Sociolinguistics Lunch: Jillian Cavanaugh (Brooklyn College & GC CUNY)

MAR 31, 2017 | 2:00 PM TO 4:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




March 31, 2017: 2:00 PM-4:00 PM




Jillian Cavanaugh (Brooklyn College & GC CUNY) presents "Labeling Authenticity, or, How I Almost Got Arrested In an Italian Supermarket." Reception to follow in the Linguistics Department. All are welcome to attend!


This talk analyzes labeling as a semiotic but also political economic process. Specifically, it looks at the labeling of heritage food in northern Italy, which prioritizes signs of authenticity and tradition. For the small- and medium-sized producers with whom I do linguistic anthropological and ethnographic research, signaling the small-scale, hands-on, artisanal, and traditional nature of their production is as essential to giving their goods value as high quality foods as are any of the material qualities of the foods themselves. Simultaneously, the circulatory possibilities of late capitalism and representational regimes such as intellectual property shape the economic value of authenticity. This renders signs of manuality, time (i.e., tradition), and place (i.e., locality) available to large-scale producers whose food-making strategies may be highly mechanized and industrial in nature, but who can afford to disseminate, profit from, and protect these signs in their own packaging and labeling. In considering labels in this light, this paper attempts to illuminate a paradox: that those who produce ‘authentic’ heritage food may be the least-well positioned to profit from signs of authenticity within late capitalist food systems.