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Diffusionism, Appropriation, and Globalization.

Some Remarks on Current Debates in

Author(s): Hans Peter Hahn
Source: Anthropos, Bd. 103, H. 1. (2008), pp. 191-202
Published by: Anthropos Institut
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H anthropos
1 Tl 103.2008: 191-202

Diffusionism, Appropriat
Some Remarks on Current Deb

Hans Peter Hahn

Abstract. - Diffusionism is a long-standing theoretical prising

issue degree of similarity.1 The obvious resem-
in anthropology. The current research on globalization blances
often are based on the perception of the globe
shows astonishing similarities between the 19th century un-
as being the overarching frame for far-reaching,
derstanding of diffusion and the most recent interpretations
manifest, and complex relations. Discernible dif-
regarding globally circulating cultural phenomena. These par-
ferences mainly concern the topics represented on
allels indicate the impact of global influences on local cultures.
Instead of adopting a macro perspective that promotes a worldthe maps. Thus the particular attention of anthro-
map outlook, the author proposes a closer examination of pologists
local of culture history in the mid 19th to early
action in the context of global influences in order to avoid the centuries was directed towards "cultural com-
reemergence of the shortcomings that led to the termination of
plexes," referring to bundles of specific cultural
the 19th century approaches. The focus on the local perspective
through study of cultural appropriation appears to be an optimal thought to be in cooccurrence on several con-
tinents. World maps of globalization, by contrast,
way to understand the working of globalization on local levels.
[Theory of anthropology, history of anthropology, globalization,
show such topics as the flows of consumer goods,
the access to information, or the distribution of
Hans Peter Hahn, PhD, professor of anthropology withpolitical
spe- systems.
cial focus on Africa at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University of It
is fascinating to recognize how Frobenius
Frankfurt. - He carried out research on material culture, crafts,
meticulously drew on his maps the traces of the
and livelihoods in Togo and Burkina Faso and participated in
"cultural complexes," which had been previously
a joint research programme entitled "Local Action in Africa in
the Context of Global Influences" (SFB/FK 560, University defined
of by him. The worldwide distribution of the
Bayreuth), where he codirected a project on consumption,corresponding
cir- cultural traits was a core feature of
culation of global goods, and households in West Africa. his notion of Kulturkreise, and in such distant areas
- Re-
cent publications include "Materielle Kultur. Eine Einfhrung"
as Oceania and West Africa he observed parallels
(Berlin 2005), "Cultures of Migration. African Perspectives"
(coedited with G. Klute. Mnster 2007). - See also References material culture, indigenous law, and
Cited. mythology (1897, 1898). He was fully aware of
the fact that his "cultural complexes" could only
be conceptualized as flexible structures. Therefore,

1 The map 1 is taken from Frobenius (1898: map 20). Its
relevance for my argument is not so very much the specific
At a first glance, a comparison between the worldtopic (being related to the origin of the African cultures)
map showing the so-called "malajo-nigritic Kul- but merely the way of combining history and space. The
idea that chronology must be discernible in the spatial
turkreis" of Leo Frobenius (Map 1) and a recent configuration was a core feature of the new methodology
map representing the worldwide distribution of anyof culture history. It has been adopted by many colleagues
given consumer goods (Map 2) discloses a sur-at that time.

