Timothy Taylor, 24 October 2016

Title of the Talk: Taking the Gift Out and Putting It Back In: From Cultural Goods to Commodities

When? 24 October 2016 (17:00-18:30)

Where?  The Barn at St John’s College (Kendrew Quad)

Speaker: Timothy Taylor (Professor, Ethnomusicology, and Director of the Ethnomusicology Archive, University of California, Los Angeles)

Abstract: This presentation considers how musicians and others create or increase the economic value of cultural commodities in the capitalist marketplace. There are two means: the first is supply-chain capitalism as theorized by Anna Tsing, in which value is created at various nodes of a supply chain through processes of translation and purification that appear to strip away the noncapitalist social relations and noneconomic forms of value that went into the production of a particular cultural good. While Tsing views promotion simply as a different way to create value, I argue that these capitalist supply chains that create what Tsing calls inventory frequently necessitate this other means of the creation of value, processes of consecration and/or promotion (broadly understood as advertising, marketing, and branding) that reanimate cultural commodities with values that masquerade as noneconomic forms of value—firms need to claim that their inventory is superior to others’. In essence, this paper argues that, through supply-chain capitalism and processes of translation, capitalism appears to takes the gift out of the commodity by alienating labor and masking social relations, but through advertising, marketing, and branding inserts representations of unalienated labor and social relations to make the commodity seem like a gift again.

Speaker Biography: Timothy D. Taylor is a Professor in the Department of Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Global Pop: World Music, World Markets (Routledge, 1997), Strange Sounds: Music, Technology and Culture (Routledge, 2001), Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World (Duke, 2007), The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture (Chicago, 2012), Music and Capitalism: A History of the Present (Chicago, 2016), and editor, with Mark Katz and Tony Grajeda, of Music, Sound, and Technology in America: A Documentary History of Early Phonograph, Cinema, and Radio (Duke, 2012). A new book, Music in the World: Selected Essays, will be published early in 2017 by the University of Chicago Press. He is also an accomplished Irish traditional flute player and can be heard regularly at sessions in southern California.

Event hosted as part of the Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies Series, based at St John’s College, University of Oxford.


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