Video: Cultural Appropriation in Neopagan and New Age Religions: A Conversation with Sabina Magliocco

December 14, 2021
A conversation with Sabina Magliocco took place on Dec. 1.

Please join Giovanna Parmigiani (HDS) for a panel discussion on the phenomenon of cultural appropriation in modern Paganism and the New Age movement. Sabina Magliocco (University of British Columbia), along with HDS students, will explore this theme and its ethical dimensions with reference to contemporary examples.“Cultural Appropriation in Neopagan and New Age Religions: A Conversation with Sabina Magliocco” is part of the CSWR’s new initiative, “Transcendence and Transformation.”

Sabina Magliocco is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the interdisciplinary program in the Study of Religion at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. A recipient of Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities, SSHRC, Fulbright, and Hewlett fellowships, and an honorary Fellow of the American Folklore Society, she has published on religion, folklore, foodways, festival and witchcraft in Europe and North America, and is a leading authority on the modern Pagan movement. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including The Two Madonnas: the Politics of Festival in a Sardinian Community (1993, 2005), Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America (2004), Neopagan Sacred Art & Altars: Making Things Whole (2001), and with filmmaker John M. Bishop produced the documentary film series “Oss Tales,” on a May Day custom in Cornwall and its reclamation by American Pagans. Her current research is on nature and animals in the spiritual imagination.




SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Cultural Appropriation in Neopagan and New Age Religions. A conversation with Sabina Magliocco. December 1, 2021.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: My name is Giovanna Parmigiani, and I am the host of the series organized within the Transcendence and Transformation Initiative of the CSWR here at HDS. All [INAUDIBLE] events are recorded. Those of you who are interested in watching our previous events can do so through the CSWR YouTube channel.

Today, I have the great pleasure to be in conversation with Professor Sabina Magliocco and three HDS students, Rebeccah, Quinn and Peyton, who I will introduce you shortly on the topic of cultural appropriation in contemporary pagan and new age contexts. This is an extremely important conversation and one that is not often explicitly addressed in academic settings for a wider public.

It is also quite a complex conversation. And while today, we won't be able to address all the complexities involved in this topic. I'm confident that we'll be able to offer some basic coordinates so to speak to navigate issues of cultural appropriation as we encounter them in our lives. Mostly following the best communicative practices of respect, listening and being together, we hope to model the type of relational exchange that should always accompany these and many more types of conversations.

So I'm honored today to introduce you to our guest, Sabina Magliocco. She's Professor of anthropology and chair of the interdisciplinary program in the study of religion at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships and an honorary Fellow of the American Folklore Society, she has published on religion, folklore, foodways, festival, and witchcraft in Europe and North America, and is a leading authority on the modern Pagan movement.

She's the author of numerous books and articles, including The Two Madonnas, The Politics of Festival in a Sardinian Community and Witching Culture, Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America, among many others. Welcome, Sabina. Thank you for being here.

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Thank you so much for inviting me, Giovanna. It's a pleasure to be here with all of you this morning.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you very much. And today, I have the pleasure to share this conversation space with three HDS students. Quinn Parker Matos is an HDS student in the MTS program. He studies the role of ritual in alternative and traditional medical practices with specific focus on African-Afro diasporic and Indigenous American traditions. And he's also working towards becoming a physician. Thank you, Quinn, for being here and welcome.


GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Rebeccah Santa Ana Stromberg is a scholar practitioner. A third-year Master of Divinity students. She studies embodiment and healing practices cross-culturally with a special attention to ritual healing and relational practices. Her inquiry is at the intersection of ritual, healing, creativity, and relationships. Thank you, Rebeccah, for being here and welcome.

REBECCAH SANTA ANA STROMBERG: Thank you. It's good to be here. Thanks.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: And finally, Peyton Eldridge White. He's from East Tennessee where he completed his bachelor's degree in social linguistics and religion at the University of Tennessee. He is currently in his second year of the Masters of Divinity program at HDS where he focuses on Modern Paganism and Rastafari, and more broadly marginalized religions intersections with language, art, and power through narrative and storytelling. Thank you, Peyton, for being here and welcome.

PEYTON ELDRIDGE WHITE: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: So thank you all. And please, Sabina, the virtual floor is yours.

