<< . .

. 15
( : 27)

. . >>

human rights narratives from their own vantage points.
Rapport (1998) reviews Wilson™s insistence that we live in a ˜post-cultural™
world in which human rights belong to global governance. This is a polity
that ˜posits individuals as ontologically prior to the cultural milieux which
they create™ (Rapport 1998: 386). It is individuals who animate and transform
cultures: individual actors are ˜the anthropological concrete™ (after Aug´ 1995)

who can adopt or reject cultural personae. ˜In short, the liberal polity which
is to be globalised is one which publicly respects the rights of the individual
citizen to his own civil freedoms against cultural prejudices™ (Rapport 1998:
386 original emphasis). In this view identities at once come together and
remain distinct, and one can investigate human rights without entering into
universalisms. It does not mean having to harmonise different moralities:

All one expects is a common respect for the procedural institutions of the polity
which seek to balance, in an ad hoc, concrete, case-by-case fashion, the competing
demands of diverse perspectives while not serving the exclusive interests of any
Rapport, after Rorty, 1998: 385

The manner of intervention would thus acquire its own signi¬cance: procedu-
ral rules become the candidates for universal application. If human rights are
understood as political procedure (human rights as a ˜transnational juridical
process™), then culture becomes ˜an optional resource™, one to be employed
by individual actors on a global stage who are free to create identities for
themselves (Rapport 1998: 387, 388; Weiner 1999). It is a modernist position
of course to imagine that one can choose. Much of the rhetorical justi¬cation
for Culture is in fact cast in terms of allowing people the ˜right™ to practice
their customs as they always have done; conversely, critiques of conservatism
perceive cultures as blindly clinging to practices modern sensitivities ¬nd
Wilson wants to build a theory about the operation of rights. Legal right
based on equality before the law implies the subject being stripped of social
circumstance, as when descriptions of victims abstract them from their fam-
ily and class background (1997: 146). Yet, he argues, although human rights
discourse models itself on legal discourse it does not have to. His plea is for
anthropologists to address themselves to speci¬c interventions and thus pro-
vide the crucial local contexts in which decisions are taken. Contextualisation
is a familiar and powerful intellectual resource. Thus an anthropologist might
readily observe of Miriam™s case that there was bound to be more to the two
clans™ actions than the acting out of tradition, custom or culture. Explicat-
ing the rami¬cations of indebtedness that lay between the people to whom
Miriam was related affords just the kind of socio-historical contextualisation,
the middle ground, that Wilson regards anthropologists being in a prime
position to supply.
Yet are we limited to fabricating that middle ground from the intersections of
the local and supra- or trans-local global? A contextual analysis is insuf¬cient
if it simply supplies supplementary circumstances for an action, reasons at a

remove. I see more interest in fabricating a middle ground as its own order of
phenomenon. Pace Aug´ , I would return to the foundational anthropological
concretivity: relations. And thus I give weight to what Wilson slips into the
following (1997: 15, my emphasis):

If human rights reports strip events free of actors™ consciousness and social con-
texts, then part of the anthropologist™s brief is to restore the richness of subjec-
tivities and chart the complex ¬elds of social relations, contradictory values and
the emotional accompaniment to macro-structures that human rights accounts
often exclude.

For the next sentence gives it way again when he states that social relations
are what trace local connection to macro global processes. It is clear that he
is thinking of relationships as mainly supplying the context that has been
taken away. Yet, in my view, to regard relations of indebtedness, as in Miriam™s
case, a matter of context or background is to tell only part of the story.28
The relationships between the two clans were carried by persons themselves
involved in very particular sets of relations to one another. In the spirit of
Jolly™s (1996) advocacy apropos Vanuatu, my own plea would be that we have
to treat social relationships as a complex (complex as in complexity) ¬eld of
its own. This will give us another perspective altogether.
We certainly do not have to go on re-inventing the contrast between tra-
dition and modernity. There are other intellectual resources at hand. If we
consider the notion that culture is carried by persons, a Papua New Guinean
might say that persons are also carried by other persons. Individuals do not
interact ˜with™ culture “ they interact with persons with whom they have rela-
tionships. Although it may be consciously in accord with cultural values that
they follow this or that path, much of the motivation to act comes from the
claims binding them to others. There is therefore a non-optional aspect to the
relationships into which people are locked, producing a situation in which,
once brought into being, the very fact of relationship becomes a condition
prior (˜ontologically prior™) to action.
Miriam™s case may offer local examples but they are examples of a thor-
oughly trans-local social fact. People are nowhere free to create relationships.
This is true both because every relationship has a momentum and character
of its own, that is, must take the form of a (speci¬able) relation and thereby
embody a particular image of itself, and because each relationship involves
other parties, at a minimum in sustaining the relationship. To put words into
Miriam™s mouth that one might want to put into anyone™s mouth, perhaps
she would like to be able to ful¬ll her obligations.

