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Author Topic: Cultural Gatekeepers  (Read 3194 times)

Yei

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #15 on: April 20, 2017, 06:37:16 pm »
Quote from: Chatelaine;205216
Granted, but you need, in turn, to acknowledge that, for each cultural setting with the baggage you cite, there's at least another that doesn't.

In the particular case, the interface between ancient Egyptians and Arabs is minimal, thanks to the Greco-Roman buffer between them, so I suspect that the misgivings have as much to do with (lack of) Arab ethnicity as (lack of) Islamic tradition, neither of which is really much of a thorny issue.

 
True. Just goes to show that context is everything.

Sorcha

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #16 on: April 21, 2017, 11:54:50 pm »
Quote from: troll maiden;198660
I just wanted to get these thoughts of my chest, and find out others' opinions on the matter. :)

 
My feeling (and it's just a feeling) is that anything done in private is probably at least harmless.

If you want to do rain dances to a Native American spirit you picked up a postcard print of and you're the only one there, no harm no foul. You probably looked like a fool, but that's it.

If you go out there and start telling people that you perform rain dances to Postcard Spirit, you're now on shaky ground.

If you start *inviting people* to your Postcard Spirit Rain Dance, you're now being problematic. The more official the action, the more official knowledge you need. If you really like this Spirit, the best thing to do would be to start learning from the culture, humbly and respectfully, what they're willing to teach you, when they're willing to teach it.

I also think that those *not in a culture* need to be careful about acting as self-appointed gatekeepers to the culture. I've had people get offended on my behalf over something that wasn't actually an issue, and it was intensely annoying because I had to jump in and correct the situation because an innocent person was being lambasted for something totally inoffensive. Nobody likes to be told that their misguided attempts at white-knighting are actually unnecessary.

Gatekeeping by third parties, in its own way, can actually be as problematic as appropriation if done badly. It can also give the impression that a culture or group is far more closed or sensitive or easily offended than it actually is, which has the effect of causing people not to listen to them when there is an actual issue that needs addressing.


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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2017, 09:52:16 am »
Quote from: Sorcha;205315
My feeling (and it's just a feeling) is that anything done in private is probably at least harmless.

If you want to do rain dances to a Native American spirit you picked up a postcard print of and you're the only one there, no harm no foul. You probably looked like a fool, but that's it.

If you go out there and start telling people that you perform rain dances to Postcard Spirit, you're now on shaky ground.

If you start *inviting people* to your Postcard Spirit Rain Dance, you're now being problematic. The more official the action, the more official knowledge you need. If you really like this Spirit, the best thing to do would be to start learning from the culture, humbly and respectfully, what they're willing to teach you, when they're willing to teach it.


Very good points.
 
Quote from: Sorcha;205315
I also think that those *not in a culture* need to be careful about acting as self-appointed gatekeepers to the culture. I've had people get offended on my behalf over something that wasn't actually an issue, and it was intensely annoying because I had to jump in and correct the situation because an innocent person was being lambasted for something totally inoffensive. Nobody likes to be told that their misguided attempts at white-knighting are actually unnecessary.

Gatekeeping by third parties, in its own way, can actually be as problematic as appropriation if done badly. It can also give the impression that a culture or group is far more closed or sensitive or easily offended than it actually is, which has the effect of causing people not to listen to them when there is an actual issue that needs addressing.


That's why I made the comment I did about "MYOB" unless someone was specifically asking for advice. In My Opinion the personalities, human and otherwise, connected to a specific belief system are a better judge of whether that tradition is being abused than any outside onlooker.
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Sorcha

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #18 on: April 22, 2017, 03:43:42 pm »
Quote from: ehbowen;205335
Very good points.
 


That's why I made the comment I did about "MYOB" unless someone was specifically asking for advice. In My Opinion the personalities, human and otherwise, connected to a specific belief system are a better judge of whether that tradition is being abused than any outside onlooker.

 
Yup. I love (and by love I mean hate) people speaking for me when I'm literally standing right there.

I mean, if I see something truly atrocious I definitely speak up as, being a white person, I have the privilege of being taken more seriously than a POC (although as a woman I face the joys of being accused of being "disrespectful" because I won't roll over and just agree with any random man in existence). But I try to make sure I'm relaying actual words and opinions of people being treated unfairly and clearing space for their voices to be heard, not speaking for them when they're right there to speak for themselves.


