Cover: Who Owns Native Culture?, from Harvard University PressCover: Who Owns Native Culture? in PAPERBACK

Who Owns Native Culture?

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$32.00 • £27.95 • €29.95

ISBN 9780674016330

Publication Date: 09/30/2004


336 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

11 halftones, 1 line illustration


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Every once in a while critical reason triumphs over political correctness and identity politics, and the result can be exhilarating. Michael F. Brown, who is the Lambert professor of anthropology and Latin American studies at Williams College and knows more about intellectual property law than most legal scholars, has written a brave, logical and even witty book about some of the hazards and challenges of cultural heritage protection.—Richard A. Shweder, The New York Times Book Review

In a series of case studies of battles concerning the ownership rights to native or indigenous (interchangeable terms) artifacts, places, and practices, the reader is lead through layers of political, religious, bureaucratic, and moral entanglements. When one finally emerges on the other side, one is left with a useful picture of the contemporary muddle. Notable for the tone and temperament Brown brings to the discussion, he is decidedly unsentimental in his evaluation of claims to culture brought by natives and other bodies, like the United Nations. At the same time he is conscientious of and sympathetic to the histories of colonial oppression that contextualize current conflicts between governments, commercial interests, and indigenous peoples worldwide. He questions the practical ability of native peoples to lay exclusive, restrictive claim to their ‘culture,’ while acknowledging that ‘heritage’ can and should be respected… Acknowledging that it is difficult to square the ‘emotivism of heritage claims with the factual demands of the law,’ Brown addresses important epistemological and philosophical discontinuities that exist between heritage, law, and morality.—Daniel Thomas Cook, American Journal of Sociology

For the uninitiated, Michael Brown’s thoughtful book, Who Owns Native Culture?, can serve as a welcome point of entry into current debates on cultural property. Written for a general audience in an engaging style, the book offers a virtual fieldtrip in which readers are introduced to the issues through consideration of recent court cases, public debates, and policy developments… Who Owns Native Culture? is a rich introduction to discussions that will occupy us for the foreseeable future and that will surely lead in unexpected directions.—Jason Baird Jackson, Journal of American Folklore

This is one of the most important books in cultural economics published in the last fifteen years.—Tyler Cowen, Journal of Cultural Economics

This is an excellent guide to conflicting logics and to what occurs when ‘culture’ is transformed from an abstraction into something apparently tangible and immutable as ‘heritage.’ This outstanding book is also a plea for flexibility in civil society and social justice for First Nations.—O. Pi-Sunyer, Choice

Michael Brown brings a discerning anthropological eye and ear to the passionate questions raised by efforts to protect native heritage from use by outsiders. Who Owns Native Culture? is a major and vital work, opening up to view a tournament of values central to contemporary thinking about culture.—Fred Myers, New York University

The genius of the book is both to bring together a vast amount of disparate material…and to add to this the author’s own touch: his ability to present embattled people and conflicting logics with hopes for provisional, practical, empirically wise and humane solutions.—Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

An outstanding book on a subject of vital importance. Michael Brown has emerged as a commanding figure in debate about this subject, and here we see why. Not only does he cover a tremendous range of issues but unlike other books on the subject, his offers guidelines for how such complex issues should be politically negotiated. Must reading!—Katherine Verdery, University of Michigan

Everyone whose research involves indigenous cultures, indigenous property rights, or intellectual property issues should have a closely read and well-highlighted copy of Brown’s book.—Joe Watkins, University of New Mexico

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