What is Trinketization

For an explanation of Trinketization – never fully codified as yet – you might start with the following old posts such as:

Note 33: Trinketization is both a reductive appropriation of everything to commodification, as if that were somehow the fully articulated explanation; AND Trinketization is the proliferation of theorizations of that commodity desiccation that atomises a paralyzingly abundant fascination and desire.



Mind Boggling

Before the Letter

Jesus Trinkets

Plastic Stuff

Kane’s Snowglobe

Kuffiya Spotting

Third World Tourism

Communist Tat


And this maritime captain picture is a trinket gesture itself – you should read Paul Hendrich’s piece on the Deptford Town Hall slavery statues; also check Rosie Wright on Trafalgar Square plinth (here), and Imogen Bunting on May Day posings (here) – the three of us often talked trinkets, working out a critique of objects and their multiple meanings. The three of them really are each very much missed.

Do bee do bee do

beesHere is the first of ‘Eleven theses on art and politics’ for my talk in Copenhagen on thursday (‘Forms of engagement, Configurations of politics’ conference):

1. Do Bees have art?

“what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax.” – Marx, Capital I, p284

In Marx’s passage about the bees and the architects, clearly it is the bees who do not have representation, despite their excellent construction skills. The (human) architect constructs a structure in the mind (or on paper) before building it in the world. We can call this art. If we are to take Marx’s analogy seriously, bees do not have art, they have sting and a love of nectar, but no art.

But if art is different to politics, do bees have politics? Is the art of politics one of opportunity and struggle in the real? Or is strategy and tactics the equivalent of art in the human? Debord’s interest in strategy, as well as that long tradition within communism, will be relevant here. It may be that bees, with their hierarchy in the hive, but also their expansive quest to pollinate, have in fact a politics that can teach us.

But perhaps the bees have been caught up and caged. In England, we are told that bees are under threat and our entire biosphere is in danger if bees cease to do the endless work of pollinating flowers – which connects up nature to culture to economy in ways only hinted at by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Meanwhile, in the advanced sectors of capital:

Nicole Pepperel writes: I have to admit, I’ve never particularly thought about the industrial organisation of crop pollination, until I read this column from the New York Times discussing possible responses to Colony Collapse Disorder – the mysterious plague that causes adult bees to desert their hives, leaving honey and larvae behind. I found this image particularly striking:

“…it is important to add that, here in the United States, the majority of our crops are pollinated not by wild bees, or even by honeybees like mine, which live in one location throughout the year, but by a vast mobile fleet of honeybees-for-rent”.

“From the almond trees of California to the blueberry bushes of Maine, hundreds of thousands of domestic honeybee hives travel the interstate highways on tractor-trailers. The trucks pull into a field or orchard just in time for the bloom; the hives are unloaded; and the bees are released. Then, when the work of pollination is done, the bees are loaded up, and the trucks pull out, heading for the next crop due to bloom”.

(Originally posted by N Pepperell 29/01/2009 http://www.roughtheory.org/content/worker-bees/)

Clearly there is a politics of bees, and it is of more importance than we often concede. So, as Adorno says…




11-theses-on-art-and-politics-567/ ]

The Marx Trot

27276~Karl-Marx-Brand-Cigar-Box-Label-Karl-Marx-PostersTo mark the end of the course work part of their degree, MA Cultural Studies students have proposed the ‘Marx Trot’. This being a pub crawl with a revolutionary excuse. Having done significant research as per my brief to lead said Trot, I propose the following:

Marx is buried in Highgate. So we start  at the end. Meet at the East Cemetery gate at 4pm. Watch the film ‘High Hopes’ beforehand if need be. Bring cigars.

The Marx family would often walk from Haverstock Hill to Soho, so we can too. As its a nice day. We’ll walk through the park. Hamstead Heath in fact, though other parks might distract our thoughts. Marx took part in a Hyde Park demonstration against the Sunday Observance laws and wrote an article on the Anti-Church demonstration of July 1855. We can read this on the way and contemplate the production of nature.