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192 Hans Peter Hahn

Map 1: Sketch of the wor

viusalize the methodology

he by the following example cultures

compared of a research proposal,
the made by Christoph Brumann
capacity to (1998), whoadap
by changing
cussed the possible research their
priorities for a "sec- G
ond phase of globalization."
theoretical framewo In this context he
some importance,
proposed a more empirically oriented application be
nificant of the term "ethnoscapes." Following Brumann,
history" an example
and for doing this would
the be a worldwide con
by Arjun Appadura
mapping of festivities and rituals related to Christ-
term in mas. As he proposes, researchers
order to should collectunde
of ethnicmuch information
groups, as possible on local Christmas re
over the traditions, and, in a second step,The
globe. draw a map re
patchwork, of this complex andorglobally distributed
the thoughts This research proposal might be ofregarded as some App
in the context of
kind of "missing link" between the perspectives of gl
as circulating culture history and globalization. This idea about
in different areas,
future research makes even clearer the far-reaching w
characteristics parallels between the two approaches. (whic
Gestalt). Bernhard Streck (2001), one of the first an-
These remarks make clear that the parallels thropologists to discuss these parallels between
reach far beyond their aforementioned visual qual- the culture-historical method and the perception of
ities. They transcend the level of similar metaphors globalization, labels these trends in globalization
of cultures as organisms or landscapes by linking discourse as "neo-diffusionism."3 He recognizes
the most remote parts of the world into a larger in the current debate about globally circulating
framework of exchange and mobility. The com- phenomena the chance to overcome the fallacies of
mon perspective implies furthermore the idea of the older diffusionism and, thereby, of the cultural-
the effortless transportation from any place in the
world to any other place. This becomes clearer
3 In his history of anthropology, Marvin Harris (1968: 379,
382 ff.) already classified the culture-historical approach as
2 The similarities between the psychoanalytical concept of part of the diffusionist perspectives in anthropology. At that
Gestalt and the idea of cultures, both of them being defined time, German anthropologists vividly refused the lumping
through specific configurations, has been underexplored so together of the different culture-historical theories (Raum
far. However, Weakland (1951) mentions that these two 1973). See for the relevance of diffusionism in German
concepts can be related to each other. anthropology also Lowie (1937) and Welz (2001).

Anthropos 103.2008

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Diffusionism, Appropriation, and Globalization 193

Map 2: World map showing "Global Flows of Dairy Products," adapted from <http://www.far
(01.08.2007). In the framework of Appadurai this is an example of his "landscapes" with part

historical methods of Frobenius and others. Al- the anthropologists for having picked up global-
though culture history had a high sensitivity for ization as a saving straw in a highly critical sit-
cultural connections covering large spatial areas, uation in the 1980s, when many scholars in the
one of its shortcomings was the neglect of more Humanities thought the subject of anthropology
would fade away with the disappearing of indige-
recent diffusions of cultural traits. In particular,
current phenomena of the second part of the 19th nous peoples and the emerging debate about the
century, such as the diffusion of the bicycle, the inequalities of representations. Her criticism is par-
steam engine, and complex social institutions of ticularly directed at the carelessness of switching
modern administration, might have been fruitful away from the discipline's self-reflection, which
fields of research. As a consequence of the evasionhad taken a certain momentum at that time in the
from the modern world, and of the retreat towards context of the debate following the publication of
older and distant phenomena, the potentials of the "Writing Culture" by James Clifford and George
method of culture history received little attention Marcus (1986). Instead of thoroughly discussing
among anthropologists later on. The atomistic per- the critical position towards anthropological meth-
spectives dominating social anthropology have not ods and the history of the discipline, anthropolo-
been able even to approach the topic of global gists preferred to turn to the new phenomena of
connections anyhow.4 globalization.
Seemingly, Leo Frobenius and the concept of As a matter of fact the anthropological turn
culture history had not been so totally wrong, toward the study of globalization was somehow
unconnected to previous issues and fields of re-
might be the conclusion in the light of the parallels
with recent globalization perspectives. This line ofsearch.6 Thus, within the limited scope of the
thought is worth further discussion and also con- history of anthropology in the years preceding
tributes to replying to some criticism against cur- the turn toward globalization, Tsing' s criticism is
rent trends in anthropology, as represented by An- justified. However, looking at the earlier history
na L. Tsing (2000), among others.5 Tsing blamesof anthropology, as I did at the beginning of this

4 Even in the realm of the atomistic paradigm, diffusion

continued to be a topic of anthropology, albeit on a much and Ferguson (1997a, 1997b), Burawoy depicts the deficits
smaller scale. Thus, Igor Kopytoff explored the diffusion of of any globalization approach which does not focus on the
cultures and societies in Africa on a regional cultural level local.
(1987:34). 6 In anthropological literature is still a discernible gap be-
5 See also Burawoy (2000), who also has a critical per- tween the booming topic of globalization research and
spective on the sudden emergence of the new topic of the reflection about the discipline's history, as blamed by
globalization. In contrast to the optimistic position of Gupta Godelier (2000) and others.