Intellectual Resources
Wilson™s criticism was provoked by the de-contextualisation he saw in human
rights reporting. Anthropological expertise in re-contextualisation could, in
this view, redress the imbalance, a scholarly intervention with the potential
of being an activist one as well. However, there are resources that lie beyond
anthropological procedures.
The problem with human rights reporting is not so much detachment from
context, a logical impossibility, but the removal of an entity from one context
into another. The victim is redescribed in the kind of bare detail similar to
a presumption of (human) equality before the law, the new social context
being the universe of others who have suffered human rights abuse. The
criticism is that, in avoiding personal detail, human rights reporting can lose
everything one would want to know about a person™s circumstances, career,
family. These are all part of that person™s ˜life™, and Wilson observes that it is
often that life which has been put at risk or abused. Only the particularity
of circumstances would de¬ne what an entitlement or right could mean in
those speci¬c conditions under which people live. Yet, in my view, we shall
not get very far with understanding the de¬cit only as a de¬cit in cultural
understanding. It is a de¬cit in social analysis. Personal detail is, as Wilson in
effect notes and we may now add, interpersonal detail. We would be losing
(out on) an intellectual resource not to take into account the diverse ways in
which persons visualise themselves as carried by other persons and, for better
or worse, by their relations to others.
Complaining that human rights discourse renders people as little more
than things is a customary Euro-American accusation (respect for individual
persons is incompatible with treating them as things), and indeed the whole
elevation of the victim™s status to do with human rights violation could well
have been premised on such accusations in the ¬rst place. The Melanesian
construct, as I have synthesised it, of the rei¬ed person as a thing“image offers
a different route, and one that dares us to begin specifying what it is as human
beings we might own of one another.

I thank Martha Mundy and Alain Pottage, organisers of the 1999 London
School of Economics symposium, Fabrications: the technique of ownership,
for forcing the pace on ˜persons™ and ˜things™. I am especially grateful for
provocation of John Muke™s re¬‚ections. Cyndi Banks and Claudia Gross gave
unstinting hospitality in Port Moresby in 1995 and 1997, including a visit that

the British Academy supported, and supplied me with information about the
Minj case. Parts of this account join with other issues in a chapter (˜Global
and local contexts™) for a PTC volume, Rationales of Ownership (Kalinoe and
Leach 2000). Lawrence Kalinoe provided the Papua New Guinea Law Report
and many insights, as did James Leach. Eric Hirsch™s study (1999) has been a
stimulus for thinking about ones and multiples, as was the 1999 GDAT (Group
for Debates in Anthropological Theory) debate at Manchester on human
rights and Michael O™Hanlon™s pertinent observations on the case. A ¬nal
thanks to Lisette Josephides (2003) for her critique of some of the premises
on which this argument is based; the piece comes as originally conceived,
however, and I do no more than acknowledge her observations here.

