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Teaching & learning guide for cultural appropriation: What it is and why it matters

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Teaching & learning guide for cultural
appropriation: What it is and why it matters
Rina Arya
University of Huddersfield, UK
Rina Arya, University of Huddersfield.
commodification, cultural appropriation, the ethics of taking
DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12928
This guide accompanies the following article: Arya, R. (2021). Cultural appropriation: What it is and why it matters?
Sociology Compass, 15(10), e12923.
‘Cultural appropriation’ refers to the taking of items (including ideas) from one culture by another culture. The taking
occurs across a power dynamic, where the culture doing the taking has more power than the other. This has political
implications for the marginalised culture which seeks to safeguard its identity from distortion. There are many facets
to cultural appropriation. It involves rights to expression, the ownership of culture and the boundaries separating cul-
tures. What makes matters more complex is that ‘culture’ is itself an amorphous term. Cultural membership is also fluid.
Cultural appropriation is an important topic within sociology and cognate fields, such as cultural studies, because
of the ethical and socio-political questions it raises about the rights of marginalised groups. Recognising such forms of
taking acknowledges the histories of colonialism and imperialism and the way in which these processes have shaped
structures of knowledge. Cultural appropriation is taken as a focus for anti-racism and, more recently, the project of
decolonialising the curriculum. The processes of globalisation have increased access to other cultures, making study
of the concept more critical.
In scholarship, early discussions of cultural appropriation were centred on the practices of anthropologists with
respect to collecting. Discussion has since expanded to other fields of study including law and philosophy. Recent con-
cerns in scholarship include developments about how to legislate the use of intangible goods, such as intellectual prop-
erty, and the workings of culturally specific legal systems, such as tribal courts.
A good place to start to think about cultural appropriation is to look at examples of it in the media and to examine respons-
es to it both online and in social media. See, for example, R. Arya's ‘Rihanna's Ganesh pendant – Hinduism is a religion,
not a pretty aesthetic’ in The Conversation (12 March 2021)
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Sociology Compass. 2021;15:e12928.
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons
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Full-text available
Now, for the first time, a philosopher undertakes a systematic investigation of the moral and aesthetic issues to which cultural appropriation gives rise. Cultural appropriation is a pervasive feature of the contemporary world (the Parthenon Marbles remain in London; white musicians from Bix Beiderbeck to Eric Clapton have appropriated musical styles from African-American culture). Young offers the first systematic philosophical investigation of the moral and aesthetic issues to which cultural appropriation gives rise. Tackles head on the thorny issues arising from the clash and integration of cultures and their artifacts. Questions considered include: "Can cultural appropriation result in the production of aesthetically successful works of art?" and "Is cultural appropriation in the arts morally objectionable?". Part of the highly regarded New Directions in Aesthetics series.