This post builds on the research article “Brand “Piracy” and Postwar Statecraft in Guatemala,” which was published in the February 2013 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
In this engaging article, Thomas examines the practices of postwar statecraft in Guatemala through the lens of fashion, in particular the production and consumption of rebranded apparel by contemporary Mayan peoples. In an effort to strengthen the laws after several decades of internal conflict, the national legislature passed globalized intellectual property protections, among them trademark laws. These laws are mandatory for participation in international trade and they effectively criminalize Maya people who affix the logos of internationally well-known brands, like Nike and Adidas, to their products. Thomas argues that these laws are intended to not only strengthen law, but they are also a symbolic statement about national sovereignty in a turbulent postwar society. Furthermore, Thomas states that the production of clothing at the very margins of the fashion industry creates an excellent case study for examining the global spread of neoliberal legal and economic regimes. While Mayan people are encouraged to participate in state-building through initiatives that promote Western ideals, however, these same projects tend to inflame class and gender inequalities.
Ultimately, Thomas concludes that while the Guatemalan government has embraced cultural rights claims made by marginalized and disadvantaged groups, they only support these rights so long as they do not interfere with control of resources necessary for these rights to be manifested. Consequently, while conditions of poverty that make it impossible for Guatemalan consumers to purchase "original" branded commodities persist, the government simultaneously labels as "pirates" the people who participate in the structures and symbols of a modernity promised to them in the Peace Accords, which in turns exacerbates longstanding racial and socio-economic inequalities.
Cultural Anthropology has published a number of related articles on business cultures, including Rosemary Coombe's "Embodied Trademarks: Mimesis and Alterity on American Commercial Frontiers" (1996), Robert Foster's "The Work of the New Economy: Consumers, Brands, and Value Creation" (2007), and George Lipsitz's "Learning from New Orleans: The Social Warrant of Hostile Privatismand Competitive Consumer Citizenship" (2006). Additionally, Cultural Anthropology has published several recent articles on counterfeiting and fashion, speficically, including Andrew Graan's "Counterfeiting the Nation? Skopje 2014 and the Politics of Nation Branding in Macedonia" (2013) and Brent Luvaas' "Material Interventions: Indonesian DIY Fashion and the Regime of the Global Brand" (2013).
Multimedia and Links
GAP PS, G Jeans - The official website of GAP PS
Counterfeit Chic - Legal scholar Susan Scafidi's blog on design counterfeiting in the fashion industry
Questions for Classroom Discussion
1. Thomas argues that brands/logos are viewed as design elements and other social markers rather than "signatures of authenticity" in Guatemala. Can you think of other countries or cultures that might share this perspective?
2. How do these state sponsored programs and new laws exacerbate systemic racism and gender bias?
3. What other types of socio-economic problems do you see being created in the case of Guatemalan branding as a result of new intellectual property and trademark laws, if any?
4. Can you think of another example, besides fashion, where the implementation of similar laws might have negative socio-cultural or economic impacts? What some examples of the positive impacts of these laws?
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Green, Robert, and Tasman Smith. "Executive Insights: Countering Brand Counterfeiters." Journal of International Marketing 10.4 (2002):89–106.
Hemphill, C. Scott, and Jeannie Suk. "The Law, Culture, and Economics of Fashion." Stanford Law Review 61 (2009):1147–1200.
Nakassis, Constantine. "Counterfeiting What? Aesthetics of Brandedness and Brand in Tamil Nadu, India. Anthropological Quarterly 85.3 (2012):701–722.
Nelson, Diane. "Stumped Identities: Body Image, Bodies Politic, and the Mujer Maya as Prosthetic." Cultural Anthropology 16.3 (2001):314–353.