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The Copy Generic

How the Nonspecific Makes Our Social Worlds

The Copy Generic

How the Nonspecific Makes Our Social Worlds

An illuminating look at the concept of the generic and its role in making meaning in the world.

From off-brand products to elevator music, the “generic” is discarded as the copy, the knockoff, and the old. In The Copy Generic, anthropologist Scott MacLochlainn insists that more than the waste from the culture machine, the generic is a universal social tool, allowing us to move through the world with necessary blueprints, templates, and frames of reference. It is the baseline and background, a category that orders and values different types of specificity yet remains inherently nonspecific in itself. Across arenas as diverse as city planning, social media, ethnonationalism, and religion, the generic points to spaces in which knowledge is both overproduced and desperately lacking. Moving through ethnographic and historical settings in the Philippines, Europe, and the United States, MacLochlainn reveals how the concept of the generic is crucial to understanding how things repeat, circulate, and are classified in the world.

232 pages | 22 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: Southeast Asia and Australia

Religion: Christianity, Religion and Society

Rhetoric and Communication


“It seems fitting that this wildly imaginative book should defy easy classification. Is it a major work of social theory, offering a sweeping model of cultural circulation, or an exquisite ethnographic monograph, lavishly detailing Christian Filipino worldmaking? Most importantly, MacLochlainn demonstrates that without the generic, any such questions of classification are not just unanswerable, but unthinkable.”

Graham M. Jones, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Innovative in its form, lucid in its prose, The Copy Generic explains and refuses the tendency to denigrate the generic as inauthentic, barren, or simply irrelevant. Instead, MacLochlainn brilliantly draws out what so many overlook: that is the social and semiotic generativity of the generic."

E. Summerson Carr, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

Part I: The Copy Generic
Introduction: Copies Generic, Templates, and [Insert Text Here]
1. Roses Are Red: The Seduction of Order and the Covertness of Category
2. Generic Goes to Hollywood: Trademarking, Unmarking, and the Brand Displaced
3. Source Mimesis: How We Think about the Unauthored and Collectively Owned

Part II: Christian Plurals and a Generic Religious
4. Formatting the Religious: “Non-Christians” and the Naturalness of Language
5. Divine/Generic | Olive/Mango
6. Big Faith: Christian Plurals and the Ambience of Catholicism
Epilogue: House of Generics Pro Forma

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