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Coombe, Rosemary J., , . The Properties of Culture and the Politics of Possessing Identity: Native Claims in the Cultural Appropriation Controversy.
1993, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 6(2): 249-285.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes, Contributed by:

Abstract: The West has created categories of property, including intellectual property, which divides peoples and things according to the same colonizing discourses of possessive individualism that historically disentitled and disenfranchised Native peoples in North America. These categories are often presented as one or both of neutral and natural, and often racialized. The commodification and removal of land from people’s social relations which inform Western valuations of cultural value and human beings living in communities represents only one particular, partial way of categorizing the world. Legal and cultural manifestations of authorship, culture, and property are contingent upon Enlightenment and Romantic notions built upon a colonial foundation. I will argue that the law rips apart what First Nations peoples view as integrally and relationally joined, but traditional Western understandings of culture, identity, and property are provoked, challenged, and undermined by the concept of Aboriginal Title in a fashion that is both necessary and long overdue.

Comment: In this wide-ranging essay, Coombe situates debates about cultural appropriation in the context of colonial power dynamics. She discusses both appropriation of styles and stories as well as alienation of material cultural property. In particular, she criticizes the appeal to Western conceptions of property in these debates, and questions whether Native identity and autonomy can be appropriately protected by subsuming Native intangible cultural property claims under Western frameworks for intellectual property. This is a long and challenging essay, best used for more advanced courses. Alternative texts that capture some of the ideas here include Loretta Todd’s “Notes on Appropriation” (on which Coombe draws), or, for a text that situates some of these ideas in the literature on epistemic injustice, see Erich Hatala Matthes, “Cultural Appropriation without Cultural Essentialism?”.

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Jeffers, Chike, , . The Ethics and Politics of Cultural Preservation
2015, Journal of Value Inquiry 49(1-2): 205-220.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes, Contributed by:

Summary: Jeffers offers an account of the moral permissibility, and moreover, praiseworthiness of cultural preservation for the sake of the continued existence of cultural groups. He defends this argument against challenges about inauthenticity and incoherence leveled by Jeremy Waldron and Sam Scheffler. In a political context, Jeffers argues that cultural preservation can be obligatory as a component of resistance against colonialism and racism.

Comment: This text is readily applicable to a variety of cultural practices that constitute part of a cultural heritage or practice. It offers thoughtful considerations for discussion concerning the reasons one might have to engage (or not) in a particular cultural artistic practice.

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Mukherji, Parul Dave, , . Who is afraid of Mimesis? Contesting the Common Sense of Indian Aesthetics through the Theory of ‘Mimesis’ or Anukaraṇa Vâda
2016, In Arindam Chakrabarti (ed.). The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 71-92.
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Added by: Meilin Chinn, Contributed by:

Summary: A rejoinder to the claim that mimesis is unimportant in Indian art and aesthetics. Dave-Mukherji seeks to decolonize Indian aesthetics from its internalized Western ethnocentrism, according to which mimesis belongs to the domain of Western art and aesthetics, and open new, non-binary terrain for comparative aesthetics. She seeks to revive the complex theory of visual representation theorized in ancient Indian art treatises, particularly the concept of anukrti, a term she considers cognate to mimesis.

Comment: This text is appropriate for a course in aesthetics and/or comparative aesthetics. It provides an excellent background for a cross-cultural discussion of mimesis.

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Narayan, Uma, , . Undoing the ‘Package Picture’ of Cultures
2004, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25 (4): 1083-1086.
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Nadia Mehdi

Abstract: Many feminists of color have demonstrated the need to take into account differences among women to avoid hegemonic gender-essentialist analyses that represent the problems and interests of privileged women as paradigmatic. As feminist agendas become global,  there is growing feminist concern to consider national and cultural differences among women. However, in attempting to take seriously these cultural differences, many feminists risk replacing gender-essentialist analyses with culturally essentialist analyses that replicate problematic colonialist notions about the cultural differences between “Western culture” and “non-Western cultures” and the women who inhabit them (Narayan 1998). Seemingly universal essentialist generalizations about “all women” are replaced by culture-specific essentialist generalizations that depend on totalizing categories such as “Western culture,’ “non-Western cultures,” “Indian women,” and “Muslim women.” The picture of the “cultures” attributed to these groups of women remains fundamentally essentialist, depicting as homogeneous groups of heterogeneous peoples whose values, ways of life, and political commitments are internally diverge.

Comment: This text can be used to teach about the pitfalls of imperialist feminism such as Susan M. Okin’s as well as gender and cultural essentialism. It would also be excellent on any courses that attempt to discuss cultural value or cultural heritage as it complicates the idea of cultures as discrete, bounded and unified entities.

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Root, Deborah, , . Fat-Eaters and Aesthetes: The Politics of Display
1996, in Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, and the Commodification of Difference. USA: Westview Press.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes, Contributed by:

Summary: Root employs Méxica mythology as a lens for revealing the consumptive, and even cannibalistic, character of power. In particular, she points to the way colonial power sets up Westerners as “experts” and arbiters of art and culture, presenting appreciation of culture as a pretext for violence and control.

Comment: This chapter serves as an introduction to Root’s booklength study of these themes, so the presentation only gestures at these relationships and provides a brief selection of examples that illustrate them. However, if can be useful for raising initial questions about the relationships among power, art, and culture. It provides a counterpoint to a more sanguine perspective on cross-cultural appreciation expressed by Thomas Heyd in “Rock Art Aesthetics and Cultural Appropriation.”

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Todd, Loretta, , . Notes on Appropriation
1990, Parallelogramme 16(1): 24-33.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes, Contributed by:

Summary: Todd (Métis) situates contemporary acts of cultural appropriation in the colonial appropriation of indigenous land. She offers a normative definition of cultural appropriation according to which it is understood as the opposite of cultural autonomy. In the course of her discussion, she responds to a number of defenses of cultural appropriation that, she argues, fail to recognize the asymmetries of power in which appropriation from indigenous communities is embedded.

Comment: This is an excellent text to use in order to present students with a conception of the wrong of cultural appropriation that is firmly rooted in the context of colonial power dynamics. It is short, and can be usefully compared and contrasted with the arguments presented by James O. Young in “Profound Offense and Cultural Appropriation.”.

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