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Appiah, Kwame Anthony, , . Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?
2007, in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York, London: W. W. Nortion & Company.
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Summary: In this chapter, Appiah offers a cosmopolitan critique of the concept of cultural property/patrimony. By emphasizing the common features of our humanity and the tenuousness of certain cultural identity claims, he puts pressure on conceptions of cultural property that would exclude others, particularly those that have a nationalist character. He raises important philosophical questions about cultural continuity over time, and explores how the location of art can best facilitate its value for humanity. In general, he supports a cosmopolitan/internationalist approach to cultural property that promotes the exchange of cultural products around the world.

Comment: This text offers a clear and effective overview of philosophical issues concerning cultural property, and uses a range of cultural and artistic examples. It offers a concise summary of the legal scholar John Merryman’s classic article in support of internationalism about cultural property (not included in this curriculum). It pairs well with Lindsay’s article.

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Coleman, Elizabeth Burns, Rosemary J. Coombe, Fiona MacArailt. A Broken Record: Subjecting ‘Music’ to Cultural Rights
2012, In The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation, edited by James O. Young and Conrad G. Brunk: Blackwell Publishing.
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Summary: This article presents multiple arguments for the “repatriation” of indigenous music, and the assertion of indigenous cultural rights, while troubling the imposition of legalistic frameworks of Western intellectual property. It situates the harms of appropriation in the perpetuation of unjust systems and misrepresentation, and demonstrates how careful attention to specific cultural practices can play an essential role in sorting out sometimes overly abstract debates about repatriation and appropriation.

Comment: This is a long and difficult text, but it does an excellent job of marrying careful attention to cases with philosophical context and reflection. It is a good choice for more advanced classes, particularly ones that might be focusing on music.

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Coleman, Elizabeth Burns, , . Cultural Property and Collective Identity
2006, In Returning (to) Communities: Theory, Culture and Political Practice of the Communal, edited by Stefan Herbrechter and Michael Higgins: Brill.
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Summary: This short paper examines the relationship between cultural property and collective identity through a close analysis of a paper by Richard Handler that questions such a relationship. In particular, Handler raises a version of common worries about the lack of cultural group continuity over time: because cultures are constantly changing, this fact is thought to undermine claims about the relationship between cultural identity and cultural property, as well as subsequent repatriation requests. Coleman pushes back against this objection by questioning what kind of identity or sameness is actually required for cultural continuity over time.

Comment: Though focused on a reading that is not included in this curriculum, this text pairs well with, for instance, the Appiah, Thompson, or Young readings in this module, or any other article that raises questions about cultural continuity over time.

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Coleman, Elizabeth Burns, , . Repatriation and the Concept of Inalienable Possession
2010, In The Long Way Home, edited by Paul Turnbull and Michael Pickering: Berghan Books.
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Summary: The concept of inalienable possession often figures centrally in debates about repatriation of cultural artifacts (which are also often artworks). The right of alienability (or the right to transfer title to property) is one of the core rights in Western property theory. If property is inalienable, this means that title to it cannot rightly be transferred. In this paper, Coleman analyzes the concept of inalienable possession, and argues that laws (such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)) can foist a conception of inalienable possession on indigenous peoples that can be inaccurate to past and changing cultural norms. She uses this point to offer a distinction between property and ownership. This opens up conceptual space for a link between objects and identity through ownership that might nevertheless allow for the alienability of such property.

Comment: This paper is best for a course unit that is making room for in-depth discussion of the property dimensions of cultural property. It would pair well with Janna Thompson’s “Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity,” or James O. Young’s “Cultures and Cultural Property.” It can be also used together with or in lieu of Sarah Harding’s much longer and more detailed paper “Justifying Repatriation of Native American Cultural Property.”

