Fangirl Saves the World

just who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

Posts Tagged ‘globalization

domestication and appropriation

with one comment

So we had to read this article,* and the author talked about “domestication” of foreign products: of taking a thing, stripping it of it’s original meaning, and repackaging it in a way that fits the local (in this case, Japanese) culture. (Unlike “appropriation,” which I will get to in a minute, “domestication” was given a positive spin.) Take engagement rings, for example: they’re a Western idea that’s been adopted into Japanese culture, but with some of the original† meaning (e.g., romanticism) lost and the engagement rings placed in the specifically Japanese context of yuinouhin, which is basically a dowry given to the bride’s family. The diamond ring was added to the list of “things that a dowry is supposed to include.”

But, uh, isn’t that appropriation? If I were to, say, start selling kimono as this “neat thing foreigners do (and I can make money off of) so you should do if you want to seem really classy,” people would be pretty pissed off. I’d be appropriating someone else’s culture; taking the material object, stripping it of meaning and context, and replacing my own cultural values onto that thing.

So when is it “domestication” and when is it “appropriation”? Is it “domestication” because Japan has historically been subject to the West’s power, so adopting Western things for their own use, without the original Western meanings, is somehow a radical subversion of cultural appropriation of their own culture by the West? (Can there be anything radical or subversive about buying into Western culture? Can it be said that Japan actively imports the West, rather than the West actively exporting to Japan?) Is it still “domestication” (and not “appropriation”) if one Western country takes an object from another Western country? from Japan? from China? from India? from Brazil? from Rwanda? When does it become one and not the other? How do we tell the difference between domestication/appropriation and cultural imperialism? (That is, when is one culture actively importing another, and when is one culture actively (or even forcibly) exporting its own?)

I’d like to hear all of your thoughts, because I’m really not sure about any of this.


*”Introduction: Domesticating the West,” by Joseph J. Tobin (book unknown, we weren’t given that information, but I can find it out if anyone wants to know)
†okay, without getting into the history of engagement rings, let’s go with “the meaning engagement rings had around the time that the idea was introduced to Japan”

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Written by Fangirl

November 4, 2009 at 11:27 am