Red Wedge at Historical Materialism

Call it an "unofficial Red Wedge session" at Historical Materialism London. Editors Nikeeta Slade, Stella Becerril and Alex Billet, along with "Pink Palimpsest" blogger and writer Bill Crane, will be presenting the panel "'Who Stole the Soul?' Understanding Cultural Exchange Under Neoliberalism."

The panel is intended as an attempt to flesh out a thorough Marxist understanding of how culture travels in the neoliberal/"post-postmodern" age. Terms like "cultural appropriation" are common among the left today, but there are countless ways that the exchange of artistic modes can be interpreted. How does culture operate and change under capitalism? Are all instances of white people performing non-white art by their very nature racist? Is there room for a genuine cosmopolitan solidarity? These are some of the questions we are hoping to answer. The panel abstract is below.

Historical Materialism London will also feature presentations from other writers who have contributed to Red Wedge, including contributing editor Ashley Bohrer, Neil Davidson, Maya Weeks and Jordy Cummings. The program for the conference can be viewed here

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Contemporary capitalism has produced stark and contradictory forms of development that by extension produce equally contradictory ways of understanding culture and the phenomenon of cultural exchange. The exchange of commodities, ideas and forms of artistic expression has always been a feature of capitalist development. Neoliberalism, however, has accelerated and accentuated these phenomena; therefore the left must reconsider the way we engage with questions of culture and cultural exchange.

The term “cultural appropriation” is one such attempt at engaging with cultural exchange, and one which has moved into common parlance among the radical left over the past decade. However, much of the theory that has emerged to explain cultural exchange, although rooted in an anti-racist instinct, is a product of post-colonial theory.

Some of the questions this panel will take up will be:

  • If the existing theory around cultural appropriation is part of a larger post-colonial framework, one whose aim is not collective emancipation, then what is its motivation?

  • Without a basic understanding of how and why things are commodified under capitalism, theory around cultural appropriation ends up reproducing capitalist ideas of ownership. How does that influence and shape cultural production and exchange?

  • In what way has migration under neoliberalism impacted the cosmopolitan experience? How does it account for different experiences of the same cosmopolitanism?

  • How has a multi-racial/multi-cultural experience impacted attempts at radical, revolutionary and anti-racist cultural production? Is there such a thing as cultural exchange that fosters solidarity across racial lines while also acknowledging the unique historical experience of component cultures?

These and other question are ones we will engage in an attempt to work towards a dialectical materialist understanding of cultural production and cultural exchange, one that can encourage political solidarity and reflect an aesthetic practice of collective liberation.

Panelists and papers included in this panel are:

  1. Crystal Stella Becerril, “Beyond Postcolonial: A Marxist Understanding of Skewed Power Relations in Cultural Production and Exchange”
  2. Nikeeta Slade, “Beyond Appropriation: Towards a Radical Cosmopolitanism”
  3. Bill Crane, “Reflections on Migration, Cosmopolitanism and the Formation of Culture”
  4. Alexander Billet, “Race, Class and Musical Expression in Uneven (Under)Development”
"Feuilleton" is the Red Wedge editors' blog, focused on announcements and events relevant to the radical arts community.