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Lectures on "Digital Economies and the Politics of circulation," a brief report of what happened

This cycle of conferences held in New York on 3 and 4 April 2009, was focused on the idea of circulation and to think circulation in the frame of the digital era and as means of policy (the full program here).

The first panel took the name "The arts, new technologies and informal economies." Brian Larkin shared panel with Arilson Favareto and Alex Dent.

Alex Dent opened the panel, he presented a paper on informal economy in Brazil with particular focus on the popular market of Campinha. His work seeks to analyze the informal market for music and movies with elements of intellectual property and cultural consumption. From his description I was quite surprised with the similarities to how we perceive the issue in Colombia.

Arilson Favareto continued, the Brazilian sociologist introduced the economic analysis behind the research conducted on Tecnobrega in that country, a research that has become one of the world main examples of new economy that is linked to peripheries. I know the case personally and I have followed the impact it has had mainly as example for optimistic vies of the digital age, so I think Arilson´s approach is much more realistic and interesting. Arilson presented the analysis and not just from the standpoint of technology and intellectual property but from addressing "efficiency". He shows differente economic models highlighting the pros but also cons of the model, it is true Tecnobrega generates an important money supply that is not supported in the control of intellectual property as means of control, but it also reproduces some of the typical cultural industry situations since in various aspects, including the idea of monopolies and of that of an economic agent that possibly gets the bulk of the gain.

Brian Larkin closed the first panel with a very interesting approach of another of the icons of the new digital economy, I mean the Nigerian film. The case of the Nigerian film has also been presented as a case away from the traditional model of production and distribution of films compared with Hollywood and Nollywood. But Larkin´s conference was not referred to this but to the cultural movement that links Indian aesthetics to the production of films. He explains how in northern Nigeria cultural boundaries had been permeable for a long time with India, but new elements of tension has arriven with new censorship laws by Nigerian Muslim culture that had force new looks to the Indian cultural influence. Other of his works on piracy and on globalization and urban Nigeria are recommended!

The second panel focused on memory and justice in the context of textual circulation. Participated in were July Gaitán, Louise Meintjes, Elizabeth Povinelli and Lawrence Liang.

Julio Gaitán opened the panel, it is complicated to make the summary of someone with whom one has strong ties (my husband) but here we go: His presentation concerned the construction of public spaces for memory in Colombia. The thrust of his presentation was to show the historical context of the Colombian conflict that requires a particular view regarding the idea of memory, justice and public space. Subsequently he develops his argument by presenting a contrast in construction of public space that has been traditionally through hierarchical and vertical towards new ways of creating more public space provided by the horizontal technology and introducing the audience to the case of ConVerGentes.

The next presentation was given by Louise Meintjes, who made an interesting talk about a case that solves the conflict generated by the murder of a person through dance in a tribe of South Africa. This presentation included a fairly complex assessment of the aesthetic in which I was lost a little, but I certainly appreciate how one should be looking a other means of expressions of cultural approaches in order to be able to appreciate a “multicultural” and “diverse” world.

Finally, Lawrence Liang was in stage, ge a great and very accurate speaker that I always enjoy. The title of this conference was Archive fever and Copyright delirium. He was dealing in this case with the figure of the archivist as an excuse to think about his responsibility towards the intellectual property concept. I was particularly interested in his approach to the concept of access. He indicated that it was not a fan of the idea of access for the access, he believes in the idea of access as a responsible action. He ends the presentation with a clever quote of "The Little Prince". Definitely one of my most admired personalities in the field. I advise you to read his guide to open content licensing or an article describing multifacets of copyright or this about public domain in India.

The third panel was devoted to legal approaches we met: Alan Story, Ronaldo Lemos and the couple who conformábamos Ana Maria and me.

Alan Story made its presentation on a critical IP Watch interview with James Boyle published a couple of months ago. With a fairly strong tone Story toured sections of the interview to make a critical analysis of Boyle´s arguments, by doing this he discussed the concept of public domain outside of the traditional binary analysis protection / no protection to draw attention to the voids in this binary approach. It is interesting to look at the Copysouth dossier in this case

The next presenter was Ronaldo Lemos who showed through brasilian data how the classical concept of "culture industry" is falling apart while with some examples he showed that this does not mean that there is no cultural production and new ways of approaching it. His data was useful to as an excuse to explain the concept of the social commons reality against the idea of legal commons. Ronaldo Lemos has been developing this approach for some time now but in this case I liked the examples that he brought and above all, they draw my attention to the statement that traditional media is still creating idols with certain aesthetic patterns without considering digital reality.

The latest in this table were Ana Maria Ochoa and myself. Our presentation used the case of anarcopunk in Colombia as a case problem to think about the contexts in which the circulation occurs today in Colombia. We suggest that circulation can not be seen as apart from legal framework, new self oriented dynamics of production and distribution of music and from a social / juridical sitution rather particular to Colombian society. I should be uploading the presentation to slideshare any time soon.

The last panel of the meeting dealt with Heritage, Indigeneity, Intellectual Property and the Digital Archive, the speakers were Aaron Fox, Chie Sakakibara, Kim Christen, Henry Stobart and Anthony Seeger.

Opened the panel Aaron Fox and Chie Sakakibara, who presented the project of the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University, the project is about the repatriation of some recordings made decades ago in an Alaskan Eskimo community. The project is very interesting and I liked how the subject of traditional legal concerns comes to be considered from an ethical perspective of the researcher that is considering the community. Like Aaron said, the material in any case was already circulating but since the questions on the ways it should circulate remain, while the garb of "ownership" exists (the university or the community as you look), the idea of its circulation is not necessarely related to ownership but to responsability and understanding of the communities will.

The next speaker Kim Christen, described the experience of a project for adapting digital technologies as a way to repatriate digital archives to their home communities. She presented the problems that arise when the project unveils community sensitivities regarding access and their solution was labeled as "DRM" by supporters of the idea of "openness." Particularly interesting was Christen´s criticism of the idea of "access" and "open" evolved within the digital language ignoring cultural sensitivities and accepting general concepts of the public and open without criticism. Her presentations are interesting, I would advise this article and check on her publications that are here.

Henry Stobart introduced the idea of "cultural revolution" associated with digital experience among indigenous communities in Bolivia in the American Andes. He makes an interesting analysis of the impact of digital technologies in the circulation of Bolivian music and associated it to the idea of "piracy." He ended his presentation with a video of a Bolivian singer Gregorio Mamani and his song 30,000 pigs ... you can not imagine, fabulous! His book is under construction.

The closure was given by Anthony Seeger who recount the history of the ethnomusichology center of Columbia University, he went through the main points of the discussions that occurred during these two days and he draw attention to the idea of “time” as a permanent concern for archives. Seeger recalled the challenges of digital archives emphasizing a digital environment that must considered the idea of what is meant to circulate and what is not. I personally find very useful Seeger´s articles for lawyers who want to think about archive circulations beyond the binary notion of protection/access if so, you may want to read this one

The description of the conference announced two days of a transnational and interdisciplinary experience, this can sometimes mean "chaos", lack of focus, problems in the common language, etc.. With my experience in New York I think it shows that these concerns can be easily converted into positive challenges. The gathering of different background people can put together many different experiences not just for the scrutiny of others, but for the capacity of being a listener and to understand “the other”. The event was a challenge were language had a main role to cross through the interdisciplinary and transnational modes of circulation in the digital age, I think the organizers were successful, enjoyed it.

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Comment by Michel Bauwens on April 7, 2009 at 11:48
superb report Caroline, wish I were there ... I will republish this on the regular blog also, on the 12th

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