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A Semiotics of Cultural Property Argument

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2007

Alan Audi
Attorney, Paris, France.


This article applies the tools of legal semiotics to examine the terms, modalities, and conventions of legal argument in the cultural property context. In a first instance, the author re-enacts Duncan Kennedy's study of recurrent patterns within legal argument to illustrate the highly structured nature of most cultural property argument. This mapping exercise shows how legal concepts draw their meaning in part from their place within a broader linguistic system, and as a result cannot by themselves form an adequate basis for ethical positions. Following this, the pervasive Elgin Marbles controversy is shown to resemble a myth (in Roland Barthes's sense of the term) behind which a series of value judgments and support systems are embedded into cultural property argument. The conclusion presents a number of observations sketching a framework centered on restitution as a starting point for resolution of cultural property disputes.Acknowledgements: I am grateful for the many helpful comments received on previous versions of this piece, especially from Ali Wick, Lama Abu Odeh, and Alex Bauer. A special thank you to Natalia and Sofia for their support.

© 2007 International Cultural Property Society

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