Anthropos 103.2008

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194 Hans Peter Hahn

article, showsAnthropological interest in that

globalization began a
terested in the 1980s asglobal
in a debate driven by an increasingcon
early as almost
awareness for new economic and cultural a cen
term ena. Although newspapers reported on the actions
Despite of global players and the global
these entanglements
not deepen of economies
the and societies, social anthropologists
discipline's did not yet have a proper disciplinary approach
history an
lined parallels to these phenomena. At thatfor time, the relation a c
current between anthropologists and the public perception
discuss someof globalization was comparable
concept to the story of
dealings the rabbit and the hedgehog.
with When anthropolo-
some detail the relevance of the term "cultural gists like Arjun Appadurai, Mike Featherstone, Ulf
Hannerz, and others introduced one after the other
appropriation" for a better understanding of global-
their new theories, the public was able to learn
ization. My hypothesis is that appropriation should
be adopted as a theoretical framework in anthropo-about the even newer phenomena and even more
astonishing worldwide links. Obviously, global-
logical globalization research in order to overcome
some of the current methodological shortcomings ization phenomena emerged much faster than
and to reorient research to a more thorough study the corresponding new interpretations from anthro-
of local societies. This claim is based on the ar- pology.
gument that cultural appropriation is not only aIdentifying anthropological approaches to glob-
functional tool explaining the link between the alization is furthermore complicated by the fact
worldwide distribution of cultural traits and its that there is a dominant understanding of global-
adoption or rejection. Reaching far beyond this ization as an economic or political term. Often it
level of understanding, appropriation may alsoremains unclear to what extent it also describes
open new horizons of innovation and resistance. social and cultural changes. Focussing globaliza-
tion on economies would result in a limited rel-
The aim of this contribution is, therefore, twofold:
evance of anthropological issues. Then, cultural
first, I will theorize the term "appropriation" in
order to show its theoretical potential; second,phenomena
I might be classified as "collateral ef-
will show the efficiency of the term when it fects"
is of globalization. Nevertheless, this perspec-
used for explaining phenomena of globalization intive is misleading and globalization has to be re-
the context of some examples. garded as having an impact of equal importance
on economic, social, and cultural aspects. It is
the first task of anthropologists engaging in the
Deficits of Current Debates on Globalization public debates to make this point as clear as possi-
ble: Cultures and societies are as much concerned
with globalization as it is the case for economies.
As my introductory remarks have shown, the use
Perhaps, globalization has escaped a convincing
of culture history as method and the current ideas
about globalization may be lumped together in theoretical framework from sociology and anthro-
the framework of diffusionist theories. Today,pology
as until now, just in cause of the extremely
in the 19th century, contact between societiesgreat diversity of significant observations related
and cultures and the diffusions of cultural traits to it.
are given a higher priority than cultural change. A good indicator for the incomplete or at least
The moving of cultures seems to be dominant, inconsistent theoretical explanation of globaliza-
independently of the question whether this is to tion is revealed by the fact that some important
be explained by stimulus diffusion or by the anthropologists, like Jonathan Friedman, take a
mobility of people.7 But, before proceeding to a highly critical attitude in the globalization debate
detailed critique of this overemphasis upon the and refuse to appreciate globalization as something
mobility of people and cultural traits, it might benew, or as being of any relevance beyond Waller-
useful to present some critical perspectives on thestein's world-system theory.8 Following Friedman
globalization debate.

8 Some historians and anthropologists distinguish between

7 The increasing mobility as a shared topic of 19th-century the long and the short concept of globalization. Whereas the
anthropology and in the domain of globalization is also to short concept sets the starting of globalization in the 1980s,
be seen as part of a new experience of the anthropologists the longer perspective sees a phase of globalization avant
themselves (Probst 2005). la lettre, dealing with globalization phenomena in the 19th

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Diffusionism, Appropriation, and Globalization 195