At the far end of Hamstead Heath is a favourite pub of the Marx’s – so we could visit Jack Straws castle. I found the following info on a cursory search:

Jack Straws Castle


Jack Straw’s Castle ought to be the perfect place for an inspiring pint. The situation is good, the history intriguing and the ghosts distinguished. Karl Marx drank here on the corner of Hampstead Heath, high above the foul air of 19th-century London. So did Charles Dickens, Leigh Hunt and Max Beerbohm. Jack Straw himself – one of the leaders of the peasants revolt of 1381 – allegedly rallied his pitchfork-wielding mob from a haywagon nearby.

From here we can walk down Heath Street to Chalk Farm and Grafton Terrace.

Marx lived at 3 Roxburgh Terrace, now part of Prince of Wales Road Kentish Town. Then he moved to 9 Grafton Terrace. He drank at the Lord Southampton on the corner of Southampton and Grafton. We’ll obviously have to spend some time here.

Then we head to central London.

Marx fenced in a salon off Oxford street – in Rathbone Place (not far a from Tottenham Court Rd tube).

The Manifesto was drafted and approved at (according to internet gab – which I suspect is apocryphal):

The Red Lion, Soho [Closed] – pub details

Address: 20 Great Windmill Street, London, W1D 7LQ

Not many people know this but this pub is where Marx and Engels and others used to meet, where the first meetings of the Communist Party were held and where the Communist Manifesto was initially drafted and approved. This is a historic building in the history of Politics and it should have a Blue Plaque on it. I hope the people that live there when its converted know the relevance of this place.

Now apparently reopened as an “AT One” – we could I suppose heckle them a little [its an awful bar – heckle a lot – they have no idea where they are, adn beers were 4 quid for a bottle of sol – pah!]

When he first came to London Marx lived on Dean Street – We can visit Marx’s House and Blue Plaque – its on the second floor.

Then across to the British Museum. Obviously. There will be a test on your recall of particular passages from the footnotes. Someone will recite the bees and architects passage.

And finally, though I disagree with much of what Comrade Germain has done with Stop the War (or rather unstop it), here I think there is a hint of what is to be done as the evening closes in – a crawl up Tottenham Court Road starting at the Rising Sun.

“Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were refugees following the defeated 1848 revolutions in Europe. Marx wrote Capital in the reading room of the British Museum. He and Engels enjoyed pub crawls on Tottenham Court Road” [from an article by Lindsay Germain]

And by then wee should be able to make up our own after dinner entertainments. I do think one day a less ad hoc version of this walk is necessary – and I will prepare it – but this seems ok for starters. Leaving now.

No Borders Italian Style (excuse)

Information for 29 November Italia Pulita/Clean Italy Event.

BAGAGLIOnoBORDERS is a political/artistic group of Italians, people from Britain and other countries, based in London. It is an anti-sexist, anti-racist and pacifist group.

Our aim as Europeans is to raise consciousness among people in the UK of the worrying change in political atmosphere in Italy, which has come about under the administration of Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia, in alliance with Lega and Alleanza Nazionale. Recent events are all signs of an increasingly
disturbing climate in Italy:
• The proposed legislation to finger print Roma people
• Proposals to segregate schooling for children of immigrant families
• The frequent racist and homophobic physical attacks
• The exodus of young Italians to other European countries

BAGAGLIOnoBORDERS works to create and to support visible occasions to promote cultural and political awareness through open live-events and demonstrations. We are in support of all minorities (racial, religious and sexual) who live in Italy and are continuously misrepresented by the mainstream Italian media.

Our first performance-art event, ‘Italia Pulita/Clean Italy’, to clean Italy of corruption, racism, sexism and homophobia, will be held:
• Outside the Italian Embassy at 4 Grosvenor Square, London W1
• On Saturday 29 November at 12 (noon)
We invite everyone to come along with cleaning cloths, feather dusters etc, to join us in symbolically cleaning the outside of the Italian Embassy.

facebook: bagaglio noborders

See also here.

Trinketization before the letter (vignettes) …. [one more time]

REDUX TWO: (another bit brought forward – from here).

[random detritus – This was excised from an early draft of ‘Jungle Studies’, in 1995. I’m sure you can see why]:

It is probably important not to allow the vignette to replace analysis, the two are tied together, but we don’t want the story to provide an alibi for those who would avoid the implications of the theory. Here, elegance of prose can camouflage politics. This is particularly the case amongst those who would emphasize the post in post-colonialism, and use this as an opportunity to pretend colonialism has past, and in effect to write as if it never happened. This does happen, and is the modern equivalent of those anthropologists who benefited from the infrastructural facts of colonial power but claimed to have no part in the project. Staging opposition. The founding myth of fieldwork – of Malinowski almost accidentally ‘shipwrecked’ in the South Seas – rehearses this deceit.

