Stephen Muecke’s (University of New South Wales) paper was positioned in relation to the question of natural resources. He questioned the process by which elephant tusks become ivory – is it a straight path, or is it a process that is riddled with complexities? He argued that there are no such things as ‘purely natural’: all ecological things are inherently political and never passive to the will of humans. He showed that there was an asymmetrical globe trade in ivory and what was needed was the redistribution of agency. Without affect, Stephen argued, the decommodification of ivory would not have taken place. He further argued that, despite its decommodifcation, ivory has not been defetishisized because of the ‘sacred’ affect that surrounds it.
Margot Finn (Warwick) wrapped up the three days by offering her thoughts on the workshop. She highlighted three terms that she felt were key to almost all the papers – commodity, affect and culture – but made the point that the engagement with the term ‘culture’ was not as prominent as it might have been. Instead of being interrogated as a cause, it tended to be used as a ‘fall-back’ word. She invited us to question how we think affect works. Does it work differently in different cultures, or times, or contexts? Are there communities of affect or emotional communities? What is the interplay between commodities, affect and politics? Was it that commodities combined with affect produce politics? Or was it that commodities and politics together produce affect? To what extent was the politics of the commodity based on localness?
In the response session, Clare Pettitt (King’s College London) warned us against using the term ‘commodity’ too loosely and suggested a return to theoretical approaches as a way of moving forward. Nilanjana Deb (Jadavpur University) raised the question of how the Project would proceed. Would the New York Workshop be different in format to the Kolkata one? Would it present us with the opportunity to expand our research, or would we be reworking our current research to fit in line with the next Workshop’s themes? Josephine McDonagh (King’s College London) responded by saying that research is never static and the New York Workshop would give us the opportunity to present our new explorations.
I am sure that the following Workshop will prove to be as intellectually vigorous and productive as the previous two have been.