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The Properties of Culture and the Politics of Possessing Identity: Native Claims in the Cultural Appropriation Controversy


Between March 21,1992 and April 14,1992 Canadians witnessed a remarkable proliferation of controversy on the pages of The Globe and Mail. The issue was “cultural appropriation” or “appropriation of voice” in fictional and nonfictional writing. Articles, editorials, and letters to the editor considered the propriety of depicting a culture other than one’s own, telling “someone else’s story”, and whether it was possible to “steal the culture of another.” The debate was remarkable because of its emotional intensity, the absurdity of the analogies drawn in support of the respective arguments, and the inability of the protagonists to recognize each other’s terms of reference. Especially striking were the rhetorical tropes of possessive individualism adopted by all participants in the discussion.

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Ella Shohat , “Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial’” (1992) 32 Social Text 99;

John Henry Merryman , “Two Ways Of Thinking About Cultural Property” (1986) 80 Am. J. of International L. 831;

John Henry Merryman , “The Public Interest in Cultural Property” (1989) 77 Cal. L. Rev. 339.

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Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence
  • ISSN: 0841-8209
  • EISSN: 2056-4260
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-jurisprudence
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