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Thank you so much for that very generous introduction, Giovanna. I'm going to go ahead and share screen with all of you briefly. I've prepared a short introduction about culture and cultural appropriation just to make sure that all of us, both those of us who are discussing and I know that you probably will be very familiar with what I'm going to say. But especially, our audience members who are tuning in online are familiar with this concept and understand some of the bases on which we are going to be constructing our discussion.

So I'm going to just go ahead and share screen and briefly talk about cultural appropriation. The concept I'm going to talk a little bit about its history. And then in our discussion not on the PowerPoint, but in our discussion, we will be addressing issue and challenges with this concept and with the practices of cultural appropriation today. So in order to talk about cultural appropriation and make sure that we're all on the same page, I think we need to begin by defining culture.

I am firmly in the camp of symbolic anthropology in the way that I define culture, although, I also understand it as an adaptation to the surrounding climate and geography. But for the purpose of this discussion, culture is a complex system of knowledge, symbols, meanings, practices, and beliefs that characterizes a specific group of people in a specific time and place.

And we all need to understand that cultures are not homogeneous that they change over time and place and that different practitioners of cultures even in the same time and at the same place have different concepts about what their culture actually is. So cultures are never homogeneous. Cultures secondly is learned. It is not biologically inherited, and this is a very important distinction.

We gain our access to culture. We gain our right to practice a certain culture by learning that culture through a process called acculturation. We don't gain it through genetics. And this is something that I see a lot in discussions on popular media. I see people who get their DNA tests back and it turns out that they have x DNA and then they decide, well, now, I have a right to practice x culture. Maybe not, maybe not. Culture is learned. Culture is learned and this is how we have access to culture. And many of us have access to more than one culture.

So for example, both Giovanna and I are immigrants and we grew up with one culture and then moved to another culture and learned a second culture. And now I'm three times an immigrant because I've now also acculturated or I'm in the process of the acculturating to Canadian culture. So you can practice a number of different cultures, but the way you do that is through migration.

Culture is not the same as race or ethnicity. This should be obvious if culture is learned. It is something that we have to practice in order to have access to, and we can be of any race or ethnicity and belong to any culture as long as we have grown up in it or migrated to it or lived in it for a long enough period of time to acculturate. So my friend's sister June, who was adopted by her parents as an infant from Korea grew up in the United States. June's culture is American, not Korean.

Finally, culture is constantly changing in response to a variety of factors, including contact with other cultures. There's no such thing as a culture that is uninfluenced by other cultures. And this is really important to keep in mind as we talk about appropriation. Not every instance of cultural transfer of cultural hybridity is an example of cultural appropriation. And as we will see the concept of appropriation itself is very, very recent.

Now cultures have been spreading for a very long time. They are not now and have never been bounded, isolated, or homogeneous. So from the time that human beings have had culture and probably even earlier because we see that other primates are capable of having culture. Culture has been diffusing, it has been spreading. Culture spreads through trade when two groups exchanged with each other.

It spreads through migration. For example, when groups migrate either through voluntary migration such as Giovanna and I immigrated or through forced migration, for example, enslavement or forced relocation. Culture also spreads through conquest. When the Roman Empire diffused throughout the Mediterranean, it brought certain cultural forms, including linguistic forms with it, as it conquered the people who were around the Mediterranean and the Near East and in other parts of Europe. So that is how we have-- that is how we have romance languages through the spread of Latin, which was achieved through conquest.

And finally, today culture spreads through global flows. Global flows is Arjun Appadurai's way-- anthropologist Arjun Appadurai's way of talking about things like travel, global travel, media and the internet, which allow culture to migrate in ways that don't involve personal contact between people.

And this is where the rubber begins to meet the road, because in earlier eras culture always spread through contact with other people, whether it was voluntary or involuntary. But today, you can get on the internet learn a lot of things, sometimes not-- sometimes incorrect things about another culture. And you have this feeling that you're quite familiar with it even though you've never had any contact with that culture in person at all.

Now, I want to talk very briefly about types of cultural influence when two cultures come into contact. There is a process called cultural diffusion in which cultural elements of one group pass to another. And there are different ways that that diffusion can take place. Sometimes it's just through cultural contact. Culture A makes pottery in a particular way, culture B sees that pottery, likes it, buys some of it, and then potters from culture B decide, we can maybe try to make this design as well, OK, cultural diffusion.

Acculturation is culture change that occurs under conditions of close contact between two societies where the weaker group tends to acquire cultural elements of the dominant group. And again, we see this with migration where the migrants must adapt to the dominant culture and learn the language and the cultural practices of the dominant culture and often adapt things like foodways and music and ritual practices and so forth to those of the dominant culture.

