Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 4, pp 1003–1013 | Cite as

Cultural appropriation and oppression

  • Erich Hatala MatthesEmail author


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.


Cultural appropriation Oppression Culture Essentialism 



This paper has benefited from helpful discussions with Shen-yi Liao, Nick Riggle, Thi Nguyen, Matt Strohl, and audience members at the 2018 APA Pacific Division meeting in San Diego. Special thanks to Dominic McIver Lopes and Margaret Moore. Some parts of this paper were further developed in blog posts at Aesthetics for Birds: thanks to Alex King for feedback and providing an excellent venue for work in aesthetics. Thanks always to Jackie Hatala Matthes.


  1. Appiah, K. A. (2006). Whose culture is it, anyway? In Cosmopolitanism (pp. 115–135). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  2. Coombe, R. J. (1993). The properties of culture and the politics of possessing identity: Native claims in the cultural appropriation controversy. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, VI(2), 249–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cooper, B. (2015). Iggy Azalea’s post-racial mess: America’s oldest race tale, remixed. Salon.
  4. Dotson, K. (2011). Tracking epistemic violence, tracking practices of silencing. Hypatia, 26(2), 236–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hladki, J. (1994). Problematizing the issue of cultural appropriation. Alternate Routes, 11, 95–119.Google Scholar
  7. Hurka, T. (1999). Should Whites write about minorities? In Principles: Short essays on ethics (2nd ed.). Toronto: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  8. Keeshig-Tobias, L. (1990). The magic of others. In L. Scheier, S. Sheard, & E. Wachtel (Eds.), Language in her eye: Views on writing and gender by Canadian women writing in English. Toronto: Coach House Press.Google Scholar
  9. Killmister, S. (2011). Group-differentiated rights and the problem of membership. Social Theory and Practice, 37(2), 227–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Liberto, H. (2014). Exploitation and the vulnerability clause. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 17, 619–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Manne, K. (2017). Down girl: The logic of misogyny. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Matthes, E. H. (2016). Cultural appropriation without cultural essentialism? Social Theory and Practice, 42(2), 343–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Matthes, E. H. (2017). Repatriation and the radical redistribution of art. Ergo, 4(32), 931–953.Google Scholar
  14. Matthes, E. H. (2018). The ethics of cultural heritage. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
  15. Mezey, N. (2007). The paradoxes of cultural property. Columbia Law Review, 107, 2004–2046.Google Scholar
  16. Patten, A. (2014). Equal recognition: The moral foundations of minority rights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rogers, R. A. (2006). From cultural exchange to transculturation: A review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation. Communication Theory, 16, 474–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Shelby, T. (2002). Foundations of black solidarity: Collective identity or common oppression? Ethics, 112(2), 231–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Todd, L. (1990). Notes on appropriation. Parallelogramme, 16(1), 24–33.Google Scholar
  20. Todd, L. (1992). What more do they want? In G. McMaster & L.-A. Martin (Eds.), Indigena: Contemporary native perspectives in Canadian art. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.Google Scholar
  21. Valdman, M. (2009). A theory of wrongful exploitation. Philosophers’ Imprint, 9(6), 1–14.Google Scholar
  22. Walsh, A. N., & Lopes, D. M. (2012). Objects of appropriation. In J. O. Young & C. G. Brunk (Eds.), The ethics of cultural appropriation (pp. 211–234). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  23. Young, J. O. (2005). Profound offense and cultural appropriation. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63(2), 135–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Young, J. O. (2008). Cultural appropriation in the arts. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Young, I. M. (2011). Five faces of oppression. In Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Ypi, L. (2013). What’s wrong with colonialism. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 41(2), 158–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ziff, B., & Rao, P. V. (Eds.). (1997). Borrowed power. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.324 Founders HallWellesley CollegeWellesleyUSA

Personalised recommendations