Divided Origins and the Arithmetic of Ownership

Borrowing information between groups characterises Papua New
Guinea . . . The sharing of information only requires permission or the
exchange of gifts. No actions should be taken that might stop the ¬‚ow
of information exchange through traditional channels.
Nick Araho, Seminar on Intellectual, Biological and Cultural Property,
Port Moresby, 1997; Whimp and Busse 2000: 186“8


A nthropologists do not generally go about their business
thinking that their subject matter is a contingency. Yet that invariably
becomes the case when the ethnographic record “ however vast “ or models of
social structure “ however illuminating “ are brought into relation with other
bodies of material. They are hardly alone in this. Insofar as bodies of knowledge
form systems, other efforts must lie outside, part of the environment not part
of the system.
One body of knowledge that perpetually strives toward the systemic is
law. Indeed this re¬‚ection on contingency is prompted by Barron™s (1998)
discussion of the in¬‚uences that in 1991 were brought to bear on the Australian
Federal Court that upheld (against his will in this case) the appropriateness of
copyright as a property relation between an Aboriginal artist and his carving
of a sacred emblem. In asking how this legal recognition had come about in
the ¬rst place, she discusses a number of what she calls contingent issues,
issues that in her view belonged to the environment not to the system. They
included the newly discovered artistic value of Aboriginal art, not to speak of
the thoroughly contingent place the genius of the Romantic individual holds
in respect to copyright law in general. Copyright in this case was allowed to

the artist as the originator of the work without invoking any stronger sense of
creativity or merit. There are many cultural arenas of debate “ and assumptions
about the individuality of genius occur over and again in intellectual property
discussions “ that supply people rhetoric with which they may approach the
law without being the basis of law. Of interest to the student of culture may
well be the very fashioning of that rhetoric.
The boundaries are not always clear.1 Two Australian legal theorists and
feminists observe just that in considering whether persons can ever be prop-
erty (Davies and Naf¬ne 2001 ; see Chapter One). Property law, they argue, is
surrounded by assumptions that act out the idea that one can have property
in persons, or aspects of persons, even though the law is built on its denial.
(They discuss mainly U.S., Australian and U.K. jurisdictions.) Indeed, they
suggest that these days property in persons may be assumed in the very arena
that legal thinkers once took as the radical divide that separated persons from
things: self-ownership. Insofar as persons (as subjects) own themselves, no
one else can own them (as objects).2
Now this state of affairs is at once interesting and unsettling for the anthro-
pologist. It may be a contingency that one could ask similar questions of many
of the kinds of societies anthropologists study, including those of Aboriginal
Australia. But if the rhetoric then brings such societies into the orbit of debate
they are likely to get pressed into other people™s agendas. Thus, regardless of
what national regimes of law do or do not allow, the international community
may have its own interests in whether or not persons are treated as property.
A contingency, in other words, of some effect.
To be blunt, the question of whether one can talk of persons possessing one
another has dogged my own anthropological and feminist sensibilities for a
long time. Ownership begins to look property-like in societies such as those
of Melanesia where payments pass hands for all kinds of services and rights
that people acquire in one another, where suitors expect to pay bridewealth
and killers hope to escape revenge by handing out huge sums. In the coarse
vocabulary of money, men and women may speak of buying and selling brides,
of buying off the victim™s kin.
Of course there are many ways in which people can negotiate interests
without having property rights over one another, as there are diverse ways
in which they might be said to own one another. What makes the question
newly interesting are recent debates that have sprung up in relation to intel-
lectual property. Along with them has come an arithmetic of sorts, that is, the
˜discovery™ that although there must be an identi¬able originator of a work or
product on whom the right is conferred (and this holds for works that meet
the criteria of either copyright or patent), it is a contingency of some ethical
moment that many others may also be involved in the working or supplying of

