Producing authenticity in global capitalism: Language, materiality, and value

Jillian R. Cavanaugh, Shalini Shankar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


In this article, we bring together two distinct ethnographic cases of capitalist production-food producers in northern Italy and Asian American advertising executives in New York City-to illustrate how these producers use language and materiality to produce value in global capitalism. Taken together, the cases illustrate how contemporary capitalist producers utilize particular notions of ethnolinguistic heritage in ways that reflect group-specific values and enable economic profitability in globalizing economies. We consider the work that producers do to construct authenticity by identifying the links they create among and across linguistic and material elements. Whether the product in question is a locally crafted salami or a car commercial aimed at Chinese Americans, constructing authenticity is a complex process that is not assured of success but that is driven by various possibilities of reward. Noting the ways in which authenticity construction seldom goes unchallenged, we consider producers' linguistic and material work to create authentic goods against those who question and contest their efforts. In so doing, we examine broader implications of this capitalist production and contribute to literature on global capitalism, commodity creation, brand, and relationships between language and materiality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-64
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Advertising
  • Brand
  • Food
  • Language
  • Materiality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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