Appropriating the (in)appropriate: rethinking pageants, contests and the anthropology of emblems

Nick Long (Cambridge University)
Sharyn Davies (Auckland University of Technology)
Dr Matei Candea
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel investigates the relationships created when someone or something strives to be, and then is, appropriated as emblematic of another. It invites studies of appropriation in such diverse contexts as beauty pageants, advertising, 'model citizens', fashion, and the diplomatic service.

Long abstract:

Powerful symbols are created when bodies and persons are appropriated as emblematic of a nation, community or institution's values and aspirations. Although many studies have unpicked and critiqued the ideologies condensed in such symbols, they typically take for granted the processes by which someone or something is appropriated as symbol or emblem. This panel seeks to revitalise the field through the cross-cultural analysis of processes of appropriation in such diverse contexts as beauty pageants and fashion shows, model citizen awards, advertising and diplomacy. Often associated with agency and creativity, appropriation can also involve more negative issues such as perceived inappropriateness, copying, or inauthenticity. The panel therefore invites papers exploring the relationships between those striving to be appropriated, those undertaking acts of appropriation, and the acts' audiences. It also asks what processes are instigated by appropriations. To what extent do appropriated entities become 'owned' by those they are representing? To what extent do they exhibit 'ownership' over what they symbolise? What happens when their exposure leads them to be (re)appropriated in quite unexpected and unforeseen ways? A final aim is to explore ethnographically the practices by which social actors render themselves 'appropriate' for appropriation, and how alternative, 'inappropriate', practices might be employed in acts of cynicism, subversion or satire. These practices themselves often involve the appropriation of certain subjects, objects and relations (e.g. clothing, demeanour, tuition) and the panel invites papers that interrogate the often fraught connections between such micro-level practices and the actor's capacity - and desire - to be appropriated.