Finally, there is syncretism. Syncretism is a process of cultural change in which traits and elements from one culture are given new meanings and functions when they're adopted by another culture. And we see this, for example, in the practice of Afro-Carribean religions, especially Vodou and Santeria where African spirits which came to the Caribbean with people who were brought there against their will. Continued to be worked with, continued to be worshipped, continue to be embodied, but under the cover, under the guise of Catholic Saints.

One of the excuses that colonizers used to justify enslavement of other human beings was that they were converting them forcibly to Christianity, and therefore saving their souls. The enslaved African people were forcibly converted. But many of them adopted a [INAUDIBLE] of Christianity as a mirror of Catholicism and continued to work with their [INAUDIBLE] with their spirits.

And so here, for example, on the left-- on the right-hand side of your screen, the left-hand image is the [INAUDIBLE] of Elegua or a Legba, an African spirit brought to the new world who then was syncretized-- became syncretized with the Catholic Saint Anthony. So Saint Anthony in Vodou is understood as a Legba. And you see that this is a syncretism where the Catholic Saint is now understood in a new way as it is adopted into Haitian Creole culture.

All right. Now that we know what culture is and we understand how cultural elements diffuse, let's talk about cultural appropriation and some assumptions around this term. Cultural appropriation is the unauthorized use of cultural material from a subordinate culture by members of the dominant culture. What does this mean? It means that cultural appropriation is always about power.

If I go to your house and you make me dinner and I say, man, this recipe is terrific, what is it? And you say, well, it was my grandmother's recipe. She was Czech and I can teach you how to make it. That's not cultural appropriation, OK? If I then make your grandmother's recipe, that's not cultural appropriation because we are coming at it from the point of view of equals. And there is contact between the two of us and authorization to transfer that piece of culture.

If on the other hand there is a relationship of unequal power between the two-- between the borrowing entity and the entity that is being borrowed from, that's when you begin to be able to talk about appropriation. Now some assumptions that go with appropriation. The first is that culture is a commodity that can be owned, objectified, exchanged, and imitated. Notice that this is a rather new assumption. It's an assumption that is part of capitalism.

At capitalism, one of the things that capitalism does is it commodifies culture. Culture is now a commodity where you can buy cultural food. You can buy objects that suggest that you are a part of a particular culture in terms of your identity. You can buy symbols of that cultural identity. You can buy admission to events that purport to transmit cultural knowledge. All of that did not characterize cultural exchanges before the advent of consumer capitalism.

So cultural appropriation, the notion of cultural appropriation is itself rooted in consumer capitalism and in a Western notion that culture can be owned. That it is an object a commodity that can be owned. The second assumption in cultural appropriation is that the unauthorized use of cultural material deprives its owners of rights and benefits or harms them in other irreparable ways.

So the unauthorized use of someone else's culture either takes something away from them, which is rightfully theirs or harms them, for example, by promulgating harmful stereotypes, negative stereotypes. Finally, intercultural relationship-- cultural appropriation is this whole notion is rooted in intercultural relationships that are based on colonialism and its consequences, or in any case in unequal power relationships as we saw in the example that I discussed above.

Cultural appropriation is always about power and it is not just about the transfer of cultures or the enjoyment of one culture by another culture. What is the history of this term? The history of this term is actually quite recent. It emerged as part of the post-colonial critique of anthropology in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the first anthropologists to write about the issues of cultural appropriation was Kenneth Couts-Smith, who called it in 1976 cultural colonialism.

He didn't use the word appropriation but use the word colonialism for the use, the adoption and the commodification of certain cultural elements by Western culture. Cultural elements that belonged to subdominant cultures. In the case of Couts-Smith, he was talking about Indigenous cultures of the Americas. So the use of Indigenous cultures of the Americans by the dominant culture for the purposes of commodification.

This idea, of course, was immediately picked up by First Nations and Indigenous scholars in North America because of the history of misuse of First Nations Indigenous cultural elements by the dominant culture. An article written in 2000 called "Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sundances, New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality." Lisa Aldred discussed exactly the use of, for example, sun dance rituals and sweat lodge rituals in the new age by people who were not traditional practitioners and not members of Native American First Nations Indigenous or Métis nations.

