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"Reclaiming" redirects here. For the neopagan organization of this name, see Reclaiming (neopaganism). For other uses, see Reclaim.

In sociology and cultural studies, reappropriation or reclamation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group.[1]


The term reappropriation is an extension of the term appropriation or cultural appropriation used in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies to describe the reabsorbing of subcultural styles and forms, or those from other cultures, into mass culture through a process of commodification: the mass-marketing of alternate lifestyles, practices, and artifacts.[citation needed]


A reclaimed or reappropriated word is a word that was at one time pejorative but has been brought back into acceptable usage—usually starting within the communities that experienced oppression under that word, but sometimes also among the general populace as well.[1] (The term "reclaimed word" more often implies usage by a member of the group referred to.)

This can have wider implications in the fields of discourse, and has been described in terms of personal or sociopolitical empowerment.[2]

Reclaiming or reappropriating a word involves re-evaluating a term that in the dominant culture is, or at one time was, used by a majority to oppress various minorities of that same culture[citation needed], such as "queer", once seen as pejorative but now reclaimed and used as a self-reference by some.[citation needed]

Reclaimed words differ from general reclamation outside of language because of their deliberately provocative nature. In addition to neutral or acceptable connotations, reclaimed words often acquire positive meaning within the circles of the informed.[1] Outside the community, such transitions are rare. As such, the use of these terms by outside parties is usually viewed as strongly derogatory. For some terms, even "reclaimed" usage by members of the community concerned is a subject of controversy—for example, there is considerable debate within the transgender community over attempts to reclaim the term "tranny", usually applied offensively to trans women.[3][4][5]

Michel Foucault discusses the idea of reclaimed words as a "reverse discourse" in his History of Sexuality: Volume I. The New York performance artist Penny Arcade sold what turned out to be her most popular show on the basis of the title,[original research?] Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, words she was reclaiming.[original research?]


Sex and sexuality[edit]

There are many recent English-language examples of some linguistic reappropriation in the areas of human sexuality, gender roles, sexual orientation, etc. Among these are:


However, the phenomenon is much older, especially in politics and religion.

In England, for example, Cavalier was a derogatory nickname reappropriated as self-identification,[7] while Roundhead, a Royalists derisory term for the supporters of the Parliamentary cause, is not (it was a punishable offence in the New Model Army to call a fellow soldier a roundhead).[8] Tory (orig. from Middle Irish word for "pursued man" Tóraidhe ), Whig (from "whiggamore" (See the Whiggamore Raid)) and "Suffragette" are other British examples.

In the American colonies, British officers used Yankee, from a term used by the British to refer to Dutch pirates, as a derogatory term against colonists. British soldiers created the early versions of the song "Yankee Doodle," as a criticism of the uncultured colonists, but during the Revolution, as the colonists began to reappropriate the label "yankee" as a point of pride, they likewise reappropriated the song, altering verses, and turning it into a patriotic anthem.[9]

The Dutch and German languages actually have a separate word for such a term, "geuzennaam" (Dutch, commonly used) and "Geusenwort" (German, used among linguists). These words derive from the geuzen, i.e., Dutch opponents to Spanish rule in the 16th century, who eventually created the Netherlands under William of Orange. Being derisively called "beggars" ("gueux" in French of the era) by their opponents, they appropriated a Dutchified form of the word as their own "battle name". In French during the French Revolution the word "Sans-culottes" (literally "without knee-breeches") gained a similar meaning.

More recent political examples include:


One of the older examples of successful reclaiming is the term "Jesuit" to refer to members of the Society of Jesus. This was originally a derogatory term referring to people who too readily invoked the name of Jesus in their politics,[citation needed] but which members of the Society adopted over time for themselves, so that the word came to refer exclusively to them, and generally in a positive or neutral sense,[citation needed] even though the term "Jesuitical" is derived from the Society of Jesus and is used to mean things like: manipulative, conspiring, treacherous, capable of intellectually justifying anything by convoluted reasoning.[citation needed]

Another example can be found in the origins of Methodism; early members were originally mocked for their "methodical" and rule-driven religious devotion, founder John Wesley embraced the term for his movement.[10]

Race and ethnicity[edit]

To a lesser extent, and more controversially among the groups referred to, many racial, ethnic, and class terms have been reappropriated:


Other examples[edit]

More generally, any kind of community can reappropriate words referring to them:

Recontextualization of material objects[edit]

A closely related phenomenon is the recontextualization of material objects.

An example is the use of the Confederate flag by African Americans.[dubious ]. Another example of reappropriation would be an African American collecting lawn jockeys or other artifacts of darky iconography.[dubious ]

See also[edit]

  • Dysphemism treadmill, the process by which offensive terms can become acceptable without deliberate intervention.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Croom, A.M. (2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences 33 (3): 343–358. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005. 
  2. ^ Godrej, Farah (April 3, 2003). "Spaces for Counter-Narratives: The Phenomenology of Reclamation" (PDF). Paper prepared for the Midwest Political Science Association Meeting. University of Indiana. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-10-25. Retrieved July 25, 2011.  Citing Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 1991)
  3. ^ Cedar (November 10, 2008). ""Tranny" and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming "Tranny" (or not) part 1". Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  4. ^ Cedar (January 8, 2009). ""Tranny" and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming "Tranny" (or not) part 2". Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  5. ^ Snyder, Mark Daniel (February 3, 2009). "Tranny". Queer Today. Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Trademark Office says no to Dykes on Bikes". National Center for Lesbian Rights. 
  7. ^  Anonymous (1911). "Cavalier". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  8. ^ Worden, Blair (2009). The English Civil Wars 1640–1660. London: Penguin Books. p. 2. ISBN 0-14-100694-3. 
  9. ^ Okrent, Arika (5 Nov 2013). "Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude". Slate. The Slate Group,. Retrieved 10 Aug 2015. 
  10. ^ Atkins, Marilyn. "Discipleship... and the people called Methodists" (PDF). The Methodist Church in Britain. be a ‘Methodist’ was originally a term of ridicule because of the zeal and rigour with which they pursued a life of holiness and sought to be the best disciples of Christ they could. 
  11. ^ For example, the band N.W.A., or the titles of several of Richard Pryor's recordings. Or listen to a wide range of 90's-2000's hip hop music.
  12. ^ For 18th century example of effort at such reappropriation in Ireland, see this example here
  13. ^ a b Disability Studies and the Inclusive Classroom: Critical Practices for Creating the Least Restrictive Attitudes p 48-50 By Susan Baglieri and Arthur Shapiro. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  14. ^ a b Aspies and Auties New York Times October 19, 2009
  15. ^ McKeown, Sarah (22 June 2009). "Ich bin ein Smoggy: reclaiming regional pride". Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  16. ^ Lawson, Helen (21 March 2013). "Janoaworramean? Frustrated Teesside mother pens 'Smoggie dictionary' with translations into Standard English to help others understand her". Daily Mail. Retrieved 29 September 2013.