It is undeniable that there are systemic issues at stake. Holly tried to have a conversation about them over at Feministe; it didn’t work. I’m going to make a stab and say that it might be able to work here because there are separate threads here. You want to rail against individual instances of recent tumult? Wander over to Barry’s and have a non-personally-insulting swing.
Please discuss systemic appropriation here.
I’ll start: I’m mostly familiar with the concept of appropriation in an anthropological context, where exoticism and colonial economic factors are more salient than they seem to be here, and where source citing is emphatically NOT a solution. Moreover, I’m mostly familiar with the intersection of appropriative writing and anthropology, where you end up with problematic orientalist fantasies and that sort of thing. I’m not used to thinking about it in an academic context. It’s interesting. I’m up for reading anyone’s explorations of the concept.
Update: from comments, because I think it might stimulate conversation / clarify where things are coming from / etc.:
Sailorman asks, refering to the incident that started this discussion, “isn’t this more an issue of attribution than appropriation?”
I have opinions on this, but I’m not sure I can get into them without getting into what it seems to me has happened here, which I’m trying to avoid because A) it makes me tired, B) it seems non-productive, and selfishly C) I’m sure it would erode my credibility with *someone* who I respect and I greatly respect people on both sides of this debate.
Um, so, generally:
I think the idea proposed by the, um, plaintants? in this situation is that appropriation occurs when attribution is not acknowledged.
This is particularly problematic in situaitons charged by systemic oppression because some people’s words are taken more seriously than others. If you read enough feminist writing, you generlaly hit upon a few anecdotes where someone mentions that a woman proposed something in say a meeting which was ignored, but when the woman’s male partner repeated it, suddenly everyone said, “Oh! What a good idea!”
(On a mostly irrelevant side note — In my relationship, actually, the opposite is likely to happen — I’m much more likely to be able to convince people of things than my male partner, as I’m more charismatic and verbally inclined than he is.)
But in general, you see white people’s words as privileged over non-white people’s, and men’s over women’s. There’s an anecdote in Holly’s post about her thoughts as an Asian woman having been privileged over those of a black woman.
These dynamics appear to play out in the blogosphere. For instance, it’s probably not coincidental that many of the first influential feminist bloggers were male — see, importantly, Barry. Who is totally the bee’s knees, in my opinion. But it’s legitimate to point out that his words about feminism are sometimes taken more seriously than if a mere woman says them.
In this case, the allegation is that a white woman’s words are taken more seriously — because of her megaphone on the internet, and because of the privilege that allowed her to obtain that megaphone, and so on — than the words of women of color which have come before.
Now. That’s all, um, factual. I think. It’s systemic. It’s about privilege and disadvantage, and who’s heard, and so on.
The appropriation angle is more subjective and more sticky, and I am not going to try to endorse or reject the claims — although as mentioned, I do have opinions, blah blah. So, to try to keep the conversation systemic:
If, systemically, a white woman can say ideas that a black woman can also say and get more attention for it, then it becomes problematic when she repeats those ideas. Because, all of a sudden, people are paying attention. If she doesn’t attribute those ideas to their sources, then the words of the people who originated them disappear. The black women’s words are subsumed and become assumed to be those of the white woman — they are appropriated by her, intentionally or unintentionally.
So, it’s both attribution and appropriation. Through lack of attribution, it becomes appropriation.
Here, attribution can stand in — in a sort of generic, not totally accurate way — for money. Take an example that science fiction writer N. K. Jemisin brought up last year at Wicson: mass-marketed Western shirts that look Chinese.* Chinese people are making real Chinese shirts. Westerners are taking an idea of what’s Chinese, appropriating it, changing it in a way so that it actually reflects more of a Western idea of whta Chinese is than any actual reality of what Chinese actually is, and then they mass-market it and make lots of money. Money is the measure of worth here, and the way you see how people are benefitting from ideas.
In academic exchange, attribution is a measure of worth and credit. So, without attribution, the idea-originators get neither worth nor credit — just like the people making real Chinese shirts (or making the African art objects that they get small amounts of money for that western art dealers make huge amounts of money off of, or whatever). It’s a matter of worth, credit, money, value, whatever, being given to the priveleged person instead of the person who did the work of coming up with the idea / making the objects / etc.
*and here’s a good example of something that almost became non-attribution and thus appropriation. If I were speaking in conversation, I might or might not source N. K. Jemisin as the origin of the analogy — mostly because I would fear losing my audience by sounding overly academic, with attribution. I certainly would if they knew her or knew of her, but I might skip it if I were talking to a creative writing student, for instance, about a story they’d written, and trying to explain orientalism to them. I think that would be basically okay in that situation, but it would be patently bad here, where people even have the ability to follow up (and do! N. K. Jemisin rocks). I had a moment of wondering whether I should credit her, though, because I can’t remember if her blogging handle is associated with her SF name, and I am hesitant to actually *link* her because god knows, I wouldn’t want to out her if she’s not out. Anyway. Point is, if I didn’t attribute (in this relatively formal discussion setting and in writing, particularly) the idea to N. K., I would have been appropriating it.
This is exceptionally clear beacuse I’m pulling from her analogy directly — as I remember it — and she is definitely, 100% the source of it entering my concsiousness.
(Shockingly, this is a feminist and anti-racist thread. I’d screw with the comment rules, but I don’t feel like it, so just respect that, eh? Merci.)