There are several versions. The idea that missionaries – or anthropologists – were not also participating in the colonial order, however much some revisionist apologist (anthr-apologists) might want to complicate the position, cannot be ignored. Definitely, looking at the ways the ‘West’ travelled and was transformed in travel, is something that deserves more attention, but should not be taken as some sort of alibi for the violences of that travel (as sometimes happens with such work – I consider Dick Werbner’s various citations of the ‘anthropologists were not always complicit in colonialism’ routine to be in very poor taste/bad faith). The descendants of Gluckman may revere his little run-ins with the colonial authorities in Africa as ‘proof’ that he was not part of colonialism, when of course he was etc.

Why does it matter that telling stories clarifies the colour of politics? – perhaps because the slippage is the hinge of reaction. At the pomo workbench the maintenance of ongoing colonialisms slips past on the palanquin of narrative – even where the analysis oscillates between anecdotal evidence and the illustration of capitalist violence, the too-easy take up of only the storybook gems from the colonial scene rehearses again the Raj extraction process. Violence of partial explanations that serve the conquest (which of course does not mean we dream of a ‘full’ explanation, but that there are some less credible than others and we know which ones serve masters and which lead elsewhere).

Think for a moment of the way selective listening forges the subjectivity of oppression (perhaps in this telling the Emperor’s new clothes is not so much a story of the sycophantic courtiers as an exposure of the necessary blindness of naked power). As ever, the complexities of the circumstance can be recruited to tell another tale, more amenable to capital. The Emperor’s new clothes also tells of transition to the social relations of contemporary production – the young boy who exposes it all is nothing if not a culture hero of a brutal reality we face and embrace for good and bad.

Anthropologists who were recalcitrant and troublesome for colonialism may still unwittingly (or not – so often wittingly) be those best placed to extend colonial hegemony and power. This can be seen to happen through several modes; through the promotion of culture, through the mechanisms of inscription (cf. copies of the book of Nuer prophets in the hands of contemporary Nuer – Johnson), through focus on identity, and identifications, through reification and so on. It is important not only to see this in anecdotal terms, even where the anecdotes are so compelling, but rather to recognize the vignettes as examples of a web of institutionalized power (persuasive AND coercive force) deployed systematically across the globe. That the term post-colonialism has one part of its heritage in literature has enabled some to make the anecdotal narration of post-modern anthropology into a methodological doxa, and along the way renounced any theoretical specificity and ushered in a still more reactionary politics than ever before. The other more explicitly political sources for the term post-colonial require a more nuanced comprehension of the ironic and restricted way in which the term was used to refer to a certain betrayal of anti-colonial struggle on the part of national elites and the comprador classes after the so-called fact of decolonisation (Spivak). Within the horizon of this conception of the post-colony anecdotal post-modernisms appear as spurious frivolity.

Responses to “Trinketization before the letter (vignettes)”

  1. Anonymous Says:
    July 3, 2008 at 4:22 pm eThe fact I am leaving this anonymously tells you something about the state of anthropology and sociology and the broader academic ‘world’ that currently exists here, where I am writing to you. That’s Johannesburg. That’s a particular university here, a grand, old university once famous for its activism against apartheid. Today, today, today, it is this that you describe. The post in its post-colonial myopia taken to ridiculous, absurd and sometimes deeply upsetting publications, discourses and lectures. Here, a liberal elite of largely white anglo-saxon and jewish factions run the colleges, the lecture halls and the public debates. The hypocrisy is noted by many, including this appallingly low-paid cleaner who told me today: “They write about people they don’t know anything about. They write books about people they are scared of. And they become famous and everyone praises them. But they don’t even know how to speak to the people they write about. They have no experience of mixing with us. But they write about us.” And when he’d finished talking to me, he smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “Go and eat your lunch in the sun.”

