Branded Nation: Image, Commodity, Surplus – University of Copenhagen

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ADI Conference 2017 > Panels > Branded Nation

Copenhagen ADI Conference 2017
9th annual international ADI conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative
University of Copenhagen 26-28 June 2017 

Branded Nation: Image, Commodity, Surplus

Convener: Ravinder Kaur, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

This panel addresses the transformation of the nation-form into commodity-form. Consider the ubiquitous and colorful presence of 'Incredible India', 'Cool Japan', 'Creative Korea', 'Wonderful Indonesia', 'Malaysia Truly Asia', 'Miraculous China, Commercial Yiwu', 'Turkey: Discover the Potential' or simply 'Brand Singapore' to name a few examples. The Asian nations are evidently at the forefront of this phenomenon of rampant commodification. Moving beyond the old hyphenated relationship of nation-state, we consider how national identity is mobilized in the service of global capital by the state. The newly ‘opened up’ nations in the free market economies are increasingly pitched as value-generating branded commodities smartly packaged and mediated via spectacular global publicity campaigns. It is in the brand-making operation that the spectacle of advertising, the aesthetics of image, national identity and global capital come together. The panel welcomes papers, visual documentaries and/or posters that reflect on the question of nation brand making in Asia. 

For information about the panel please contact Ravinder Kaur

Programme (subject to change):

PANEL: Branded Nation: Image, Commodity, Surplus

Monday 26 June 2017



Plenary session – Auditorium 35.01.06





Keynote lecture
Professor Francesca Bray, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh 
The politics of the handloom: craft, technology and the modern nation in China and India



Panel session 1
Room: 7.0.22




by Ravinder Kaur

Ka-Kin Cheuk, Institutional Affiliation: Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University
Branding and the Branding Effects of ‘G20 Hangzhou’ in a Local Chinese Market

Kenneth Bo Nielsen
, University of Bergen and University of Oslo
India: Greenfield (Desti)nation

Jill Reese, University College London (UCL)
Branding ‘Amma’: Popular devotional aesthetics, material politics and the amman in Tamilnadu



Panel session 2




Tommaso Bobbio
, Università degli Studi di Torino
Nationalism, History, And Urban Segregation in The Construction of Global Heritage Cities

Ravinder Kaur
, University of Copenhagen
Brand Nationalism




Convener: Ravinder Kaur, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen


Session 1

Ka-Kin CheukInstitute for Area Studies, Leiden University
Branding and the Branding Effects of ‘G20 Hangzhou’ in a Local Chinese Market
This paper examines the national branding projects of ‘G20 Hangzhou’ throughout 2015 and 2016. Specifically, it focuses on the branding works of G20 in Keqiao, a municipal district where China’s largest fabric trade market is located. The G20 summit, where world leaders briefly met to produce a more balanced geopolitical order, only lasted for two days in a small part of Hangzhou. Still, places like Keqiao, due to its geographical proximity to Hangzhou, were forced to undertake a yearlong branding project for the G20, which included crafting a celebratory image, ensuring local stability, and regulating human mobilities. As it happened in Keqiao, the G20 branding works became increasingly intensive toward the start-date of the summit. As such, the official narratives and representations of G20, which originally had nothing to do with the local market dynamics, suddenly intruded into traders’ everyday lives, practices, and their encounters with each other.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Keqiao (January 2016 - January 2017), the paper aims to trace such intrusive branding effects in the local market. In so doing, it captures the process whereby people come to term G20 not only as a distant spectacle, but also a complicated projection of China’s future in local, national, and global dimensions.

Kenneth Bo Nielsen,  University of Bergen and University of Oslo
India: Greenfield (Desti)nation 
In post-liberalisation India, the discourse of ‘greenfield development’ has emerged as an increasingly popular way of framing large-scale infrastructural and industrial projects. In 2015, India for the first time emerged as the world’s top destination for ‘greenfield foreign direct investments’, having attracted USD 3 billion more than second-ranked China and USD 4 billion more than the US at number three. In common parlance, the term ‘greenfield’ when used in conjunction with other terms such as ‘development’ or ‘investment’ can variously index land that has never been used; land which has not previously been built on; or land that has not previously been developed. In contemporary capitalism, the term conjures up what Kennedy and Sood (2016) call a ‘tabula rasa fantasy’ that envisions starting ‘development’ from a clean slate, on empty lands that are unmarked by social, cultural, political or economic histories, but which are full of untapped potential and waiting to be turned into value. India’s emergence as the world’s topmost greenfield destination thus signals the country’s ability to successfully promote itself globally as an ideal ‘greenfield’ nation. This paper seeks to analyse the policy and marketing strategies through which this has come about. How has India promoted itself globally as a nation of empty or barren lands? What images and aesthetics have been mobilised to render India a clean slate in the eyes of global investors? By engaging these questions, the paper seeks to offer a case that contrasts with the many smartly packaged and mediated global publicity campaigns through which, as the call for papers for this panel points out, nations otherwise seek to promote themselves in the global marketplace. While such campaigns often play on the vibrant distinctiveness and unique cultural heritage and histories of particular nations, ‘greenfield nations’ would seem to require a symbolic and discursive negation of precisely such qualities.