raw material (e.g., Jaszi 1994; Woodmansee 1994; Biagioli and Galison 2003).
The point was brie¬‚y raised in Chapter Three. If rights confer the opportunity
of reward, the argument goes, these others should be rewarded too, whether
or not they are recognised as owners. The others may be counted as many
other individuals involved in making the thing in question or as a collectivity
with prior interests in a commons.
Now this is the moment, as Davies and Naf¬ne gesture at the end of their
book, at which materials from beyond the Euro-American tradition may start
to acquire comparative value. And where we may be reminded of the reason
why the Aboriginal artist was trying to withdraw from a copyright agreement:
it had led to the license holders to whom he had sold it to then sub-license the
design, and others moved in to protest. The others included people he would
count as kinsmen. It was clear that members of his clan both had claims to
the design and claims over him; the design had originated in the clan, and
the clan determined the conditions of its reproduction. I do not wish to step
into the mire of what is collective or communal here;3 the interests of a body
of people may be conceived as either singular or plural depending on context
and depending on whether one counts the claims or counts the people.4 I
focus instead on one type of multiplicity, in which more than one person
means there is more than one (type of) claim being put forward. In respect
of intellectual property rights, that in turn would imply more than one kind
of originating activity. I believe that this focus could in the long run throw
light on Euro-American assumptions about property in persons. However,
the immediate enquiry springs out of Melanesian materials.
I wish to pursue a strong form of multiple claims in relation to cer-
tain Melanesian societies, all from lowland Papua New Guinea. Papua New
Guinea is there in Davies and Naf¬ne™s book (2001 : 172“3), where, following
Pottage (1998), they discuss composite claims put forward in relation to a cell
line developed from blood samples collected from that country; one of the
˜inventors™ named in the ensuing patent had been active as a facilitator not as
a scientist. However, the materials I consider concern Papua New Guineans
in their relations with one another. They offer some striking examples of
multiplicity in the way they count persons, and it is persons vis-´ -vis their
origins of whom they are thinking. The origins are vested in parenthood and
kinship relations; different types of claims yield different kinds of rights. This
introduces a deliberate contingency into my narrative.
Melanesia aside, what has kinship to do with anything? English-speakers
might use the language of ownership for kin, although explicitly without
connotations of property rights (e.g., Edwards and Strathern 2000). Nonethe-
less, kinship is interestingly absent from the lawyers™ questions about persons
as property. In all the material they consider, Davies and Naf¬ne may have

thought kin relations too far removed from their legal and quasi-legal con-
cerns or that owning (˜my™ child) in such a context was merely a matter of
identi¬cation (as in my boss) or a re¬‚ex of belonging (as in my team). How-
ever, the cross-cultural point is that elsewhere many claims on both persons
and things that begin to look property-like, even taking one to court as in the
Aboriginal case, are premised on the rights kin have in one another.
The present narrative creates a question about multiple origins, then, from
a blatantly heterogeneous set of ˜contingent intersections™ or ˜discontinuous
particularities™; the aim is to ˜enable their intelligibility to be appreciated
differently™ (Barron 1998: 42“3, after Foucault and Levinas). And severally.
Euro-American anxieties about property in persons, the role of the origi-
nator in intellectual property rights, along with the nature of Papua New
Guinean kinship transactions, and the way people envisage their origins in one
another: there are greater and lesser contingencies here. Clearly, the concerns
do not add up, but taken together perhaps the intelligibility of each is a little


Counting People: Murik
Imagine a party of NGO-driven Euro-American experts wanting to ascertain
precise genealogical relationships. This could be in the context of advice over
claims for natural resource extraction, possibly envisaged as royalties or as
recompense for indigenous knowledge (Posey 1996; Toft 1998). The experts
assume there will be no community leader “ in any case, it is part of their
anthropologically informed critique of multinational corporations that these
extractors of resources do not pay attention to local divisions “ and will be
sensitive to the fact that it is easy to overlook women™s claims. In order to give
women space to speak, they decide to collect information from husbands and
wives separately.
If they were to go into a Murik village, as it existed in the Sepik River area
in the mid-1980s (Lipset and Stritecky 1994), they might have some surprises.
They would no doubt be attuned to the difference between biological and
social kinship, would not expect people to have any knowledge of genetics and
would be on the lookout for classi¬catory kin. Having done their homework,
they would be aware that these Papua New Guinean people allocate children
to bilateral kin groups on both the mother™s and father™s side. Indeed, knowing
that all four of the child™s kin groups may make claims on it, they would also
be aware of the importance of nurture in the way claims were established. So