George Lipsitz, cultural scholar George Lipsitz. Someone who studies music and other forms of expressive culture in 2003 talked about strategic anti-essentialism. He talked about the same thing, the borrowing by the dominant culture of in his case, he was talking about musical elements from marginalized cultures. So the adoption, for example, of hip-hop from urban Black culture. Urban Black North American culture by white musicians is an example of strategic anti-essentialism where musicians are adopt-- white musicians adopt this style in order to position themselves in a particular way.

And let's discuss the risks of strategic anti-essentialism and the way that it can deprive subdominant communities, in this case, the African-American urban community of authenticity of authority of control over their own cultural forms. But you could see it as entirely negative. Lipsitz sees cultural exchange as something that can also be fruitful and beneficial in some cases.

Finally, cultural appropriation becomes a legal term. And with the 2005 publication by Susan Scafaldi of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. And this is a legal text, a legal book that discusses the legal implications of cultural appropriation through a series of case laws. Now, notice that all of these uses from the late 1970s all the way to the early 2000s are mostly confined to academic culture, right? These are articles and books that are published in academic journals by academic presses. So the discussion of cultural appropriation is very prominent in the Academy, I would say from the 1990s onwards.

But it doesn't really erupt into the public sphere until about 2010. And in 2010, it begins to emerge as part of the popular discourse. And you can see this through this graphic on the right-hand part of your screen which tracks mentions of the word cultural appropriation on the internet. You see it begins in January 2004 when this was already-- cultural appropriation was already very much being discussed in academic circles. But it's barely a blip on the internet.

And then around 2011, you begin to see a rise in interest and then it really peaks here in the late 20-teens. So right now cultural appropriation is a very hot topic on the internet, on message boards, on social media, on college and University campuses all over North America and in other parts of the world as well. So this answer is in part of one of Quinn's questions for me, which is what is the history of the term? If any of the panelists have any questions about what I've covered so far, this would be a good time to share them.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you for this brief and very informative introduction. Yeah, I should open the floor, I think to questions from us and from the students. Yes, Quinn maybe.

QUINN PARKER MATOS: Yeah, thank you first of all for being with us, Dr. Magliocco. Thank you for the presentation as well. I was wondering how you see the language of appropriation used both in popular culture-- spaces of popular culture and in neopagan spaces?

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Thanks, Quinn, for that really good question. So what I see from-- basically, my interaction with people on the internet and on college campuses, University campuses is that there is much more awareness of the issues of cultural appropriation now than there was say 10 or 12 years ago. And the interest or the discussion of these things in neo-paganism has paralleled their entrance into a kind of more popular cultural milieu.

I would say that right now, both in neo-paganism and in popular culture, there is a-- how can I put this? The way that this has gone, the way that this is going is that there's an increasing application of the term cultural appropriation to almost any instance of cross-cultural exchange. So for example, I see a lot of call outs on social media, on college campuses. And some of these call outs about you're culturally appropriating some of these are in fact appropriate and others not so much.

So for example, I see some confusion between forms of cultural appropriation that actually damage members of the subdominant culture whose culture is being appropriated and other ones that do not. So for example, is going to an ethnic restaurant, is that appropriating culture? There's a new Thai restaurant at the end of our street. If I go there, am I appropriating Thai culture? I see some people calling out others for appropriating culture if they have any kind of contact with a culture that is not theirs.

And unfortunately, because of this idea that any kind of cultural exchange that goes outside of your own culture is cultural appropriation. What I see also is an increasing conflation of race and ethnicity with culture, and an increasing interest in racially and culturally segregated spiritualities. And that is actually something that worries me a great deal, because along with this concern over misappropriating over appropriating elements of culture that belong to groups whose culture should not be borrowed or appropriated or used.

I also see a growing fear of doing that and a counter reaction of pushback that has resulted in interest in blood and soil kinds of arguments in modern paganism. By blood and soil arguments, I mean, arguments that base spirituality on one's connection to a particular racial or ethnic group. And its alleged right to a nation state, right? Its alleged connection to a contemporary nation state.

And that this often-- this trend, first of all often conflates ethnicity race and culture, something which is problematic. And secondly, constructs identity based on 19th century notions of nation states and what those are. And those are very recent. I mean, this is a problem generally, right? Like, even those DNA tests that you take that come back.