(2005), there is no reason to what explain

degree. Dominantthe current
arguments of the current
phenomena of globalization globalization
other debate
than are based
ason amobility,
peri- and
od of declining hegemonies. The
they are opening
fixed by the fascination ofof the
the metaphors
political power blocks after of 1989,
currents and theflows.increase
Decisive questions,
world trade and the intensification of the circula- whose treatment anthropologists would consider
tion of goods may be subsumed as an outcome of themselves as being experts, however, remain
the increasing disorientation. Following Friedman, open. These questions concern the agency at the
globalization is nothing new. Thus, he compares level of local societies as well as the cultural
the current phenomena of globalization with the change in those societies.
period of decline of the Roman Empire (2004).
With this statement, Friedman is - without making
it explicit or giving any references - astonishinglyThe Role of Appropriation for Understanding
close to late representatives of culture history likeGlobal Influences on Local Societies
Oswald Spengler (1919-22) or Arnold Toynbee
(1962).9 In this dilemma, it might be advisable to leave
It is not possible to discuss here whether Fried- for a moment the path of the nervous debates
man's position is justified or not, but I will use describing bewildering globalization and diffusion
his critical view of the current globalization debate phenomena. Instead of freezing our perspective
and refer to one of his arguments, because it is per- in the admiration of the novelties and the unex-
tinent for a better understanding of anthropology's pected, it seems to be more appropriate to switch
specific problems with the increasing circulation to the level of a more conceptual perspective. I
of goods and ideas. His argument starts with a will do this in reflecting about the relevance of
description of the Kwakiutl, an Indian tribe on the appropriation in the context of the new diffusionist
northwestern coast of America, famous for their paradigm and beyond. If the particular anthropo-
potlatch ritual. One day, the Kwakiutl began to logical specificity of focussing on the actors and
use sewing machines for this ritual and to destroy their view onto cultures shall be maintained, then
them instead of the formerly used copper plates. globalization should be linked to the concept of
Friedman's argument regarding this innovation is cultural appropriation, describing local perceptions
that local traditions will not change automatically of new cultural phenomena.11 The circulation of
just because of the arrival and the subsequent objects and things as such is of lesser importance,
integration of global goods in a ritual, as it is the regarding the question of how to understand cul-
case with the potlatch. turally meaningful actions in the context of glob-
What we learn from this argument is that the al influences. A closer look at appropriation will
description of the circulation of goods around the serve in the following as a reorientation away from
globe and their diffusion even to the groups which the dominance of the pure description of phenom-
anthropologists understand as "their own domain" ena of circulation (sewing machines among the
are not a reason yet to posit any essential change Kwakiutl) and toward a deeper understanding of
of those societies as such. As Friedman argues, meaningful local action in the context of global-
the recent usage of the sewing machine among ization.
the Kwakiutl may be described as a phenomenon "Making something to become one's own"
of globalization.10 But to understand the conse- describes - following Wilhelm Dilthey (1910) -
quences of this, we have to ask more exactly the fundamental idea of being confronted with
whether the society changes as such, and if so, to the "other." To enlarge one's own horizon and
to appropriate the formerly strange is one of the
central figures in the thinking of the 19th century,
century and even earlier (Robertson 2001; Osterhammel
in particular of hermeneutics
und Petersson 2003; Wimmer 2003). The precursor of these as a methodology
approaches is Immanuel Wallerstein and his concept about
of understanding. More than a half-century later,
"The Modern World-System" (1974).
Paul Ricoeur was one of the first philosophers to
9 Thus, Friedman implicitly confirms the parallels drawn in
the introductory section of this article.
10 The Indians engaged in potlatch were systematically 1in-
1 An early usage of appropriation in social sciences can be
terested in Western consumer goods, which they acquired found in the texts of de Certeau (1984). De Certeau sees the
through the fur trade reaching its peak through the 19threlevance of this term in the defeat of the power of large-
century (Masco 1995:51). Thus, the integration into the scale structures. He uses the idea of "appropriation" with
colonial world-system propelled the potlatch not only on the the intention to readjust the scientific perspective towards
level of the goods involved, but also in the social structurelocal action. For a further reflection about de Certeau 's
of competition through conspicuous gift-giving. notion of "everyday life," see Highmore (2000).

