Reappropriation


Reappropriation

Reappropriation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims—re-appropriates—terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group. For example, since the early 1970s, much terminology referring to homosexuality—such as "gay", "queer" and (to a lesser extent) "faggot"—has been reappropriated. Another example of reappropriation would be an African American collecting lawn jockeys or other artifacts of darky iconography. The term "reappropriation" can also extend to counter-hegemonic re-purposing, such as citizens with no formal authority seizing unused public or private land for community use.

The term "reappropriation" is an extension of the term "appropriation" or "cultural appropriation" used in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies to describe the hegemonic action of reabsorbing subcultural styles and forms, or those from other cultures, into mass culture through a process of commodification: the mass-marketing of alternate lifestyles, practices, and artifacts.

Linguistic reappropriation

There are many recent English-language examples of linguistic reappropriation in the areas of human sexuality, gender roles, sexual orientation, etc. Among these are:

* "bitch"
* "butch", in a Lesbian context
* "cunt". The earliest citable example of reappropriation of this word is remarkably early: the Wife of Bath in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales: "For certeyn, olde dotard, by youre leve, / Ye shul have queynte right y-nough at eve" ("queynte" being a Middle English spelling of "cunt").
* "dyke", and such variants as "bulldyke", "diesel dyke", "baby dyke", or "femme dyke"
* "faggot" or "fag"
* "queer"
* "slut" and, to a lesser extent, "slag"

In some cases, this reappropriation is so successful as to turn a previously disparaging word into the preferred term: for example, "gay", previously an insult, is now strongly preferred to "homosexual", both as an adjective and a noun.

To a lesser extent, and more controversially among the groups referred to, the same has happened with many racial and ethnic terms:

* "heeb" and (to a lesser extent) "kike" as terms for Jews
* "nigger" as a term for African Americans
* "redneck" as a term for rural people (and, to some extent, others) from the Southern United States
* "flip" as a term used by Filipino Americans

Artist Kara Walker has attempted to reappropriate the word Negress.

Similarly, physically handicapped people have reappropriated "crip", "cripple" and "gimp".

However, the phenomenon is much older, especially in politics. Yankee is one example of an epithet reappropriated as self-identification: Tory (orig. from Middle Irish word for 'pursued man' "Tóraidhe" ) and Whig (from 'whiggamore' (See the Whiggamore Raid)) are British examples. The Dutch and German languages actually have a separate word for such a term, " [http://nl.wikipedia.com/wiki/Geuzennaam geuzennaam] " (Dutch, commonly used) and " [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geusenwort Geusenwort] " (German, used among linguists). These words derive from the geuzen, i.e., Dutch opponents to Spanish rule in the 16th century, who eventually created the Netherlands under William of Orange. Being derisively called 'beggars' ('gueux' in French of the era) by their opponents, they appropriated a Dutchified form of the word as their own 'battle name'.

Recontextualization of material objects

A closely related phenomenon is the recontextualization of material objects, as for example when the anti-racist Jim Crow Museum [http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/] at Ferris State University displays such Jim Crow Era artifacts as golliwog marbles or Sambo masks. Another such example would be the display of an anti-Semitic poster in a Holocaust museum.

Reappropriation of land, etc.

While the previous examples are largely symbolic, another type of reappropriation is far more material, while still also involving an important symbolic dimension. The many battles over People's Park in Berkeley, California have centered on community activists' intent to reappropriate as public space a piece of land that the University of California, Berkeley originally wanted to turn into a parking lot. The space has been a site of contention since 1969.

ee also

*Reclaiming — a term with a similar meaning


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