Accepted Paper:

Stalling and speeding: ways of speaking at WIPO's intergovernmental committee on cultural property  


Regina F. Bendix (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
Stefan Groth (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on participant observations, the paper examines different modes of communication and patterns of speech in the WIPO's intergovernmental committee concerned with “cultural property”. To what extent can these tentative or emergent communicative norms be harnessed for bargaining tactics?

Paper long abstract:

In 2001, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) installed an intergovernmental committee focussing on the development of frameworks concerning ownership issues in the realm of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions (GRTKF). The committee faces an enormous task in conflating divergent conceptions of these conceptual domains within one communicative setting, seeking consensus amongst actors from disparate backgrounds and speech communities. The inception of intellectual property agreements on GRTKF is thus contingent upon their compliance with the positions of attending actors, and on the committee's ability to by-pass communicative problems encompassing it's work.

Drawing on participant observations from two committee meetings as well as on ethnographic readings of the committee's extensive paper trail, the paper will examine different modes of communication and patterns of speech among different groups of actors on the international, national and regional levels during the sessions and in collateral meetings as well as their relevance to the decision-making process. We are interested in examining the repercussions resulting from diverging conceptions of "culture", "tradition", "resource" or "property" within different speech communities of heterogeneous backgrounds. We will present evidence from our ongoing research on the maturation of communicative norms and conventions in an UN agency. We will probe to what extent this tentative or emergent state can be harnessed for bargaining tactics and whether these matters are reflected by the committee itself and in official documents made available by the WIPO Secretariat which serve as a basis for negotiations.

Panel W019
The anthropology of the United Nations