Cultural appropriation is the concept dealing with the adoption of characteristics of members of one culture by another one. In business, it is treated as a violation of intellectual property and may be grounds for litigation.

Cultural appropriation as theft

  • On one side, cultural appropriation is considered as detrimental to originality and seen more like “misappropriation” of values or ideas without proper credit or compensation. As an example, “borrowing” ideas without credit is usual in sectors such as fashion, where profit is more important than cultural heritages and legacies.

 Cultural appropriation as innovation

  • On the other side, there is the interpretation of cultural appropriation of simply diving into a poll of knowledge and values that is common to humankind and which inspires new products. It is strictly related to freedom of expression as the possibility to enrich an existing culture through different new interpretations that might be used to shape a new product or service.
  • Appropriation should not be seen as “theft” as it applies to culture, which is not a finite object, but a fluid concept that may be continuously changed.
  • Knowledge may be used as a factor of production, thus serving its purpose in different environments without diminishing its utility in either context.
  • Product of globalization: as there is a more increased cross-cultural exchange between different nations and ethnicities, it has an impact on intercultural appropriation leading to elements being more easily accessible from one culture to the other.

Solutions to cultural appropriation

  • Research: whether some notions are specific to a culture may be a matter of interpretation or of doing a proper research before using it.
  • Credit: the simple solution to the criticism is to admit and give credit when there are elements which are not original, but inspired from different cultural heritages.
  • Appreciation: when using elements of a different culture, it is not sufficient to give credit to the source, but also acknowledge its value and reevaluate possible negative stereotypes related to the original culture.
  • Setting limits: it may not be sufficient to acknowledge cultural appropriation, but also set limits as to its use. For example, certain artefacts that are considered sacred elements by a culture should not be used as a fashion item.
  • Compensation: an advanced solution was to treat cultural appropriation as an exchange for which the source is rightfully compensated with royalties.

Although cultural appropriation is still seen under a negative connotation, there are solutions advanced as to convert the notion into a cultural exchange or innovation.