Intellectual Property Law and Food Security
Research Project

Translation and Commensurability

Much of the work on intellectual and cultural property has attended to the incommensurability of intellectual property and local practice. Undoubtedly, this focus has helped highlight important substantive differences in the ways that different peoples understand value, access, exchange, and ownership—just as it has helped bring attention to the often-problematic ways that local practices have been translated and enrolled into property frameworks already shaped by contemporary models of intellectual property.

It is worth considering, however, how insistence on radical incommensurability between intellectual property and “other ways of being” might elide points of connection in the ways that different social actors construct ideas about ownership or advance claims to important resources. In other words, what conceptual, political, or legal possibilities might arise if neither commensurability nor incommensurability were assumed? If instead of convenient alignments or absolute difference attention were given to points of connection and disconnection in the ways that different actors regulate and negotiate claims to biological resources?