Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

How do we define cultural appropriation?

Is there any objective definition of cultural appropriation? How can we have a productive discussion without one? Read ours here.
From a birds-eye view, a kayaker in a blue kayak with white trim moves through a mass of undulating underwater kelp. Pockets of turquoise, tropical blue water peek out from beneath the kelp.

Many people express varying levels of outrage and apathy about cultural appropriation.

It can seem difficult to categorise what counts as appropriation and appreciation. Many people oppose the concept of appropriation, equating it with the natural diffusion of cultures over time.

That is a false equivalence.

Cultures do naturally integrate, trade, borrow, influence each other or, yes, even steal.

Cultural appropriation is just one method of diffusion, but all diffusion is not appropriation.

It can be argued that cultural appropriation does not exist. However, arguing that cultural appropriation does not exist because cultural diffusion does is equivalent to saying heroin doesn’t exist because poppies do.

That false equivalence makes it extremely difficult to have cogent conversations about cultural appropriation – definitions vary wildly.

It’s easier for those arguing against its existence to make it seem like rigid arguments about cultural sensitivity are the same as nuanced ones.

Therefore, before we continue, we must define the terms we will use throughout this course.

This article is from the free online

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education