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The University of Southampton
International Summer School

The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation

The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation
The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation

A White Canadian puts dreadlocks in her hair, or has aboriginal patterns tattooed on her body; a Japanese film-maker takes plots from British literature and puts them in his films; a country displays items gained under colonialism from a former colony in a museum; a German chef opens a dim sum restaurant. All of these are examples of cultural appropriation—the acquisition of cultural property, ideas, styles, etc. from one cultural group by another.

Many kinds of cultural appropriation have been morally criticized. Roughly, the claim is that members of some cultures shouldn’t take property, styles, or ideas from other cultures under certain conditions. These conditions often have to do with a claimed lack of permission given by the culture from which something has been taken, power imbalances between cultures, or harms that will result from appropriation.

In this summer school programme, we will look at two broad questions: what exactly is cultural appropriation? And when is it wrong culturally appropriate, if ever? We will look at theories of cultural appropriation and when it is wrong, focussing on concrete examples to help us critically assess those theories and come up with answers to our questions. In the process we will consider what it is to be a culture, whether cultures can own anything in the first place, and whether they can give or deny permission, among other issues.

The academic organising this topic is Dr Nils-Hennes Stear, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow in Philosophy.

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