Anthropos 103.2008

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196 Hans Peter Hahn

problematize and
of the most biting criticism to
concerning the "steal-
priation, ing" of indigenous art and the commercializing
which had be
in the of non- Western
19th crafts as part of an exoticizing
practice in consumer societies basis
hermeneutical (Grewe 2006). This o
thereby, debate is about the illegitimate behaviorthe
proves of the
specific powerful to make use of other people's traditions,
meanings of
178) of their knowledge and
attaches aesthetics, as authors of
great im
contrast artistic
to or scientific
the work. They doolder
so without
tical asking the "true owners" of these cultural
perspective ofphe- a
meaning nomena,
by and benefitthe
from the windfall profits
thou from
(1960). Gadamer's
doing so.15 Such appropriations are a major issue, co
horizons" lamented
meansby advocates of indigenous peoples.
that A
foreign good deal of such conflicts end
things, up with very
horizon. precise arrangements about whichof
Instead cultural forms
of expression are subject to an
appropriation ethnic copyright
tum of and, therefore, fall under the "appropriation ban"
inevitably(Rowlands leads
2002). to a
tity.14 The In contrast to this, the understanding of appro-
priation in the context of the an
appropriating globalization debate
extent is oriented toward he
that the indigenous peoples,
or not as sh
control over its outcome. victims but as actors. In this perspective appropri-
This longstanding tradition in the Humanities ation is no longer regarded as the behavior of the
of theorizing "appropriation" as described so far powerful but merely as a particular strategy of the
is useful for the distinction between everydaypowerless. According to Michel de Certeau (1984)
and scientific understandings of this concept. The the powerless may use appropriation to undermine
more limited everyday usage of this term, which the power of the ruling people. Among others, Jean
sometimes also can be observed in anthropological and John Comaroff (1991, 1996) have elaborated
literature, can be misleading in the context of this point by explaining the modifications of West-
globalization theory. ern clothing by natives in South Africa. In this
This particular tradition of the term "appropri- discourse, appropriation is much praised because it
ation" also makes obvious the shared roots of two describes spaces of agency which do counter hege-
approaches, which today seem to be totally sepa-monies. Here, appropriation is understood also as
rated. The first of the two debates is situated in the an act of self-assertion and of resistance of local
context of a critical perspective towards Westernidentity against the colonial powers or postcolonial
thought and agency. In this context anthropologists elites.
are particularly exposed to sharp criticism of the The contradictions between the two debates
illegitimate intention to appropriate other cultures have become obvious. Although each of the two
by writing, drawing, or photographing. This debate perspectives is legitimate and well founded in its
has received growing attention from the 1970s particular historical and empirical domains, the
onwards, when indigenous rights became a topic of approaches to the term are quite different. In the
discussion. An outstanding book summarizing thisfirst debate appropriation is a matter of interpreta-
debate is the edited volume by Bruce Ziff, entitled: tion. This is linked to the hermeneutical under-
"Borrowed Power" (1997). The title reflects somestanding where anthropologists make something
become their own; they are the authors, and, cor-
respondingly, they claim a particular authority. In
12 Obviously, I have left out here some important 19th-century the second debate, acting and the prevailing power
thinkers who contributed eminently to the emergence of the relations are in the focus of the observation. The
concept of "cultural appropriation." In particular this is the
question in this debate is not about the individual
case for Karl Marx and his notion of appropriation as a
precondition of man's existence in the world. Even today author but merely about the spaces of agency in
Marx's argument is of relevance for applications of the term
"appropriation" (cf. Haug 1994; Cheah 2006).
13 Cf. Schneider (2003, 2006) for a closer discussion of 15 Beyond the usual claims about illegal usage of traditional
Ricoeur and hermeneutics in anthropology. forms and techniques (Pannell 1994; Todd 1992), also
14 This context is one of the reasons for the career of the the dissemination of rituals and religious practices has
term "identity" in social sciences and in anthropology been
(cf. criticized as "illegitimate appropriation" (Lsch 2003;
Jenkins 1996; Emcke 2000). Fisher 2004; Irvin 2005).

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Diffusionism, Appropriation, and Globalization 197