Their notions of what your DNA is are all based on contemporary nation states with little awareness that those nation states are extremely recent constructs. Sometimes only 75 or 80 years old since the end of World War II and redrawing of national boundaries in Europe. Whereas, in fact, those are of rather recent construction and don't at all reflect these movements of people and cultures and trade networks and so forth that have long existed, and that have been responsible for the transfer of culture.

So yeah, those are some of the ways that I see this going. I don't think that it's coincidental that the growing interest in-- that the growing I would say congruence between paganism and white nationalist movements has come after the explosion of discourses of cultural appropriation onto the North American cultural scene. I think that those two things go hand in hand.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you very much. If I can jump in, we have been discussing these sort of topics a lot in my magic wars on the three of you and the other students who are maybe attending this can recognize some of the issues that we covered. Although, I have to say I always said to my students that I am still looking for more on this particular topic in the field of contemporary paganism and new age spirituality.

Yes, I need to be the one who keeps track of the time. So I think we should move ahead maybe with you, Rebeccah, and then Quinn if you want to jump in, please feel free to do that, OK, if you have other questions.

REBECCAH SANTA ANA STROMBERG: Thank you so much. So my set of questions is really around relationships. And so I'm going to maybe ask a few questions and then maybe we can kind of see where they go and maybe some follow ups. But I'm really-- my question is, like, what is the role of relationships within cultural appropriation? And also, how do we navigate distinctions between cultural appropriation and other kinds of cultural exchange like appreciation or borrowing, like, you've indicated like some that not all forms of cultural exchange our cultural appropriation. So how do we navigate these kind of distinctions?

And kind of, yeah, like, even what markers, what would you use to distinguish between the different types of cultural exchange? And then kind because of where is their simplicity, where is their complexity kind of, yeah-- so those are kind of my set of questions around the nature of relationships and distinguishing between types of cultural exchange.

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Rebeccah, these are really, really important questions. So I want to thank you for putting them on the table. And I don't have an easy answer for you. There is no simplicity here, there is only complexity. So in general, I would say that if cultural practitioners are in a relationship with one another, it's more difficult to argue cultural appropriation. And the closer and more equal that relationship is, the more likely the exchange is one of intercultural borrowing acculturation or exchange than cultural appropriation.

So I'm going to give you an example. Obviously, if you are part of a family that practices certain traditions because you marry into that family or your partner is in that family. And let's say that you learn to make a dish from your parent in law that is your spouse's favorite dish, and it is a dish that belongs to that family and that family's particular ethnic tradition. And you learn to make it from your parent in law because it is your spouse's favorite dish. There is a very close relationship there. You cannot talk about cultural appropriation.

It doesn't really matter if the two groups are in a power relationship to one another. For example, if your spouse's family is an immigrant family and you are a member of a settler colonial group, or if your spouse's family is an Indigenous family and you are a member of a settler colonial group. The closeness of that relationship trumps it. And the fact that your parent in law says, I'm going to teach you how to make this dish because my child really loves it. That's not cultural appropriation. OK, that's cultural exchange. But we can move further away.

Let's look, for example, at the adoption of African-American or African derived hairstyles by white. Generally, I would say that's cultural appropriation. However, when I was in my teens-- well, my in my upper teens and in university, I worked at a summer camp and we worked with disadvantaged children who would come to the summer camp for a week and we would teach them about nature.

So one particular summer, the girls in my cabin-- these were African-American girls who were from the inner city. The girls in my cabin decided that they were going to style my hair. They said, Ms. Bina, we're going to style your hair. And my hair was much longer at the time, right? You couldn't do it with my hair right now. They braided my hair, OK, in what would be called cornrows today. Is that cultural appropriation?

I would argue that because I didn't ask for that hairstyle. I allowed the girls to play with my hair because this was kind of a bonding experience and they wanted to do it, and they put this style in my hair. I would argue that that's not cultural appropriation. Why? Because A, there's consent on the part of the people who are-- they're the ones who are choosing to mess with my hair, OK? And they're the ones who are giving me a hairstyle that comes from their tradition. They're doing to my hair what they do to one another's hair. It's a bonding thing.

And secondly, there's a closeness there, right? These are girls who were in my cabin for a week or two that particular summer. And so we had a relationship of exchange. Now, would I be comfortable with that today? This was 1970, whatever. '78, probably, 1978, 1979. Today, I would not be comfortable with that. I would say, kids, you know what, maybe not. Or maybe you can style my hair, but then I'm going to take it out, right? I wouldn't be comfortable with that.