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CaptainJaneway

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #19 on: May 12, 2017, 04:44:25 pm »
Quote from: Beryl;198664
An example - Kabbalah. In Judaism, this is SERIOUS business, and should only be undertaken by someone who would be considered an expert in Torah [which doesn't just mean the five books recorded in a Torah scroll, it includes all of the Tenach, the Talmud, Mishnah, etc. Essentially, an expert in all we know of a few millennia of Jewish thought and debate] - traditionally over 40 (and male), both of which criteria imply almost three decades of study (a 40 year old male Jew who hadn't actually been pretty much full time studying Torah would not be likely to be seen as a good candidate for Kabbalistic learning). In Paganism, well, pretty much anyone who's read certain books on Tarot probably thinks they know a whole lot about Kabbalah.

 
I'm trying to understand this, but I have a question, and it's really this: so?

I mean, yes, it's clearly serious business to Jewish people - but does that really mean that people from other faiths can't have an interest in the Qabala, and use it for their own spiritual enrichment?  I mean, what, specifically, is wrong with that?
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #20 on: May 12, 2017, 06:01:18 pm »
Quote from: CaptainJaneway;206016
I'm trying to understand this, but I have a question, and it's really this: so?

I'm not Beryl, but I think the problem with the example she cites is that for centuries the Jewish people have been persecuted, and not allowed to engage in their traditional religious practices. Including Kabbalah. So yeah, seeing every RavenAmber McPagan getting treated as an authority on Kabbalah when it's not and never has been fully accessible to the very people who INVENTED it...that's gonna be annoying.

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« Last Edit: May 12, 2017, 06:02:23 pm by Redfaery »
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #21 on: May 12, 2017, 06:50:30 pm »
Quote from: CaptainJaneway;206016
I'm trying to understand this, but I have a question, and it's really this: so?

I mean, yes, it's clearly serious business to Jewish people - but does that really mean that people from other faiths can't have an interest in the Qabala, and use it for their own spiritual enrichment?  I mean, what, specifically, is wrong with that?

 
Firstly, I should point out that Kabbalah =! Qabala. As far as I've observed Q-spellings tend to have much more to do with Christian mysticism and Western Ceremonial Magic -- which, while obviously influenced by authentic Lurianic Kabbalah, has developed into its own system. Kabbalah, however, in the context of authentic Jewish mysticism is not for Gentiles to fuck with. It varies from denomination to denomination (Beryl's description tends to be true for Orthodox Judaism, but other denominations tend to be looser on the subject) but here's the thing: we invented it and therefore only we get to define it. Kabbalah is wholly Jewish; lock, stock, and barrel. And so just as non-Muslims don't get to define Hanbali fiqh, Gentiles don't get to define Kabbalah. And if someone, based on their -- necessarily cursory, unless they're a very serious Torah scholar -- knowledge of Lurianic Kabbalah decides to take what they know and use it to inform their own spiritual practice, then that's great! If they decide to build an entire spiritual or religious philosophy off of their cursory knowledge of Kabbalah, then that's great too! Yaaaaaaay religious diversity! But, claiming that the Kabbalah-inspired or Kabbalah-influenced thing you invented Is Real And Authentic Kabbalah is garbage; and I think Beryl's issue stems from the fact that Moonface Paganstar tends to do the latter -- rather than be honest about the differences.
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CaptainJaneway

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #22 on: May 14, 2017, 06:26:10 pm »
Quote from: Castus;206020
Firstly, I should point out that Kabbalah =! Qabala. As far as I've observed Q-spellings tend to have much more to do with Christian mysticism and Western Ceremonial Magic -- which, while obviously influenced by authentic Lurianic Kabbalah, has developed into its own system.

Ahh, I didn't know that - thank you.

Quote
And if someone, based on their -- necessarily cursory, unless they're a very serious Torah scholar -- knowledge of Lurianic Kabbalah decides to take what they know and use it to inform their own spiritual practice, then that's great! If they decide to build an entire spiritual or religious philosophy off of their cursory knowledge of Kabbalah, then that's great too! Yaaaaaaay religious diversity! But, claiming that the Kabbalah-inspired or Kabbalah-influenced thing you invented Is Real And Authentic Kabbalah is garbage; and I think Beryl's issue stems from the fact that Moonface Paganstar tends to do the latter -- rather than be honest about the differences.

Now that makes sense.  Thank you.  So, if it enriches your own practice/spirituality, it's okay to use it as inspiration, as long as you don't claim to have invented it?  And, ideally, if point to where it originates?  