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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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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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Harding, Sarah, , . Justifying Repatriation of Native American Cultural Property
1997, Indiana Law Journal 72(3): 723-74.
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Summary: Harding’s article offer an in-depth look at the theoretical justification for the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, paying special attention to the category of “cultural patrimony” under which non-funerary artworks will often fall if they are subject to NAGPRA. The paper focuses on three different approaches to justifying repatriation: in terms of compensation for historical injustices, the value of an object to a community, and challenging the very possibility of ownership of cultural patrimony. Harding ultimately favors this final approach, suggesting a stewardship model on which we all have obligations with respect to the protection of cultural property.

Comment: This is a long law review article, and so is best for more advanced classes. It is a useful text for instructors who are interested in exploring cultural property issues in a legal but philosophically informed context. One can also assign only certain sections focusing on particular issues. For a shorter article that also promotes a stewardship model, the Warren paper is a good substitute, though not likewise embedded in the legal issues (and written before the passage of NAGPRA).

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Keeshig-Tobias, Lenore, , . The Magic of Others
1990, In Language in Her Eye: Views on Writing and Gender by Canadian Women Writing in English, edited by Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard and Eleanor Wachtel: Coach House Press
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Summary: In this short selection, Keeshig-Tobias (Ojibway) raises questions about representation and authenticity in fiction about Native people written by non-Native authors. With reference to certain Native belief systems, she contextualizes why the telling of a story could be viewed as theft in a way that might seem counter-intuitive to a liberal Western audience.

Comment: This is a useful piece to pair with any of the more theoretical writings on cultural appropriation. It articulates some Native perspectives on cultural appropriation that may be less familiar to students, as well as pointing out problems with some of the assumptions on which defenses of cultural appropriation sometimes depend.

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Thompson, Janna, , . Cultural Property, Restitution and Value
2003, Journal of Applied Philosphy 20(3): 251-262
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Summary: In this paper, Thompson approaches questions about the repatriation of art and artifacts through the lens of cultural property. She briefly discusses the nature of cultural property itself, and then moves on to exploring how her preferred conception of cultural property (roughly, culturally significant objects that are legitimately acquired by a collectivity) can facilitate or hinder claims for repatriation. In particular, she discusses the relationship between cultural property-based claims and potentially countervailing considerations, such as the purported universal value (or “value for humanity”) of cultural heritage.

Comment: This text offers a helpful introduction to cultural property and repatriation that is clear, readable, and concise. It is a good choice if you only have time for a single reading on this topic, but it also pairs well with most other readings in this module.

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Todd, Loretta, , . Notes on Appropriation
1990, Parallelogramme 16(1): 24-33.
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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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Walsh, Andrea N., , Dominic McIver Lopes. Objects of Appropriation
2012, In Young, James O., and Conrad G. Brunk, eds. The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation: Blackwell Publishing.
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Summary: Walsh and Lopes argue that some appropriation can be beneficial and productive: in particular, the appropriation of elements of dominant culture by members of culturally marginalized groups. They explore this idea through discussion of such appropriative artwork by a number of contemporary First Nations artists, which they argue challenges “the assumed alignment of appropriator with oppressor and appropriatee with victim”(227).

Comment: This text serves as a useful counterpoint to the general framework employed in much of the other cultural appropriation literature. It is also a useful selection for course units focusing on art practice.

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Warren, Karen J., , . A Philosophical Perspective on the Ethics and Resolution of Cultural Property Issues
1989, In The Ethics of Collecting Cultural Property, edited by Phyllis Mauch Messenger. USA: University of New Mexico Press.
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Summary: Warren’s chapter offers a careful and systematic look at arguments concerning what she calls “the 3 R’s”: restitution (or repatriation) of cultural property, restrictions on cultural imports and exports, and the rights (to ownership, access, etc.) over cultural property. She ultimately argues that this framework should be overturned in favor of an approach to cultural property disputes that is modeled on conflict resolution. This approach deprioritizes traditional talk of property and ownership in favor of a focus on preservation.

Comment: Due to its clear and organized approach, this article is an excellent teaching resource, and a good choice in particular if you plan to do a single reading on repatriation issues. While it often focuses more on summary than developing the many argumentative approaches mentioned, it offers a helpful backbone for further discussion.

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