And to tell the truth, that hairstyle didn't last long in my hair because my hair is very fine and curly and doesn't have-- it doesn't hold that hairstyle for a very long time. So after a few days, it was gone. But today, I would be much more sensitive about that because it can look like cultural appropriation, even though in that instance it wasn't cultural appropriation.

But if-- I don't know, my hairstylist down the street decides that now they're going to be doing cornrows for anybody who walks in for a price. That becomes cultural appropriation. Why? Because there's no relationship there. Because it's a hairstylist run by settler colonials selling an African-American hairstyle to other settler colonials with absolutely no relationship there whatsoever.

So I would argue that it isn't the thing. It isn't that cornrows on a white girl are-- that's cultural appropriation. But that you have to look at every instance of relationship to understand what is going on in that particular case. So you asked, how do we navigate the distinction between cultural appropriation and appreciation? What do we look for to distinguish between these two types of cultural exchange?

And I would answer with more questions. I would answer that we have to know, we have to understand what is the nature of the relationship between and among participants in the exchange. And what are the power dynamics between the parties, both historical power dynamics and contemporary ones? Is there consent to use the cultural form? And is there an invitation to use the cultural form?

So if you are, for example, invited to a religious service that is not your own and you participate in that religious or spiritual service, that's never cultural appropriation. Why? Because you are being invited as an outsider to participate in it. And so then, it is polite if you are as a guest. As a guest, you participate. You don't sit in the back like this. [LAUGHS] If the people are clapping, you clap. If the people are singing, you join and singing. If the people are praying, you might bow your head if you don't belong to that particular spiritual tradition, but you show respect through your participation. So that's never appropriation.

But then if you take elements of that service and you bring them to your spiritual practice without discussing it with the people who invited you, or if you take those elements and you then market them as authentic examples of extradition, then you are engaging in cultural appropriation because there's no consent there. There's no invitation. And without consent or invitation, it's not appreciation anymore. Are the people who are putting the tradition out there, are they selling it? OK. Are they selling it? If they're selling it, it's not cultural appropriation, OK?

So the great Muskingum artist Bill Reid right here in Vancouver sells his artwork, which is eye-poppingly amazing in some of the highest end art galleries in the city. And people from all backgrounds go in there, and if they can afford it purchase these magnificent works of art. Are they culturally appropriating Muskingum culture? No. Why? Because Bill Reid is a great artist, and he's put his artwork out there in these galleries for people to purchase. And if people want to purchase them, they can purchase them. That is the invitation, right?

If we say, no, only Muskingum people can buy Bill Reid's work. We're essentially curtailing the ability of Indigenous artists to support themselves as any other artist does. But the less you have those elements that I talked about, a close relationship between and among participants. Power dynamics that are relatively not exploitative consent and invitation. The less you have those, the more you veer towards potential cultural appropriation.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you, Sabina. If I can jump in with-- I don't know if it's a question or consideration while holding all these questions in each and every time when we approach issues potentially going in direction of cultural appropriation. I also noticed that sometimes for the fear of making mistakes, we tend not to engage with connections with other people, other cultures or traditions.

And yes, if I don't know whether it's a question or not or you notice this. I think it's a pity sometimes. I mean, I would risk to make mistakes and say I'm sorry and take responsibility of the consequences because to me, it's part of being in a relationship, right? What do you think?

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: I completely agree with you. I mean, when we don't engage when we refuse to engage with people who are different from us, we cut ourselves off first of all from the richness of human existence. We limit ourselves thinking that we can only understand people who are exactly like us. And we narrow our scope of understanding by doing that and actually contribute to the siloing of traditions, which I think is quite damaging.

I mean, if you think of-- if you think of the rich traditions of, for example, food, music, and magic. Food, music, and magic are the cultural forms that transfer most easily. Why? Because they're nonverbal, and they can cross language barriers. If I go to the farmer's market and I see an ingredient for sale that I'm not familiar with, I will always ask the farmer, the person selling them, what is this and how do you prepare it? And I want to learn from that person.

Again, they're selling it. This is not a bounded thing that the person is saying, no, this is only for a group. They're selling it. I want to know how do you prepare this, and we learn from each other, right? Or if I see an ingredient that I know very well and I buy it, I still ask how do you prepare it and then I say, well, we prepare it like this, you know?

