Cultural appropriation and oppression

Philosophical Studies 176 (4):1003-1013 (2019)
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In this paper, I present an outline of the oppression account of cultural appropriation and argue that it offers the best explanation for the wrongfulness of the varied and complex cases of appropriation to which people often object. I then compare the oppression account with the intimacy account defended by C. Thi Nguyen and Matt Strohl. Though I believe that Nguyen and Strohl’s account offers important insight into an essential dimension of the cultural appropriation debate, I argue that justified objections to cultural appropriation must ultimately be grounded in considerations of oppression as opposed to group intimacy. I present three primary objections to the intimacy account. First, I suggest that in its effort to explain expressive appropriation claims (those that purportedly lack an independent ground), the intimacy account doubles down on the boundary problem. Second, I question whether group intimacy possess the kind of bare normativity that Nguyen and Strohl claim for it. Finally, I argue that these objections give us reason to accept the importance of group intimacy to the cultural appropriation debate, but question the source of its significance as identified by Nguyen and Strohl.

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Erich Hatala Matthes
Wellesley College


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