The above recording is of a panel delivered at this past November's Historical Materialism conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. It was chaired by Jaz Blackwell-Pal and included the following panelists and presentations:
- Alexander Billet, “Race, Class and Musical Expression in Uneven (Under)Development”
- Bill Crane, “Reflections on Migration, Cosmopolitanism and the Formation of Culture”
- Crystal Stella Becerril, "Beyond(cé) Postcolonial: A Marxist Understanding of Cultural Production & Exchange"
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.
Alexander Billet is a writer, poet and cultural critic. His articles have appeared in Jacobin, The Nation, In These Times, New Politics, and Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. Areas of interest include music, literature, theater, the influence of Surrealism and related movements, and dys/utopia. He is a founding editor at Red Wedge.
Bill Crane is a socialist whose writing on literature and politics have been have been published online at Socialist Worker, ZNet, Jacobin and elsewhere. He writes the "Pink Palimpsest" blog for Red Wedge and is working on a PhD at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.
Crystal Stella Becerril is a Chicago-based Xicana activist and writer. She is currently an editor at Red Wedge and is a contributing writer for Jacobin, Socialist Worker, In These Times and Warscapes.