they would probably settle for the simplest kind of information, beginning
with questions about the children people had. Here they might well be startled
to ¬nd that husbands and wives can disagree. Each has his or her own version,
and while often these tally this is not always true: not just the names and sex
of children differ but so do the numbers. They do not count the children in
the same way.
Oddly enough, the actual ¬eldworkers of twenty years ago who reported
this were looking for more disagreement than they found. They had come
with a theory of knowledge that posited that the sexes articulated cultural
knowledge differently and that genealogical divergences would appear in their
kinship discourses at large (Lipset and Stritecky 1994: 3, 18). Instead, they found
considerable agreement, and the divergences in counting boiled down to two
sets of differences. Murik men mentioned their adopted children more often
than women, whereas women mentioned children who had died more often
than men. I want to suggest that this piece of arithmetic needs a general
mathematical solution. That is, it is not a question of people not able to add
up properly or adding together incommensurables. Rather it is a question of
the observer having to rewrite the sum as an equation: to rewrite the ˜one™
world that the observer sees, in which children are potentially countable, as
˜two™ worlds, perceived separately by men and women, in which children are
divided from parents in different ways.
In this example, and those following, I have deliberately veered away from
societies with what are known in an older literature as unilineal descent groups,
that is, where people are clearly differentiated by the exclusive groups to which
they are af¬liated by ancestry through one parent alone.5 Unilineal descent
gives too quick an answer to the way people in Papua New Guinea can perceive
origins. Ancestry appears as an origin in the idiom of an exclusive grouping
that already presupposes belonging and the sense of ownership this brings,6
and I want to arrive at some understanding of ownership rather than start
with it.
What attracted me to the Murik account was Eduardo Viveiros de Castro™s
(1992; 1998) thesis of Amazonian perspectivism. By contrast with the com-
monly understood (Euro-American) sense of perspective in which a person™s
point of view creates an object (out there), Amazonian perspectivism creates
the subject. For the original condition of humans and animals, he explains, is
not animality (˜nature™) but humanity (˜society™). Amazonian perspectivism
implies that any being taking a point of view sees itself as human and as a
person, and differences between points of view lie not in minds “ they are
all the same “ but in bodies, and here all humans see some bodies as animal
and others as human like themselves. To be a person is to register the point of

view a subject takes. In the Melanesian analogue I earlier thought I had found
(Strathern 1999a: 249“56), the pertinent divide would not be between humans
and non-humans but between different kinds of humans, such as the persons
of a son and a sister™s son.7 Their divergent af¬liations axiomatically ensure
that being a son is not the same as being a sister™s son; the perspectivist point
would be that these positions are not relative views on the (same) world but
point to radically distinct states of being in non-similar worlds. Paternal kin
claim their child in a very different way from maternal kin.
Now my example had explored gender, but it had also rested on the presence
of group af¬liation. For a division between father™s side and mother™s side
on which the distinctiveness rests, that is, the division between parents, is
iconic in descent group systems. The advantage of the Murik material is that
it side-steps group assumptions about maternal and paternal connections
yet locates an intriguing difference in how mothers and fathers view their
children. We could even say, after Viveiros de Castro, that it is not that they
count their children differently but what they count as children are different
This probably seems a rather elaborate way in which to comment upon
men™s and women™s diverse renderings of childbirth. Why not just accept them
as holding different perspectives in the Euro-American sense of self-referential
˜unique™ points of view to put alongside numerous other self-referential and
unique points of view (Strathern 1999a: 251)? The Euro-American stance im-
plies diverse ways of ˜knowing™ the one world we all share but described
from different viewpoints. However, knowing that knowledge matters when
it comes to intellectual property, we might wish to dig a bit deeper.

Analogous Worlds
What attracted me to Viveiros de Castro™s Amazonian perspectivism is the
clarity with which he locates it as a matter of ontology not epistemology. It is
not about what one knows but about how one is, about the nature of the body
with which one inhabits the world and apprehends it. The body is the organ
of perception; perspectives are different according to the body one has. The
reference to the body includes its affects, dispositions and capacities (Viveiros
de Castro 1998a: 476, reiterated by Pedersen 2001 : 420). In short, across species

<< . .

. 15
( : 27)

. . >>