Jill Reese, University College London (UCL)
Branding ‘Amma’: Popular devotional aesthetics, material politics and the amman in Tamilnadu
This presentation examines the devotional idioms and notions of Tamil identity at work in the image-branding and material politics of what I term ‘sustenance schemes’ by Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the recently deceased Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and leader of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The former Tamil cinema heroine asserted herself as the designated heir to party leadership after the death of its founder (and her former co-star), M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) in 1987, through a political image regime that depicted her as MGR’s divine consort. Once her power was legitimized during her first tenure as Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa transformed her public image into the person of ‘Amma’, a revered amman who is either a ‘mother goddess’ whose children are her devotees, or a chaste childless woman. I suggest that Jayalalithaa’s introduction of ‘sustenance schemes’—an enormous expansion of campaign promises to give away ‘freebies’ (as they are glossed by critics) in exchange for votes, was an effort to address the lack of resonance of her ‘Amma’ persona within the Tamil electorate. This presentation aims to go beyond the aesthetics of transformation in image form to propose a corporeally based image regime that sought to bind patrons to Jayalalithaa as ‘Amma’ through the consumption of items dispersed through her sustenance schemes adorned with her branded image. The government schemes included the distribution of electronic kitchen equipment, new laptops for students, subsidized rice, a statewide chain of government restaurants, and other schemes to provide sustenance for the body, mind and soul.

Session 2

Tommaso Bobbio, Università degli Studi di Torino
Nationalism, History, And Urban Segregation in The Construction of Global Heritage Cities
This paper investigates the interconnections between policies of urban renewal aimed at the preservation/reconstruction of heritage, the increasing interest in enhancing the potential for tourism in various Indian cities and the reframing of nationalism in a more assertive and exclusive ideology. Taking urbanisation and heritage conservation in Ahmedabad (India), this research shows that initiatives to renew/rebuild urban heritage are an active part of a political agenda aimed at reviving nationalism in a global frame.

While projects of urban renewal and the promotion of local historical heritage are elements in the strategies to build “global cities” in the context of neo-liberal development policies, such processes acquire more significance if seen as political strategies aimed at promoting the nation as a “brand” in the global markets of connected economies and populations. The model 'global city' in developing countries like India has thus to merge modern infrastructure – meant for showcasing the city as a fertile environment for business and investment – with a special attention to the preservation of its 'ancient' and 'historical' heritage – in order to be part of the global network of tourism. The preservation of heritage is systematically becoming a part of wider programmes of urban renewal, which include the production of new infrastructure alongside the renovation of historical buildings, public spaces and places of worship. Such a vision is producing new forms of urban modelling and conceptions, where the banner of the 'global city' is used to showcase the nation as a place for investment, tourism and leisure. The intermingling of modernity and (invented) traditions, as well as the key role that History-making plays in this dynamic, is widely under-assessed but is playing a decisive impact in influencing social, economic and cultural balances, as well as daily life practices in large urban centres.

Through an insight in the processes of selection of what shall or shall not be considered as heritage, and thus be enlisted for renewal/preservation/conservation, this paper investigates how the management and articulation of heritage assumes a loaded political meaning, as both a driver of urban transformation (and new forms of exclusion) and a material locus in the redefinition of national identities. What are the ideas of nation and of past that are brought forward in these processes? Who are these policies speaking to and for?

Ravinder Kaur, Univeristy of Copenhagen
Branded Nationalism
I address the question of commodification of the nation form in the global political economy. Through an ethnography of mega-publicity campaigns in post-reform India, I examine new forms of nationalism and national identity making that unfold within the logic of markets in the early 21st century. I draw attention to new actors who have become visible in shaping ‘brand nationalism’, and how visibility itself has become the vital strategic domain the state authority seeks to control.