Accepted Paper:

Ontology, brand, citationality: brand and brandedness in Tamil Nadu, India  


Constantine Nakassis (The University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the disarticulation of brand ontology in Tamil youth fashion. While youth display brands as 'style' they're indifferent to brand authenticity. Not as brand, but instances of brandedness, such acts bracket that which they cite, a fact implied by the brand's own citationality.

Paper long abstract:

Much recent anthropology has reformulated the question of difference vis-à-vis the question of ontology. This paper looks at the brand as one such ontology. Rather than focusing on the brand as such, however, I show how (putative) brand displays among non-elite youth in South India instantiate an alternate ontology that holds in abeyance—i.e., negates and reinscribes—the brand ontology which governs the global circulation of brand forms in South India in the first place. While brand commodities are popular among youth for their "style" (their ability to playfully transgress adult respectability), such youth are willfully indifferent to the brand identities and provenances such commodities otherwise instantiate. Rather, youth reckon brand commodities by their brandedness, the quality of being like a brand even if not a brand. This active ignoring/simulation of brand ontology registers the anxieties that one's displays may be seen as ostentatious, as inscribing class inequality in peer groups marked by their egalitarian ethos. These double-voiced creative acts (and the desires, anxieties and self-doubts that they diagram) navigate the contradictory existential mandates to be style but not too much style, to transgress adult normativity without transgressing youth sociality. And by citing the brand through instances of brandedness, such youth bring into being novel ontological configurations through the very ontologies they bracket, a fact materialized in the wide range of brand-esque designs which proliferate in local markets. I conclude by arguing that such citationality is engendered by gaps in the brand ontology's double fetish of commodity/brand-personality (and materiality/immateriality, presence/absence).

Panel W053
Shifting ontologies and contingent agencies