Is there no such thing as cultural appropriation?

Karlie Kloss  , Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory, Featuring: Karlie Kloss,Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory Where: New York City, United States When: 07 Nov 2012 Credit: WENN
Karlie Kloss , Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory,
Featuring: Karlie Kloss,Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the Lexington Avenue Armory
Where: New York City, United States
When: 07 Nov 2012
Credit: WENN

Mike the Heathen sends this, a Patheos article by Tom Swiss that includes:

I am being politically incorrect again, but I find that there are few more wrong and infuriating notions than “cultural appropriation.” It is ahistorical, ignoring the way in which ideas diffuse across cultures. And it is ontologically confused, believing that ideas are in the category of “property” — the same confusion that lies at the root of the broken idea of “intellectual property” and the “War On Sharing.”

And the term becomes even more ironic when we consider its literal meaning. According to the Wiktionary, “to appropriate” means “[t]o take to oneself; to claim or use, especially as by an exclusive right” or “[t]o set apart for, or assign to, a particular person or use, especially in exclusion of all others; with to or for”. So if anything, it is those who are claiming that bits of culture are the exclusive right of a certain group who are practicing appropriation.

Interesting, yes?

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1 Comment

  1. I think the issue is a little more complex than what Swiss describes, as some commenters to the article point out. Like Erin Lund Johnson’s comment, for example:

    Cultural appropriation isn’t intellectual, it’s political, and it isn’t individual, it is communal,speaking to the power dynamics between the cultural communities involved.

    By definition, cultural covers more than just ideas.

    cultural |ˈkəl ch ərəl|
    adjective
    of or relating to the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a society

    While the term may be “ontologically confused” technically, I don’t think it’s technically ahistorical, (lacking in historical perspective or context), either since the term often speaks to issues connected to the effects of colonialism, (stereotyping, institutional/structural racism, multiculturalism), over time.Sometimes not, which just adds to its perplexity.
    Cultural misappropriation might be a better term, in that it incorporates the concept of actual or perceived harm, but not by much.

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