Call for Papers

The Politics of the Copy

A One-Day Workshop
28 November 2015 

University of the Western Cape

Given the status of knowledge in the contemporary global economy, contestations over its production, dissemination, and ownership have intensified and expanded. Joseph Slaughter has observed how the modernist era has been marked by “two simultaneous major property grabs: the distribution among European powers of African land and resources, formalized in the General Act of the Conference of the Treaty of Berlin (1885), and the legal consolidation of predominantly European intellectual property at the international level with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artist Works (1886).” Such accounts help explain how over 99% of the world’s intellectual property came to be held by countries in the global north and make it increasingly important to engage the ways these issues are being addressed in the global south. We propose a daylong Workshop in which we explore an interdisciplinary set of responses to the ways contemporary politics around copying are actively revising long-standing postcolonial concerns about origination, imitation, property, heritage, and appropriation.

We are interested in presentations, artistic interventions, or other forms of performance that propose to think beyond debates about originality and derivation that have long characterised how questions around the copy are treated by scholars. Specifically, we invite presentations or performances that consider how the politics of the copy engages questions related to race, ownership, and the production of culture and knowledge. Taking a cue from Isabel Hofmeyr about how imperial copyright was conscripted into the service of demarcating a global colour line, we ask: how do issues of race affect global perceptions about who ‘legitimately’ creates and owns knowledge and who ‘illegitimately’ steals or copies it? What assumptions about knowledge production and ownership are bound up with notions of copying? What are the implications of such a proposition for scholarship and cultural production in the global south? How might the contestations around plagiarism, appropriation, copyright, etc. be productively enriched by movements (historical and contemporary) for decolonisation (or decolonising the university)? How might efforts around decolonising knowledge be thought through relations or categories of ownership that have structured the humanities specifically or western knowledge production in general? On what basis might it be possible to refuse copies rendered as commodification (e.g., of traditional knowledge, of secret rituals, etc.)?

The Workshop organisers, Kate Highman (English, UWC) and Paige Sweet (Centre for Humanities Research, UWC), intend for the Workshop to contribute to the increasingly urgent cross-disciplinary conversations pertaining to culture, knowledge production, and ownership.

Confirmed Plenary Lecture by Adam Haupt, Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, author of Static: Race and Representation in Post-Apartheid Music, Media and Film and Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop Subversion.

Please send proposals for 20-minute presentations to by 15 October 2015, and check the blog for updates and future programme details.


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