Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Exploration and Analysis
CCEA-UH 1069 

About the Course

Virtually unknown outside of academic discourse until very recently, the term cultural appropriation has become a commonplace in social and popular media, as activists and public intellectuals have highlighted what they see as problematic uses (or abuses) of cultural symbols, artifacts, or expressive modes connected to marginalized groups. But what exactly is cultural appropriation, and under what circumstances can it be said to constitute a form of exploitation or violence?

This course approaches these questions both philosophically and empirically, asking, on the one hand, "What is culture, and how can it be 'owned' or “stolen?” and on the other, "How have practices of adopting or using culture been implicated in processes of social subjugation or marginalization." Course readings are drawn from a range of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences, including cultural anthropology, art theory, music studies, and philosophy. By engaging with a rich corpus of ideas through in-class discussions, oral presentations, and written reflections, students will develop critical perspectives on cultural appropriation as well as the broader concepts of culture, race, and ethnicity.

Why Students Should Take This Course

We all think we know it when we see it: someone inappropriately using someone else's culture. But what is the line between cultural formation, which always depends on the mixing of previous cultural forms, and situations in which power differentials lead to exploitation or subjugation? Students will examine a range of historical and cultural situations, from blackface minstrelsy to contemporary pop music from around the world, and develop critical perspectives for understanding race, culture, and ethnicity.

Taught By