If you wouldn't mind answering another of my questions...  Out of curiosity, what do you think of this book as far as you can tell, if you haven't read it?  I'm currently reading it, it's super interesting, and it doesn't claim to have invented the Kabbalah (if that's the right spelling for me to use in this context; I'm not 100% sure).  I'm just wondering whether or not this book might fall into the category of cultural appropriation, and, if so, why?
« Last Edit: May 14, 2017, 06:27:51 pm by CaptainJaneway »
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Beryl

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #23 on: May 16, 2017, 03:47:14 am »
Quote from: CaptainJaneway;206016
I'm trying to understand this, but I have a question, and it's really this: so?

I mean, yes, it's clearly serious business to Jewish people - but does that really mean that people from other faiths can't have an interest in the Qabala, and use it for their own spiritual enrichment?  I mean, what, specifically, is wrong with that?


Well, because for a start, as I said, it's built on a foundation of intensive, lifelong Torah study and immersion in Jewish culture. It'd be a bit like if you picked up a book on conversational Japanese, having only ever spoken European languages, and then tried to write a deeply meaningful novel in Japanese. You might have fun, might learn something about yourself (such as: that you're a bit overly ambitious - like the time I tried to write a piece of homework for my sixth or so week of Irish classes that I would have had a bit of a tough time with in Italian after two years of intensive study), but you probably wouldn't be writing very good Japanese, and your novel would probably not make a whole lot of sense, let alone get across what you were trying to say.

Beryl

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #24 on: May 16, 2017, 03:52:14 am »
Quote from: Beryl;206106
Well, (snip)

 
Whoops, sorry, just woke up and completely missed the third page of replies! Yes, what everyone else said.

As far as that book goes... Erm. Hard to say without reading it, but it looks a bit iffy. Does it have any sort of a section on what Qabala *is* (i.e. a Hermetic esoteric tradition with roots in, well, stuff appropriated from Jewish Kabbalah, mixed up with astrological stuff, Egyptian and Greco-Roman influences, etc Wiki Page on HQ for more info) and how it developed?

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #25 on: May 26, 2017, 02:17:49 am »
Gatekeeping by third parties, in its own way, can actually be as problematic as appropriation if done badly. It can also give the impression that a culture or group is far more closed or sensitive or easily offended than it actually is....

::nods::  Yep, this.  There's also the question of whether the culture needs or even wants the self-appointed border patrol. 

Slightly different context here, but I'm reminded of the recent 'appropriation' charge thrown at those two Portland ladies with their handmade tortillas.  Hell, I'm Mexican, but if I want handmade tortillas, I have to go to the panaderia down the street.  But I wondered, since so many people were offended, whether I should be too.  Turns out I'm not.  Go ahead and appropriate the tortillas.  We're Mexican.  We'll make more.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2017, 02:20:04 am by MadZealot »
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #26 on: May 26, 2017, 02:29:29 am »
::nods::  Yep, this.  There's also the question of whether the culture needs or even wants the self-appointed border patrol. 

Slightly different context here, but I'm reminded of the recent 'appropriation' charge thrown at those two Portland ladies with their handmade tortillas.  Hell, I'm Mexican, but if I want handmade tortillas, I have to go to the panaderia down the street.  But I wondered, since so many people were offended, whether I should be too.  Turns out I'm not.  Go ahead and appropriate the tortillas.  We're Mexican.  We'll make more.

In fairness, white people talking about how they've totally learned all the secrets of $CULTUREs food and now they're opening a food truck in Portland (with the implied "so don't bother eating at the six million hole in the wall restaurants and food trucks owned by POC") is a legitimate and ongoing problem with Portland Food Culture and those ladies aren't making tortillas in a vacuum. I mean, presumably they're making them in a tortilla press, but you know what I mean.

Which I guess makes it a metaphor for the larger discussion because individual acts become appropriative in a larger context when they're individually largely harmless and it gets all murky and hard to sort out.

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #27 on: May 31, 2017, 06:52:48 pm »
In fairness, white people talking about how they've totally learned all the secrets of $CULTUREs food and now they're opening a food truck in Portland (with the implied "so don't bother eating at the six million hole in the wall restaurants and food trucks owned by POC") is a legitimate and ongoing problem with Portland Food Culture and those ladies aren't making tortillas in a vacuum. I mean, presumably they're making them in a tortilla press, but you know what I mean.

Which I guess makes it a metaphor for the larger discussion because individual acts become appropriative in a larger context when they're individually largely harmless and it gets all murky and hard to sort out.