  2. john hutnyk Says:
    July 3, 2008 at 4:32 pm eThere is a scene in Anand Patwardan’s 1982 (?) documentary film “Bombay Our City” where a woman from a bustee (slum) says to camera something like: “hey you. What can your film do for me? Hey? Nothing! Go on filming” – or similar. Vishwapriya Iyengar was happy to say Anand was right to leave that bit in.

    Myself, writing about tourists in Calcutta, I still got the comment – ‘and you John, staring at people then writing books about them’.

    Reflexivity had already become passive when Adorno denounced it – so what can our writing do then? Spivak as ever: Its not a matter of who is speaking, but what that speaking might do.

    greetings anon – be well. J

Mind Boggling Trinketization [again]

REDUX: Since several people have asked, here is one of the posts that explain the name of this blog. Its from a year and a half ago. [comments imported too]

Very occasionally (why? [indeed, see above – ed]) I feel the need to restate why it is that I use the word trinketization to refer both to the dessication of all life to mere commodities, and as a word for a critique of the poverty of theorizing that remains at the level of fascination with those commodities. Remembering that Marx in Capital only starts with commodities to tell us they are the fetished and occulted manifestation of social life – the ‘erscheinungsform’ in which wealth appears on the stage of the market etc… there is a need to cotextualise and theorise beyond this mere appearance. Hence 3 volumes of Kapital, and a further 3 vols of Theories of Surplus Labour, and then a subsequent effort of theory via Lenin, Lukacs, Adorno, even Debord (thanks Jeff and Tom)….

So, this trinket thing has been my double refrain for a long time now – a critique of those who stop at commodity (who have only read the first chapter) and who eschew any attempt to comprehend, and change/destroy/kill, capitalism. Grinning at the shiny trinkets ain’t enough – even a theory of trinkets will not be enough, and certainly my collecting them for display is only a first step… So, maybe I should start to gather it all together a bit more. Some early formulations:

In the draft intro to a special section on music and politics in the journal Postcolonial Studies, summarizing a joint article written with Virinder Kalra, we described it as:

“Focusing on, Madonna, an overworked cultural icon, who’s recent Eastern turn has attracted wide attention, this chapter compares and contrasts her trinketization to the diasporic music offerings of a more local flavour. By highlighting the theoretical dead end that all identity posturing postulates, the paper argues for a critique based not on spurious ascribed/described/pronounced subjectivities but rather on a not so fashionable materialist analysis”

This was eventually relegated/rendered in print as:

“a discussion of musical appropriations of Asian culture as ‘vogue’, offering a critique of trinketizing exoticisms and questioning the politics of identity in the context of racial conflict and imperial power structures” (Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1 No 3, 1998:355)

And this sort of line was developed a little, in a critical assessment of dearest comrade Crispin Mills of Kula Shaker fame, in a piece in the book Travel Worlds:

“It should at least be clear that the concern with ‘authenticity’ that leads to a critique of (Kula Shaker style) trinketizing exotic versions of South Asian musics is not one which insists upon the purity of traditional forms or the relativistic egalitarianism of an anthropology blind to material inequality. The danger is always that the worries about appropriation and commercialization are contradictory insofar as authenticity critique may sometimes slide into less savoury valourizations of cultural boundedness, nationalisms and conservatism. Instead, the critique of inauthentic and aestheticized versions of South Asian cultural production should be geared towards clearing a space for hearing the ‘secret omnipresence’ of resistance to which Theodore Adorno refers”.

A still less generous use of the term crops up in an early draft of a piece that eventually made it into our book on Diaspora and Hybridity, but in this case reaching back to my long-term interest in a critique of budget travellers:

“‘Going native’ persists in taking the most mundane forms especially where otherwise intelligent gap-year university students return from their travels adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of the trinket markets of the world”.

Ideally though, there will be better formulations than these. Here from a draft of my chapter in the book Celebrating Transgression:

“The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentializing system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow moving – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketization of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one”.