everyday life. Appropriation on This specific

the side capacity is an impor
of indige-
ment, but
nous people is something pragmatic, I think, it also contains
ic aspect.
unpredictable. The only possible Stemming
conclusion from from biology
looking at both debates is toand beingthe
enlarge imported
under- into anthropol
standing of appropriation so metaphors, hybridization
that it contains both and creol
meanings. Properly understood, mechanical
appropriation picture of local
sensitize the observer for the
for granted
to com-the readiness o
bine hermeneutic approaches towith
discuss and to integrate new cul
a perspective
on pragmatic actions. ena.17 This mechanical picture obf
important questions: Is it really so th
untarily agree to integrate the new
Readjusting the Globalization Debate through
conditions global influences are ad
the Appropriation Approach formed, or rejected?
Within the limited framework of h
and creolization,
In the light of this broader understanding the acceptance of
of appro-
priation, the role of this term local societies
in the becomes a kind of "n
discourse becomes somehow possibility
clearer. As of already
rejection, which was
mentioned, this term is a tool inapplied
to the par-some decades ago,
ticular anthropological methodology of (Spittler
focussing 2002). Neither t
on the local. Thus, the concept the represents
question as an al-
to why such transfo
ternative to the dominance of and whose
the flow interests are linked to t
criticized at the beginning of are part
this of these
article. concepts. My crit
At the
is akin to the
same time it explicates the resistance and position
self- of Marshall
assertion of the local in spite whoof also
the criticizes
increasing the assumption o
global influences (Probst andadoption
Spittler or transformation of Wes
Appropriation is neither the cultural
first norphenomena.
the only Following Sah
that no society
tentative of establishing alternatives can escape global in
to the domi-
nant flow metaphors. The terms be regarded as an illegitimate form
of hybridization
and creolization, which currentlyizing specifically
receive a con- Western thought
this approach,
siderable popularity in the Humanities, anthropology
also claim should f
to offer alternatives to flow answering
metaphors questions
and the about continui
without (Hahn
dystopia of cultural homogenization prefabricated
2004c). models.18
Both had been introduced a decade The concept
ago and of appropriation is
resent a particular position in aptthe
to deal with such questions wit
debate, which underlines the assumptions.
vitality of localAppropriation
cul- orients
cal contextsof
tures.16 Following the core arguments and protagonists, who
terms, the phenomenon of culturala certain cultural element is pick
induced by the diffusion of formed, and will
global norms, become a feature
and technologies is inevitably society - or
complemented The concept of
the emergence of new cultural constitutes
mixtures. aIn way of understanding
hybridization and creolization cesses, which
manage stress durability and
to explain
the present-day cultural diversity without denying an attempt to
meaning. It offers
the reality of globalization. In well processes
particular, which are as differe
in anthro-
pological essays they are often used because they and rejection. Appro
seem to direct the focus of observation toward the
creativity of local societies.
17 According to Charles Stewart (1999:4
"porosity" of cultures which constitutes
lematic bias of these terms. This applies to
16 Each of the terms has been discussed largelyas
hybridization in social
well as to syncretization.
18 huge
sciences in the last years. Out of the Anthropology
corpus of should
books not limit its scienti
and published articles it is worth to that those
name at least globalization has an imp
who introduced the term in the current
According ItStrathern
was Ulf (1995: 165) every lo
Hannerz (1987) who introduced creolization, and Homi
to have a globalizing self-understanding.
Bhabha (1994) who is most influential whentherefore,
should, people discuss
be particular sensitive fo
of see
the term "hybridization." For this term local specificities,
also Jan Pieterse which often exis
Nederveen (1995). noticed.