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This is something I've been thinking about over the last few weeks. I think the best way to examine the issue is to think of it in terms of copyright. Cultural traits are the copyrighted property of the culture that produced them. However, we know that copyright can be very dodgy, and artists and creators don't always hold the copyright to their own work. Instead, these intellectual and creative properties often end up in the hands of corporations. Thus, the people who actually creators don't get to control how their work is represented, or any material benefit for it. This is how cultural appropriation works, and why it only applies on some cases and not in others. For example, it is difficult to appropriate Japanese Culture (though not necessarily impossible), because Japan had a strong economy and the ability to produce and control its own media representation and cultural 'products'. It can allow others to view, even adapt, certain cultural traits, safe in the knowledge that its economy will not suffer, and that if any problems develop they have a political voice strong enough to address the problem.

On the other hand, many indigenous groups don't have these protections. They have weak economies, and a very limited ability to control their own media representation and to control their cultural products. This can lead to serious consequences. First of all, it means that these cultures have difficulty representing themselves on their own terms. Others get to tell 3rd parties what they believe and how they act. And often, it is easy to present a misinformed opinion, or flat out lie. We can see this in how Native American cultures have traditionally been depicted in history texts and other places, especially before the 1980s. It can also mean that potential benefits from these cultural traits (such as art and clothing) does not go to the people who created it. If companies 'steal' these cultural products, using their reach and power, can shut out the original creators. Since such communities are often poor, this could be a huge economic blow. For example, some Maya weaver groups in Guatemala are very worried about US corporations stealing their designs, then suing them for producing their traditional cloth.

We would not accept the morality of stealing ideas between intellectuals. Cultural appropriation is basically the same thing.

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #28 on: June 01, 2017, 03:57:17 pm »
This is something I've been thinking about over the last few weeks. I think the best way to examine the issue is to think of it in terms of copyright. Cultural traits are the copyrighted property of the culture that produced them.

This is not how copyright works. Copyright (at least for countries who are signatory to the Berne Convention which is the major international treaty about copyright) is about materials that are in some kind of fixed form - ideas and expressions of ideas don't count if they're not fixed.

There is actually a fair bit of discussion in copyright theory about what copyright theory refers to as 'traditional knowledge', which is the term for this kind of cultural material that isn't in a form that can be covered by copyright.

(lecture 10 from the Harvard Law CopyX class, which I took this spring, talks about it a bit. In general cultural theory speaks to this and similar issues better than many of the other underlying theories about copyright and how we should shape it.)

Quote
However, we know that copyright can be very dodgy, and artists and creators don't always hold the copyright to their own work. Instead, these intellectual and creative properties often end up in the hands of corporations. Thus, the people who actually creators don't get to control how their work is represented, or any material benefit for it.


Dodgy is not precisely the word I'd use: copyright is a tremendously complex body of law, with a lot of weird little eddies, a lot of the details decided by individual (and often not entirely consistent) court decisions from a wide range of different courts (and legal systems!) and it's been trying desperately (and often not necessarily successfully) to keep up with huge changes in technology that affect content, methods of creating a fixed form, copying and distribution of copyrighted works, and much more.

Likewise, yes, in many cases artists and creators sign over their copyright to others, but this doesn't just randomly happen.

There are certainly ways it can be handled manipulatively or without real informed consent of the consequences, but one of the things we talked about a lot in class is whether the law should act paternalistically (by assuming that artists and creators aren't capable of making their own decisions about their legal agreements) or not, and on average, 'not' is probably a better place to start, while looking at ways to fix some of the nastier ways it can go wrong for artists, creators, and their heirs.

But again, this does not cover traditional knowledge (in the copyright sense), nor materials that have been used by a culture for an extended period of time (for US law, anything before 1923 is almost certainly in the public domain at this point.)

There are certainly some discussions on how to look at intellectual and cultural properties from indigenous communities, but some of the possible remedies are also complicated. (For example, copyright has a thing called compulsory licenses. They happen in music recordings very often, where once a composer grants a license for one performance to be made and recorded, they then can't block other people from making a recording of that particular song. They can only have a compulsory license, which pays them a government-fixed rate (usually X cents per copy, multiple per number of copies) for the use.)

There are places this might work for some kinds of traditional knowledge materials (like, say, putting a cultural design on a t-shirt), and places it wouldn't work at all. For example, I can easily see a community being okay with X company who is known to / from the community doing that, but not being okay with Y community (that is solely out for profit and not connected to the community or culture). Copyright doesn't have really good structures for that right now, based on existent case law.

