When does Something ‘Belong’ to a Culture?

Thomas, Joshua Lewis (2021). When does Something ‘Belong’ to a Culture? The British Journal of Aesthetics, 61(3) pp. 275–290.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/aesthj/ayaa049


Cultural appropriation can be understood as involving members of one culture taking or adopting objects or practices which ‘belong’ to another culture in the sense of being affiliated or connected to that other culture in a unique or special way. But what constitutes this ‘belonging’ precisely? This paper proposes that belonging, in the targeted sense, is determined by meaningful connections between an object or practice and the relevant culture—in other words, connections that could be described as the thing’s ‘meanings’. Such meanings primarily include relations of causality, teleology, and symbolic representation. After expounding this account, the paper closes with a word of caution. The term ‘belongs’ is sometimes ambiguous, indicating both affiliation and legal or moral property rights. Despite this, belonging as affiliation or meaningful connectedness is not equivalent to rightful ownership. Nor does the former, by itself, entail the latter.

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