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198 Hans Peter Hahn

ages Appropriation
this task and Innovation asby
Processes lo
agency of Interpretation
and theand Improvisationstren
fore, tradition and t
tions As both case
must be studies show, improvisation is of
too. great relevance during the process of appropria-
Furthermore, how is it possible to regard tradi- tion. As a matter of fact, improvisation describes
tion as part or even result of the process of cul- an area neglected by anthropology so far. Impro-
tural appropriation? This question is related to thevisation stipulates the fact that people act without
experience of interpreting empirical research oncontrolling entirely the outcome of their action,
global influences in Africa.19 A closer look at theand that the result of the acting may be only of
integration of global goods reveals several fieldslimited or temporary value. Typically, improvisa-
of agency linked to this process. Without consti-tion has to do with actions which have a clear
tuting subsequent stages, these fields or aspects ofintention, but do not have a very well-defined
appropriation are helpful to structure the empiricresult. Improvisation - as appropriation, too - can
findings. Although no appropriation process covers be understood as a hermeneutical process, insofar
all aspects, the initial phase (acquisition) and theas the actor is searching for the right mode of
result (tradition) are necessary elements. acting or dealing with an object, until he will be
Thus, the initial phase of cultural appropria- able to master the new thing. This is the key to
tion can be contact, acquisition, or adoption. Fur-relate both terms to each other: a more thorough
ther modes are begging, lending, or even stealing,understanding of appropriation combines the act-
as described drastically in the literature (Nelsoning (improvisation) with the reinterpretation and
2003). At this stage, actively controlling the pro-reinvention. In this way it becomes possible to
cess is a prerequisite. The next stage constitutes combine the two discursive traditions of the term
what is meant by the term "appropriation" proper- "appropriation" mentioned above.
ly, and it describes the different fields of agency Thus, tradition, which has been placed at the
which may, but do not need to be present in theirend of appropriation, does not contradict innova-
totality. The intention of these acts is the transfor-tion. On the contrary, contextualization frequent-
mation or redefinition of the appropriated cultural ly consists in redefining a worldwide distributed
element. The transformation does require some cultural element as something new and in stress-
preconditions and has particular the difference compared with the very same
One of the conditions is what I call the "obstinacy" element in other societies. A good example for
or "autonomy of rules and properties." This applies this comes from my already mentioned research
to material objects, which depend on particular on bicycles in West Africa, which focused on
technologies, as well as social institutions andthe acting of bicycle users, on their creativity
religions, which require well-defined normativeand their capacity for improvisation. In the light
or ethical positions. This transformation includesof a larger theoretical framework, these actions
redesigning, renaming, and recontextualization asconstitute only a partial appropriation of global
well as bodily adaptation. Furthermore, the trans-goods. Of equal importance is the interpretative
formation leads to the creation of local traditions dimension of the appropriation of bicycles, which
enclosing particular forms and specific ways of has been documented by Jean-Pierre Jacob (1979).
dealing with the appropriated element. Kurt BeckHe reports on a quite specific legend of origin
(2001) has shown this with the example of theof bicycles for a neighboring region. Among the
diesel engine in the Sudan, and I have described Winy in Burkina Faso, there is a story about the
the appropriation of the bicycle in West Africa ininvention by one of their ancestors of all means
the context of the mentioned research programme of transport, which do not work without the use
(Hahn 2004a). of air, as bicycles, cars, and aeroplanes. Thus, the
Winy declare themselves as experts for using and
manipulating the air, and they assign to the Eu-
19 In the framework of the above mentioned programme, in-
vestigations into household possessions and documentations ropeans the capacity to deal with water transport.
of objects' life histories were carried out. One of the aston-When Europeans brought the first bicycles to this
ishing outcomes is the fact that "global goods" are hardlyarea, they just remitted to the Winy what already
ever perceived as something contradicting or questioning belonged to them and what had been kept safe by
locally produced things or local traditions. In the context
of the research project we understand this as result of the
the White people for some time.
process of traditionalization which is part of appropriation Appropriation is the basis for innovation not
(Hahn 2004c; Verne 2007). only in the sense of inventing new contexts and

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Diffusionism, Appropriation, and Globalization 199