In my tradition, we dipped zucchini blossoms in-- little bit of flour and a little bit of club soda, salt, and pepper and you make a [INAUDIBLE] batter, a light batter. You dip the zucchini blossoms in, and then you fry it in hot oil. Don't use olive oil, you need to use peanut or canola oil. You need to use a neutral oil with very high smoke temperature for that. Fry it until golden brown. It is absolutely delicious. Anyway, never mind. I'm going off on a tangent. Yeah.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHS] No, thank you so much. Do you have any other questions, Rebeccah, Quinn, Peyton on this particular topic of relationships and what Sabrina just said? No, not really? Should we move on to-- you have question, Peyton? Thank you.

PEYTON ELDRIDGE WHITE: Yeah, I'm happy to. Thank you so much, Professor Magliocco, for all your thoughts so far. As Professor Parmigiani mentioned earlier, I'm really interested in stories and in conversations of cultural appropriation. We often focus on the stuff on the items on the aesthetics the things that we see in touch. But I'm quite interested in a lot of the cultural products, if you will, to use that sort of liberalized word. A lot of the cultural products that groups create our stories and our ideas that are sometimes embodied and sometimes written down. But often they are spoken and they are transmitted that way.

So I'm interested, I guess in my question is loosely forming around the idea of what are the nuances there? What might it mean to appropriate stories? How is that related to the commodification of telling stories or the commodification of putting a story into the world? Yeah, I guess, we'll just jump off from that.

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Thank you, Peyton. I love this question because, of course, as a folklorist ideal largely with oral forms of culture or at least I did until we suddenly had electronic forms of culture. So stories are really important because they are the ways that we have traditionally as human beings diffused our knowledge, our cultural values. It's one of the ways that we ask questions about the nature of reality. At the same time stories and knowledge can be seen as forms of intellectual property, particularly in a context in which storytelling can be commodified.

So for example, now we have the commodification of storytelling. We have paid storytellers who are paid to tell stories in particular contexts. And so the story stops being something that I share with you because I want to warn you about something or make you laugh or ask a question about what was that weird thing. And it becomes something that can be performed and that can be commodified. And that where the storyteller can be rewarded financially for the performance of a particular story.

And so, again, we see that same process that characterizes tangible cultural property begin to apply to intangible forms of cultural property. I think that one of the things that we want to keep in mind is that in some communities stories are the property of certain families or kin groups. They're not the-- this isn't a commodified notion, this is rooted in oral cultures. And for example, in many of the Coast Salish people of the Pacific Coast here where I live, certain clans or moieties own particular stories.

These are generally sacred stories of their origins. And those stories may not be told by outsiders and often may not be heard by outsiders either. They are only for consumption within that particular kin group. But this construction isn't unique to First Nations peoples. So for example, the folklorist Linda Dégh, who worked in Hungary with Hungarian peasants noted that certain folk tales ran in families. They were thought to belong to a family.

And the great narrator, [INAUDIBLE], whom they studied for decades, was a well-known storyteller exactly because she inherited from her father and her brother all of the stories in her family. And so they were her stories to tell. In the Hungarian community, however, the storyteller had-- well, in all communities. Storytellers have quite a bit of leeway to adapt that story. And so among the [INAUDIBLE] whom they studied, for example, a storyteller could take elements motifs from another person's story and weave them into one of her own family's stories or one of his own family's stories. Both genders told folk tales in that community.

So the idea that folk tales belong to a group is not new. It is not new. So who has the right to share certain kinds of stories? Obviously, if those stories are secret or bounded as some of these sacred narratives are among the Coast Salish people, then people outside that bounded community can't tell them. And we see the same thing with historiolas. Giovanna will be familiar with this type of storytelling. It is part of the charming tradition in Europe, and specifically in Italy. In which certain charms, certain healing charms are recited and they tell a story.

So for example, a charm from Calabria to purge worms, to remove worms from a person essentially tells the story of Christ casting out demons during the Holy Week. These stories are generally, these cures, these charms, folk charms are also generally bounded. They cannot be passed on. The power to heal and the story with it cannot be passed on to another person except to a family member usually on Christmas Eve during the midnight mass.

So there, again, you're dealing with a bounded tradition and the boundaries around it are really, really clear. But some of that is shifting. So for example, I recently learned that there are Facebook groups where Italian folk healers who practice these cures are now sharing certain charms and rituals with non-family members online through social media. So you know, that's-- well, that blew my mind completely. But again, we see that they're making a choice to change the boundaries around that tradition.