Quote
If companies 'steal' these cultural products, using their reach and power, can shut out the original creators. Since such communities are often poor, this could be a huge economic blow. For example, some Maya weaver groups in Guatemala are very worried about US corporations stealing their designs, then suing them for producing their traditional cloth.

The good news is that international copyright cases are a complete pain in the neck. That said, I can definitely see where this fear comes from.

However, good documentation about traditional patterns and practices can go a long way to demonstrate that something is what's called a scene-a-faire in copyright (which is basically the term for anything that is so commonly and widely used that it doesn't count as a unique copyrightable thing.) A superhero having a Nifty Gadget, for example, though a specific instance and design of a nifty gadget could be copyrightable. Wikipedia references some of the notable cases with examples. The copyright issues dealing with *clothing* in particular, have traditionally been a bit different, but there's a recent case (decided earlier this spring) that may be changing some of that. However, the same case would imply that using similar textile design elements would not necessarily be copyrightable by the corporation, either.

Documentation from within a community, and collecting resources from other things (if there have been academics familiar with the community, artists from other places, etc.), demonstration that patterns have been in used for a long period of time, etc. would all be supporting material.
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #29 on: June 01, 2017, 06:11:03 pm »
This is not how copyright works. Copyright (at least for countries who are signatory to the Berne Convention which is the major international treaty about copyright) is about materials that are in some kind of fixed form - ideas and expressions of ideas don't count if they're not fixed.

There is actually a fair bit of discussion in copyright theory about what copyright theory refers to as 'traditional knowledge', which is the term for this kind of cultural material that isn't in a form that can be covered by copyright.

(lecture 10 from the Harvard Law CopyX class, which I took this spring, talks about it a bit. In general cultural theory speaks to this and similar issues better than many of the other underlying theories about copyright and how we should shape it.)

I think you misunderstood me. I wasn't saying that the issue was literally copyright law. Only that some of the basic concepts (not the advanced theory) can be used to understand why cultural appropriation can be a problem. Especially when explaining it to someone who is unfamiliar with the subject.

I probably should have put scare-quotes around the word "copyrighted" to make that clearer.


Quote
Likewise, yes, in many cases artists and creators sign over their copyright to others, but this doesn't just randomly happen.

I don't recall saying that it was random. The point is, people who own copyright, did not necessarily create the thing that they own.

Quote
But again, this does not cover traditional knowledge (in the copyright sense), nor materials that have been used by a culture for an extended period of time (for US law, anything before 1923 is almost certainly in the public domain at this point.)

Aren't there some issues around the ownership of Amazonian medicine?

Quote
There are certainly some discussions on how to look at intellectual and cultural properties from indigenous communities, but some of the possible remedies are also complicated. (For example, copyright has a thing called compulsory licenses. They happen in music recordings very often, where once a composer grants a license for one performance to be made and recorded, they then can't block other people from making a recording of that particular song. They can only have a compulsory license, which pays them a government-fixed rate (usually X cents per copy, multiple per number of copies) for the use.)

There are places this might work for some kinds of traditional knowledge materials (like, say, putting a cultural design on a t-shirt), and places it wouldn't work at all. For example, I can easily see a community being okay with X company who is known to / from the community doing that, but not being okay with Y community (that is solely out for profit and not connected to the community or culture). Copyright doesn't have really good structures for that right now, based on existent case law.


This is sort of what I was getting at. I know it may not be copyright in the strictest sense, but it does involve similar concepts of ownership, licensing, etc. that can be used to understand why Cultural appropriation can be an issue.

Quote
The good news is that international copyright cases are a complete pain in the neck. That said, I can definitely see where this fear comes from.

However, good documentation about traditional patterns and practices can go a long way to demonstrate that something is what's called a scene-a-faire in copyright (which is basically the term for anything that is so commonly and widely used that it doesn't count as a unique copyrightable thing.) A superhero having a Nifty Gadget, for example, though a specific instance and design of a nifty gadget could be copyrightable. Wikipedia references some of the notable cases with examples. The copyright issues dealing with *clothing* in particular, have traditionally been a bit different, but there's a recent case (decided earlier this spring) that may be changing some of that. However, the same case would imply that using similar textile design elements would not necessarily be copyrightable by the corporation, either.

Documentation from within a community, and collecting resources from other things (if there have been academics familiar with the community, artists from other places, etc.), demonstration that patterns have been in used for a long period of time, etc. would all be supporting material.

I guess it depends on how much you trust the courts. I know that not all courts are on the level. Especially when corporations are involved.

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