Law and Print in Postcolonial Contexts : Censorship, Copyright and Piracy – Concept Note

Organized by Laetitia Zecchini (CNRS) at the University of Chicago Center in Paris, July 5-6, 2024.

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This international conference addresses the relationship between print (understood inclusively, i.e. print in interaction with audio-visual forms and with performance) and legislation, censorship and copyright in postcolonial contexts. It aims to explore the role of colonial and postcolonial institutions, of the state and other gate-keepers in the regulation of print; the forms and practices of cultural regulation and censorship particular to certain postcolonial contexts; as well as the many alternative, informal or interstitial publishing networks, spaces and practices operating outside official (or monitored) circuits.

How are / were postcolonial print cultures (their production, distribution and consumption) affected by legislation, and shaped by colonial laws of copyright and censorship? What are the protocols, institutions, actors, modes of reading, etc. that discriminate between what is considered objectionable, offensive, seditious or illicit, and what is not; what can be made public, what can be said, read (heard or seen) and what cannot; what gets to cross borders, and what doesn’t?

If postcolonial print cultures, and access to print culture archives, may have been stunted or hindered by legislation, by practices of censorship and propaganda, how, conversely, could postcolonial writers, editors, publishers, readers and collectives also defy legislation and emancipate themselves from state/colonial interference or control? What were the alternative creative and strategic practices (of authorship, of publishing, exhibiting, writing, translating, collecting, distributing etc.) triggered in the process? How have certain genres, certain spaces and formats, offered alternative platforms for textual and artistic production, for experimentation and critique?

Conflicts over copyright in many postcolonial contexts, also stage classic intellectual property battles between the South and North which have their roots in the colonial period. While the fights over copyright during the colonial period were waged in law courts, the battlefield has become much more general and widespread in postcolonial print cultures.

This conference aims to explore such a ‘battlefield’, and invites contributions in the form of short presentation that could explore the above points and also include the following themes:

    • The colonial genealogies of copyright and censorship, and their legacies today

    • Postcolonial print cultures archives and their temporality in terms of access, declassification and securitization. How access to these archives may have been/continue to be impeded by repressive political contexts, and by legal frameworks. How, conversely, has the colonial regime of surveillance (that kept track of so much print production) proved to be a resource for archival research?

    • Postcolonial print archives, and the uses (or ‘manoeuvres’, cf. Kayfa Ta) they can be put to; the rise of the image, art history and art collectives in re-signifiying the archive

    • The relevance or obsolescence of copyright laws made for print in the digital age

    • The alternative circuits of publication and the role of the informal sector of print production and circulation (unauthorized editions, translations, etc.) in postcolonial contexts by which a lot of material (and archives) circulate anyway?

    • The vast repertoire of modes of authorship (pseudonyms, anonymous forms etc. see especially Newell 2013) crafted by writers from the Global South in colonial and postcolonial contexts to dodge censorship, or circumvent interdictions to hold copyright – and how these help us reconsider ideas of authorship, intellectual property, etc.

    • The inventive, DIY practices of duplication, piracy, smuggling, accommodation etc. that fuelled activism, experimentalism & modernism

    • Legacies, today, of the vast ‘exchange system’ or ‘exchange journalism’ by which imperial periodicals worldwide ‘mutually consented to reprint material’ from one another (Hofmeyr & Peterson 2019)

    • Drawing on the burgeoning field of elemental studies the mutually shaping, entangled relationships between postcolonial print, legislation and the environment ?

Select References

Tanya Agathocleous, Disaffected: Emotion, Sedition, and Colonial Law in the Anglosphere, Cornell UP, 2021.

Ahmed, Asad Ali. 2009. ‘Specters of Macaulay: Blasphemy, the Indian Penal Code, and Pakistan’s Postcolonial Predicament’, in Raminder Kaur and William Mazzarella (eds), Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction, pp. 172–205. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Pragya Dhital, Archiving Insurgency (23 March 2023)

Abhijit Gupta, ‘Popular printing and Intellectual Property in Colonial Bengal, Thesis Eleven 113 (1) : 32-44, 2012

Sukeshi Kamra, The Indian Periodical Press and the Production of Nationalist Rhetoric, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Raminder Kaur and William Mazzarella, eds., Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Isabel Hofmeyr and Derek R. Peterson, eds. 2019. ‘The Politics of the Page: Cutting and Pasting in South African and African-American Newspapers’, Social Dynamics, 45 (1): 1–25.

Isabel Hofmeyr, Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House, Durham: Duke University Press, 2022.

Peter McDonald, The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences, New York: Oxford UP, 2009.

Ute Röschenthaler and Mamadou Diawara, eds., Copyright Africa : How Intellectual Property, Media and Markets Transform Immaterial Cultural Goods / edited by, Oxford : Sean Kingston, 2016.

Newell, Stephanie, The Power to Name: A History of Anonymity in Colonial West Africa. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2013.

Zecchini, Laetitia, ‘Hurt and Censorship in India Today: On Communities of Sentiments, Competing Vulnerabilities and Cultural Wars’, in Emotions, Mobilisations and South Asian Politics, eds. Amélie Blom and Stéphanie Tawa Lama-Rewal, New Delhi: Routledge, 2019, pp. 243-263.