establishing new traditions. away It goes

from well beyond
the metaphors of global flows and in
these aspects when improvisation
the direction of ismoreconsidered.
depth in the analysis of local
In particular, when dealingchanges.
with material culture
and technical objects like the Although
dieselI did not
want to agree
or entirely
bicycle it is difficult to draw lineconcerning
between the dominant
cal improvements (innovation),in the current globalization debate, the critical
customization, or
a pure recontextualization.20 As
position far inas
was helpful innovation
order to identify the short-
results from improvisation, comings
it is of thethe ongoing
result debate,ofand to
an show
in-a way
dividual effort and puts the to compensate
role of for the these deficits. I am convinced
into the center. Only if it thatleads to a
anthropology willnew
be able topractice
gain a better un-
recognized as such in the local society,of globalization
it is onlyconsid-
by readjusting its
focus on the
ered as an innovation. Innovation is local
thuslevel. This priority of the local
a question
of the author. As I have shown, appropriation
might cure the is
fallacies of the cultural-historical
a question of the author, too. approachJust
as well, which
as is the particular
the legend impact
of the means of transport, which
of the concept of are connected
appropriation. In directing the
to air, transforms those objects perspective in
on local actors, we may build
a manner that up a
they are perceived as localdevice to overcome the shortfalls
inventions, it is of onediffusionist
of the constitutive aspects of approaches. One hundred years ago,
the appropriation to diffusionist
relativize the diffusion and to stress the fact of anthropologists neglected local horizons of mean-
the local reinvention. Thus, innovation refers to ing and action. If the globalization debate today
people as innovators, that means actors, who have once again dismisses the perspective on the local,
intensively dealt with an object, who have become it will fail to describe adequately the ongoing
expert for the object's properties, and who define processes of cultural change.
new qualities. An anthropological theory of culture in the
According to this understanding, cultural appro-context of globalization is only possible if we
priation describes "acting with the aim of changingleave the bird's-eye view of the maps of the world
the environment" and also the act of "interpretingand put the level of the local protagonists in the
with the intention to make other things to becomecenter. The concept of appropriation contributes to
such a theory of culture, because it is focussed on
one's own." Therefore, it requires time and it also
has to be perceived as work. James Carrier (1995)the different aspects of acting on the local level.
farsightedly has used the expression "work of ap-So, appropriation is an instrument which helps
propriation." He understands both aspects with this:us to examine questions of rejection, takeover,
the practical, physical work of redesigning and theadoption, or reinvention without simplifying pre-
social work of interpretation and redefinition. Theassumptions. The concept opens new horizons
aim of the social work is to create a new concensus which explain the change of local societies. Instead
about the assessment of the object or the institution of limiting the perspective to culture contact (or
in question. This way the cultural element becomes cultural mixing) by using appropriation, cultural
a local tradition. I will conclude from a hermeneu- change becomes a central focus for anthropolo-
tical perspective: part of the cultural work is also gy. Appropriation, as a mode of cultural change,
the readiness to change oneself in the context of is nothing that happens automatically, but it
the process of reinterpretation. deals with local action and the creation of local
Before discussing the relevance of this new
Conclusion approach to globalization, I have shown the long
tradition of this term in the Humanities and I
This article has proposed an understanding of cul- have stressed the fact that appropriation means
tural appropriation that is central to anthropologi- hermeneutical interpretation and pragmatic action
cal reflection. If we compare the focus of cultural (improvisation). Whenever appropriation is re-
appropriation with the perspective of the maps duced of to only one of the two levels, its heuristic
the worldwide diffusion of cultural traits (as dis- potential is abandoned. The current usage of ap-
propriation in anthropological texts on globaliza-
cussed in the first section of the article), it becomes
clear, just how much of the path has been made tion will benefit from combining the two meanings
of appropriation. Interpretation and action are no
contradictions in this context, but they are precon-
20 For a more detailed description of the empirical fields of
appropriation-oriented research cf. Hahn (2004b). ditions of each other.

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200 Hans Peter Hahn

Certeau, Michel de
Appropriations are no
1980 The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of
of indigenous
California Press.
exclusively an illegit
of Cheah, Pheng ethnograp
2006 The Future of Nationalist Appropriation. In: B. Maurer
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and G. Schwab (eds.), Accelerating Possession. Global
when they are
Futures of looked
Property and Personhood; pp. 45-75. New
the metaphor of
York: Columbia University Press. reg
priation isJames,
Clifford, always
and George E. Marcus (eds.) lin
that cross
1986 Writing each
Culture. oth
The Poetics and Politics of Ethnogra-
phy. Berkeley: University ofas
California Press.a co
a closer look
Comaroff, Jean at the
ways an action
1996 The Empires Old Clothes. Fashioning thewhicColonial Sub-
of the actors' jects. In: D. Howes (ed.), Crossintent
Cultural Consumption.
Global Markets, Local Realities; pp. 19-38. London:
appropriation may con
identity of one's own
cal Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff
societies. Appropr
1991 Of Revelation and Revolution. Christianity, Colonial-
valuable for a better
ism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Vol. 1. Chica-
the context of
go: University of Chicago Press. global

Dilthey, Wilhelm
The article emerges fro
1910 Der Aufbau der geschichtlichen Welt in den Geistes-
Action in Africa in the Context of Global Influences"
wissenschaften. Berlin: Verlag der Kniglichen Aka-
(SFB/FK 560) at Bayreuth University. It has been demie der Wissenschaften. (Abhandlungen der Knig-
presented at Frankfurt University in May 2006 and it has lich-Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften; Philo-
been repeatedly discussed with my colleagues. I wish sophisch-Historische Klasse, 1).
to express my gratitude to Gerd Spittler and Markus
Emcke, Carolin
Verne, the collaborators in the research project, for 2000 Kollektive Identitten. Sozialphilosophische Grundla-
allowing me to present some of the research results in gen. Frankfurt: Campus- Verlag.
this article.
Fisher, Amber Laine
2004 Cultural Appropriation and Responsible Eclecticism.
appropriation-and-responsible-eclecticism/> [ 1 .8.2007]

Friedman, Jonathan
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