Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ripley's Academic Adventures in Boston

I'm presenting a paper (soon to be an article) at the Annual Meeting of the Law & Society Association this week in Boston, MA. This is a huge scholarly event where scholars who study law and society (or law in society) from a variety of angles gather to share their work, network, and generally show their stuff. You have  sociologists, philosophers, economists, historians, anthropologists, lawyers, law professors, and more folks who come at law from all kinds of ways.

It's (technically) closed to the public, although interested parties can often sit in on talks (ahem), you just can't get your hands on the program without an ID. I'm on on Saturday afternoon between 4:30 and 6pm with 3 other interesting presenters.

Anyway, here's the abstract of the talk I'm giving. Keen readers will see connections to my musical practice, my journalism, my activism, and all the other worlds I move through. for the tl:dr skip to the end :)

"White Faces in Intimate Spaces : Copyright, Property and Propriety in the Jamaican Street Dance"

Marginalized people have always relied on “exilic spaces” for survival and renewal. Spaces are exilic when their existence depends on remaining outside existing rules of order, including property law, propriety, gender, sexuality or national/ethnic categories. Within exilic spaces, marginalized people build identities and communities of healing and occasional resistance, carving out these spaces with sound, movement, and the reuse of cultural material. Through these actions, exilic space can foster a kind of intimacy, in which marginalized people can reconfigure or subvert the stigmatized aspects of their social position. “Rudeness” becomes respectability, the adulterous or licentious woman asserts sexual and physical autonomy, the “gangster” becomes a “don,” … and the “imitator” becomes the originator. Exilic spaces don’t erase categories, but provide shelter within which people can perform, subvert, challenge or recontextualize them through playful activities. This play requires flexibility of intellectual property, physical property, zoning law, and international borders.

Dominant culture in Jamaica is hostile to the accents, skin color, bodies and stories of the poor, and has historically sought to keep them out of mainstream media platforms. The street dance, the explosively creative heart of Jamaican musical practice, grew out of this exile into a space in which the urban poor majority of Jamaica maintained authority and autonomy from dominant culture.

The value (of sharing cultural knowledge and practices) that is generated in the street dance, I call (after Paul Gilroy) “diasporic intimacy” -  to highlight the particular colonial history in which Jamaican popular culture is embedded. The conditions under which media representations of Jamaican culture circulate can affect the ability to foster diasporic intimacy. Thus, the integration of exilic spaces into the broader media landscape may pose risks as well as advantages. Because diasporic culture relies especially on the reuse and subversion of existing media, it is particularly in tension with the permission-based practices enshrined in copyright law.

Increasing penetration of networked technologies into daily life in Jamaica more deeply integrate media recordings and broadcasts from these spaces into a global system. But increased global and local attention to exilic space may affect the intimacy generated in these spaces, as well as their ability to foster intimacy in the transnational circulation of Jamaican media. This paper addresses how increased media circulation, or extension of copyright “protections” can break down the borders of exilic spaces in ways that limit or destroy their capacity to foster diasporic intimacy.

tl:dr?
it's about what definition of ownership is available or helpful to people in the street dance given the increased circulation of videos and photographs from the street dance - an event that used to be more anchored in the physical location of poor neighborhoods than the current digitized media world allows it to be. It's about whether watching/listening can be an influence on performing or even just a harm, as suggested by increasingly visible skin bleaching and pornification of Jamaican performers and audiences. I'm suggesting we should name the value of what is harmed (diasporic intimacy) so we can protect it, and I'm curious as to what kinds of resistance is available, via law, technology, or social organization, to protect against those harms.

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