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“Cornrows and a Qipao: Cultural Appropriation and Objectifying the Other”

Alex King
Associate Professor at 
Simon Fraser University

What makes acts of cultural appropriation wrong? My talk aims to answer this question. I will argue that cultural appropriation is wrong when and because it objectifies the appropriatees, i.e., those from whom something is appropriated. This takes inspiration from, but runs counter to, existing accounts of cultural appropriation’s wrongness, which have largely to do with the appropriatees’ reactions or with oppression and harm. I offer an account of objectification that is determined by both individual intent and knowledge as well as external social factors. As a result, one notable upshot of this view is that we cannot always tell from the outside which appropriative acts are wrong. Still, I argue, this account tells us the right place to look for its wrongness.

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