Networking Peripheries Discussion

Chapter 1 Summary:

In the first chapter, Chan uses the local context of Chulucanas, Peru in order to illustrate tensions between the local and the global which come with a neoliberal focus on global capital. The city of Chulacanas recieved a DO (denomination of origin) from the Peruvian government, which is essentially an identifying trademark of certification for ceramics from the area. These ceramics are made in a pre-columbian tradition using locally-sourced materials, so they are highly sought after across the world.

However, along with this DO came people who were sent to help ceramics artisans in Chulacanas strategize for appealing to global buyers. As you might imagine, this involved convincing the local artists to be more competitive in price and more efficient in how they produced these ceramics. The artisans had to learn how to be savvy businesspeople as well as artists. Chan’s argument is nuanced, though, in presenting the effects of the DO. Though these events changed the artisans’ relationship to their work and one another, one thing to which she frequently returns is that many of the people who were helping local artists to make these changes have actually ended up being closely connected with Chulacanas and advocating for the artisans and their community.

Ultimately, the DO has helped the city’s trade in ceramics to flourish; new artisans flock there to work and make a name for themselves in striking deals with global buyers. From a purely economic standpoint, the program has been a success. Chan is dubious, however, about some of the effects of the DO program: global markets have had their impact on the local community (I highly suggest that you read Chan’s conclusions on 50-51) and possibly disrupted a community of practice. Because the neoliberal project assumes that people can succeed through their own effort if they are willing, this type of program has created winners and losers on a massive scale.

Discussion questions:

  1. How might we characterize the relationship between the local community in Chulacanas and the global market of buyers/collectors who are after these ceramics?
  2. What are all of the ways in which the DO and the global markets which come with it interacted with Peruvian and Chulacanas culture?

7 thoughts on “Networking Peripheries Discussion

  1. I am really interested in your first question, though I am not sure that I have any sort of holistic answer for it. I’ve been thinking about what the point of places like Pier 1 is anyway. Clearly, some projection of authenticity is considered valuable. Given that “native products are scripted as naturally occurring artifacts” that were “‘discovered’ rather than ‘remade'” (72) by export groups like ALLPA, retailers do not assume the people will buy the vase simply because they like the way it looks. Instead, to me this reads like the retailers are attempting to imbue the pottery with a colonial narrative. Are these items marketed to folks so they can ‘play’ colonialist?

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  2. It is interesting to see how Chan moves from a positive attitude towards the economic outcome of global-scale collaboration to doubts about the social consequences of such collaboration. In chapter three, she discusses the communal conflicts arising from such collaborations. She illustrates that even after having IP title, Chulacanas’ ceramic-artisan community is having copyright concerns.
    I have a question based off of this portion: “Because the neoliberal project assumes that people can succeed through their own effort if they are willing” – does Chan see this overemphasis on individual will and agency as a threat to the communal collaborative practices in Chulacanas?

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    1. kachristen

      Nazua,
      I am not sure she sees it as a “threat” but certainly an obstacle in the sense that it impedes at many levels the ways that communal networks can be and are imagined and put into practice. These narratives–especially neoliberalism’s unquestioned trajectories–have to be addressed up front and acknowledged and of course, first exposed.

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  3. I like the questions, especially the first. I couldn’t begin to answer the second, and only have an idea on the first, :/. (My brain is a bit beat, today, sorry).

    The local community of producers and the global buyers seem to be at odds, one exploited by the other. At least, that’s how I view it at the surface. However, I think it’s more complex, and Chan and others get at this. Really, the universalism of capitalism/consumerism, in many ways, puts the buyers of and producers of these ceramics in the same boat–they’re all commodified by the economic structure/system. These structures try to appear natural and neutral, and it is the networks that seem to be questioning and challenging that authority and power.

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    1. Landon,
      Your idea of mutual exploitation seems interesting. Even though I do not know what is your view of the exploitation of the global buyers by the local communities, but it seems Chan would agree that the local communities also have some responsibility to make these collaborations successful for their collective welfare. I have been re-reading my chapter and found some places where Chan is skeptical about the ceramic-artisans’ hostile attitude towards the success of their peers, which often help sustain the unequal relationship among the stakeholders.

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    2. kachristen

      exactly! this is key. your point here: “These structures try to appear natural and neutral, and it is the networks that seem to be questioning and challenging that authority and power.” This, for me, is what is powerful about Chan’s account of these networks — that they push us outside these all too easy, default narratives (that are powerful and have materials and social ramifications).

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