethics of contingency in IP (p. 299). My question is who again determines what is ethical? Is it again not the dominant western world
that determines what is ethical and thereby serves the interest of the dominant West?
3. Coombe in her discussion of Redskins pointed out,
"Whether these commodity/signs are commodifications of their heritage or stereotypical signs of their many peoples find "their own" representations legally owned by others" (p. 185).
Coombe, R. J. (1998). The cultural life of intellectual properties: Authorship, appropriation, and the law. Duke University Press Books.
Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality: An introduction. Vol 1. New York: Vintage Books.
Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage.
I would like to end with couple of videos that would provide us with "food for thought."