ACLA Seminar: Emergent Authenticity: Fakes, Copies, and the Real Thing in a Global Culture

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Russell Cobb / University of Alberta
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How does a cultural product come to be accepted as authentic rather than a mere commodity? In 1999, for example, the Cuban government proclaimed that hip-hop was a genre in keeping with an "authentic expression of Cuban culture" after many years of being rejected as a symptom of capitalist excess. Why is Tex-Mex cuisine rejected by literary food writers while other regional varieties of Mexican cuisine are hailed as authentic in North American cookbooks? The idea of this seminar is to examine why the notion of the authentic remains such a touchstone in an increasingly globalized, hybrid culture.

From Mexican food, to alternative music, to the market for rare books and manuscripts, the idea of an authentic culture seems to resist decades of critiques of social constructivism and postmodernism. Who constructs notions of authenticity and how are they reinforced? In this seminar, we hope understand how authenticity is not simply an objective criteria an expert can determine, but rather an unspoken negotiation between Self and Other. I am looking for colleagues who want to investigate interrogate the authentic and related concepts (perhaps "realism" in literature or the "invention of tradition" in history or anthropology). I'm especially interested in working with people who might have an interest in looking at the economic aspect of authenticity, since the concept often works in opposition to the idea of a "commodity."

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