There's consent, there's intent to share, there's an online ritual that has been developed to transmit those charms. And the people who are doing it are doing it knowing what they're doing, knowing what's happening with those bounded storytelling traditions. I think where we get into trouble is when that sharing once again, is done without a relationship, without consent, without a real understanding of where that story comes from.

And then, I think that we might be looking at forms of cultural appropriation. But again, I think we have to look very carefully at the context. What's the relationship between the people in the exchange? And what is the relationship between commodification and the telling of stories? So are these stories becoming commodified? Are they being told for pay? Are they in publications such as books or novels? Because once they become published, then they fall under the purview of copyright laws. And the copyright belongs, not even to the storyteller, the person writing them down, but to the publisher.

So the control and the ability to profit from that story has escaped the original community. It doesn't even belong to the storyteller, the person who is telling the story anymore that it belongs to a big publishing company. And that could potentially deprive a subdominant group of the right to their own culture of the right to control what happens to their culture, and of the benefits that come as a result of that publication.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Yes, and I think I need to jump in here as a fellow anthropologist and ethnographer. How have you witnessed scholars complicity of where avoidance of cultural appropriation? Sometimes it's very difficult for us who end up doing ethnography living the life with people sharing things that are meaningful to be shared. And we, of course, have to go through ethics review and all the same and all the rest, but I sometimes feel I should not write about this. Even if technically I could, I should not write about something. How do you navigate this? It's more of a curiosity of mine.

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Well, of course, as someone who has studied mystery traditions because Wicca is a mystery tradition, at least British traditional Wicca as it was practiced in Coventry [INAUDIBLE] in the 1990s. And as they still practice it is a mystery tradition. And there are practices and rituals that are secret and bounded. And so even though I participated in these and could write, for example, autoethnography about them. I also as part of my initiations have sworn oath not to reveal them except to people who are properly prepared.

And because I don't know whether members of my reading audience are properly prepared and they're probably not, meaning ready for initiation. There are certain things that I have chosen not to write about because it would violate an oath that I took, right? And it could potentially hurt the community. Quite honestly, I think the real harms that could come to that community are not great.

Nonetheless, I have to respect the oath that I swore, and I have to respect my promises to that community because what could a human being am I if I don't respect the promises that I make? I mean, what the [LAUGHS] heck is [INAUDIBLE], right? What the heck? I think that we can also look at instances in which ethnographers have violated those boundaries. So one of the best known instances of that is the ethnomusicologist, Alan Lomax and his commodification of the blues played by African-American blues player, Lead Belly.

So Alan Lomax discovered in a sense Lead Belly in Mississippi when he was doing field work during the Great Depression. And he encouraged Lead Belly to record his-- he recorded Lead Belly's blues and encouraged Lead Belly to do this. But then, Lomax sold those recordings and ended up profiting and holding the copyright to those recordings and profiting from the recordings that he sold. It wasn't Lead Belly, who held that copyright, it was Lomax and then the recording company.

Now, to be fair, the Lomax family has now made all of Lomax's recordings publicly available as free downloads on a website. So there is no more profit. You know, they've tried to give back to the community and undo the harms that Lomax originally did to Lead Belly and other African-American blues players, blues singers and players during the 1930s. So they've tried to give back and right that wrong.

But I mean, it's a classic example of poor field work ethics that I discuss in my own methodology classes, in which as you say the anthropologist, the folklorist, the collector, the ethnomusicologist is complicit in cultural appropriation.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I think it's time to wrap up. This was just an intro to the complexities of cultural appropriation. I'm sure all of us have many more questions, and please feel free to email them to me or to Professor Magliocco. Thank you, Sabina, for being with us. Thank you, Rebecca, Quinn, Peyton, for sharing the space with me. Thank you all for your participation. A wonderful conversation. And thanks to the audience as well for having been with us.

Please stay tuned on the activities of the CSWR, the Transcendence and Transformation Initiative and [INAUDIBLE], of course. You can find all this information on this CSWR website. The next [INAUDIBLE] event will be one week from now. So next Wednesday with Professor [INAUDIBLE] are we going to have a conversation on conspirituality. So please join us, and thanks again and have a lovely rest of your day. Bye-bye.

SABINA MAGLIOCCO: Thank you, Giovanna. Thank you all, Peyton, Rebeccah, and Quinn. It's been a pleasure. Bye now.


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