The main working out of trinketization as double play was done however in what became the book Bad Marxism. The first version of this published in the journal Critique of Anthropology, in an article called ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’. Catty it was. Ah well. Still, the phenomenal success of Clifford’s book ‘Routes‘ meant that I figured lucky Jim could handle a few snipes when, as I showed, he got Marx wrong (exchange does not determine production, production determines exchange) and went on about that ‘mind-boggling’ bird of paradise headdress and office tie ensemble worn by James Bosu, as seen on the cover (and cropped, the larger version inside showing James with a stubbie of beer too. If Clifford had gone to visit PNG, instead of a quick sprint through a museum in London – the Museum of Man- his ‘boggle’ might have been less offensive). Anyway:

“The problem is that even if Clifford was not limited to descriptive trinketization in his collecting practice, it is very difficult to imagine how he might want to respond to the complexity of the world. Reading his varied statements on culture, trade, power and so on it becomes possible to wonder what would be needed to provoke an attempt to intervene? What set of circumstances would be necessary to provoke even a preliminary essay on what is to be done? Meekly anguished fascination at the phantasmagoric vista before him seems all we will ever be offered” (Critique of Anthropology Vol 18, No 4, 1988:364 – also appeared in Bad Marxism 2004).

There is more of this to come. To be filed under terminological morass.

Responses to “Mind Boggling Trinketization”

  1. Renegade Eye Says:
    April 28, 2007 at 6:11 am eDuring the sixties, the radicals used the word coopt all the time. It meant as turning Afro-American militants wearing their hair Afro style, into a way for capitalists to introduce new lines of hair grooming products. Is that similar to what you’re saying?

  2. John Hutnyk Says:
    April 29, 2007 at 8:38 am eYep. I guess examples like that might be considered under the category of subsumption (real or formal?), though perhaps its more symptomatic than systemic as old Beardo had intended it. Certainly there can be discussion of how Capital today manages to turn everything and anything into product – a kind of hybridizing commerce, adapting and adapted to selling all differences all the time, everywhere (battering down all Chinese walls). Perhaps also relevant is Adorno note that every product strives to convince us of its uniqueness, which is always the same. Hair products for every imaginable style – the artist Sonia Boyce would be relevant here too, once forcing the Manchester anthropology department to handle bits of her collection of off-cuts from various black hairstyles. A dry and wry provocation.

  3. Suyi Says:
    September 30, 2007 at 5:20 pm eHmm… I thought you used the idea of ‘trinketization’ even earlier (albeit if a slightly different way). From McKenvie Wark’s review of The Rumour of Calcutta:

    “Here Hutnyk practices another kind of tourism, an intellectual one, “trinket collecting” in high theory. His sources are the writings of Georg Lukacs and Martin Heidegger, who were concerned with the effects of commerce and contraptions on our ways of seeing and thinking. What Hutnyk takes from them is a thorough kind of materialism. Every perception that we have is the product of an act of labour, an effort shaped by particular tools”.

  4. John Hutnyk Says:
    September 30, 2007 at 7:37 pm eyep, trying to be consistent, though that rumour book was more than ten years ago now.

    Lukacs though, I am reading more carefully these days. – j

Burn Burn Photocopier

A guardedly polite letter from Lisa to the Reprographics Department of Goldies regarding our efforts to rid ourselves of the now Suicidal Copier, first mentioned here:

Acquiring a new photocopier has really been a ridiculously lengthy and frustrating process. It feels as though the main thing we have all worked on for most of 2008 has been a) pushing to get a new machine b) getting it working and c) getting rid of the old one. And we are still not there.

The old machine is still sitting right in the middle of our only communal space. It is induction week. We are trying to welcome new students to the Centre. Could you please confirm when – this week – it will be moved?

The new machine works for basic copying but has still not been networked. We cannot print or scan from it, nor even submit a meter reading. The new machine was justified financially on the basis that we it would perform multiple functions. You told me we needed to use it for office printing. We have had it quite some time and have not been able to do that. I am extremely concerned that the small number of copies we have actually been able to use the machine for will work out to be inordinately expensive at this low-level useage. We have also had no staff raining beyond the engineer on the day of delivery showing me how to make a basic copy. The engineer set up folder on the L:/ drive for documents from the printer to be sent, but networking has not taken place and none of us are set up to use any of its more sophisticated printing/scanning functions.

I do understand that you, like all of us, are very busy. Even so, this has been going on for ages. Most of our correspondence to you is simply ignored. If you can give me the relevant contact details to make a) the removal and b) networking happen, we will be pleased to see to it ourselves [see pic – ed]. Otherwise, please let me have firm dates for these small jobs to be completed.


[we will send it to the place where all Terminators must go]