Course syllabus



ANTHRO 756: Anthropology and Intellectual Property

SEMESTER 1, 2018

15 points

Course Convenor: 

 Mark Busse -


 Mark Busse -

Course delivery format:

E.g. - 2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of tutorial

(Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online)

 Summary of Course Description:              

Intellectual property, biological property, and cultural property refer to a set of complex issues of considerable contemporary significance. Current international debates about the sequencing of human genes, the development of the internet, the preservation of cultural heritage, the protection of biodiversity, and the development and patenting of new crops and new drugs, all involve, in one way or another, questions of intellectual property. They are linked by legal questions concerning the ownership of intangibles, an area of law that emerged, and continues to grow, in the context of the expansion of capitalist economies and accelerating technological innovation.


This course will examine recent anthropological contributions to debates about intellectual property which have been part of a renewed anthropological interest in property more generally. Anthropologists have added to discussions of intellectual property by questioning the cross-cultural applicability of Euro-American concepts of property, which are based on culturally and historically specific conceptualisations of social persons, objects, and the relationships between persons and objects. They have also questioned ideas about creativity, which are central to legal definitions of intellectual property and have documented the effects of increasingly globalised intellectual property regimes (such as the Paris and Berne Conventions and the more recent World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) on local, and often disempowered, communities.


This course will consider anthropological work on property in general and will deal with aspects of intellectual property such as culturally-specific concepts of ownership, ideas of the commons and the public domain, the objectification and appropriation of indigenous knowledge (by anthropologists and others), creativity, the protection of intangible cultural heritage, and effects of the internet and global flows of information on persons, privacy and the ownership of ideas. The course will end with a consideration of arguments against intellectual property and ideas about alternatives to intellectual property.


Course outcomes:

At the completion of this course, students are expected to:

  • understand anthropological approaches to property in general and to intellectual property in particular
  • understand how personhood is relevant to conceptualisations of property and intellectual property
  • understand how anthropological theorising about the various relationships between persons and things is relevant to contemporary debates concerning intellectual property
  • understand why intellectual property has become a particularly salient discourse in the last 20 years
  • understand how intellectual property claims are being used for cultural and political purposes
  • demonstrate reading, writing and discussion skills at an appropriate level


 Assessment Summary:

Seminar Participation 10%
Seminar Presentation 10%
5 Precis (200 words each) 15%
Research Essay (2,400 words) 40%
Online Project 25%


Prescribed Texts:

There is no textbook or course reader. Readings will be available through Canvas.


 Workload and deadlines for submission of coursework:           

The University of Auckland's expectation is that students spend 10 hours per week on a 15-point course, including time in class and personal study. Students should manage their academic workload and other commitments accordingly. Deadlines for coursework are set by course convenors and will be advertised in course material. You should submit your work on time. In extreme circumstances, such as illness, you may seek an extension but you may be required to provide supporting information before the assignment is due. Late assignments without a pre-approved extension may be penalised by loss of marks – check course information for details.

Course summary:

Date Details