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In sociology and cultural studies, reappropriation or reclamation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims—re-appropriates—terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group. For example, since the early 1970s, attempts have been made to reappropriate terminology referring to homosexuality—such as gay and (to a lesser extent) queer and poof. Another example of reappropriation would be an African American collecting lawn jockeys or other artifacts of darky iconography. The term reappropriation can also extend to counter-hegemonic re-purposing, such as citizens with no formal authority seizing unused public or private land for community use.
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.
Linguistic reappropriation or reclaiming
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. (The term "reclaimed word" more often implies usage by a member of the group referred to.)
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.
In some cases, this reappropriation is so successful as to turn a previously disparaging word into the preferred term: for example, gay, previously an insult, is now strongly preferred to "homosexual", both as an adjective and a noun.
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, 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, 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.
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. 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.
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, Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, words she was reclaiming.
Words that could be considered reclaimed
Sex and sexuality
- "Dyke" (and variants such as "bulldyke", "diesel dyke", "baby dyke", "femme dyke", etc.), "butch",
- "poof", "queer", "homo",
However, the phenomenon is much older, especially in politics and religion.
In England, for example, Cavalier was a derogatory nickname reappropriated as self-identification, 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). 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.
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:
- "Tree hugger" by environmentalists
- Liberal Conspiracy, a term sometimes used by conservatives to describe purported liberal domination of modern life, adopted as the moniker of Sunny Hundal's political blog.
- "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" originally used as a pejorative term by Hillary Clinton, but now routinely used as a positive self-identity by Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives
- "Redneck" by political movements from the American South, especially conservative movements.
- "Obamacare" Originally a conservative term for the Affordable Care Act, the left embraced the term and it is now considered the act's shorthand name.
Art and culture
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Many style in art, music and popular culture got their names from pejorative remarks made by critics at their first appearances. In recent history, the word punk comes to mind: First it was a cuss-word directed at the musicians and their followers. Quickly afterwards the fans reappropriated the word as a mane for their community. Now it is a music style.
Other examples include:
- "Impressionists" In 1874 during their first independent art show, critic Louis Leroy penned a hostile review of the show in Le Charivari newspaper under the title "The Exhibition of the Impression-ists". In particular he used the painting Impression, soleil levant by Claude Monet to ridicule the painters for their lack of seriousness preferring to paint "fleeting impressions of the moment" rather than allegorical or ultra-realist themes.
- "Fauvists" at their first group exposition at the Salon d'automne of 1905, the critic Louis Vauxcelles, shocked by the wild colors and bold brushstrokes of their paintings disparaged the artists as a band of "fauves" (wild beasts)
- "Decadent" by a late generation of Romantics, such as Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire, who used the word proudly, to represent their rejection of what they considered banal "progress"
- "Nerd" and "geek" by intellectuals, hobbyists, and people with a deep interest in science fiction, video games, and other obscure hobbies and interests
- "Otaku" has a similar meaning, but often suggest that the person is a Japanophile (e.g. anime).
- "Dork" by quirky people.
Race and ethnicity
To a lesser extent, and more controversially among the groups referred to, many racial, ethnic, and class terms have been reappropriated:
- "Flip" by Filipino American youth
- "Nigga" by African Americans
- "Mutt" by people of mixed race
- "Guido" by Italian Americans, also "guidette" for women
- "Wog" by Australians of Southern European descent
- "Gaijin" by westerners living in Japan
- "Farang" by westerners living in Thailand
- "Bule" by westerners living in Indonesia
- "Mick" by Irish Americans
- "Paddy" by Irish Americans
- "Tim" by Glaswegians of Irish Descent
- "Polack" by Americans of Polish descent
- "Paki" by Pakistani-American and Pakistani-British youth
- "Heeb" by Jews (in a cultural rather than primarily religious sense)
- "Chink" as a term used by Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans
- "Fenian," used in Scotland and Northern Ireland for a Catholic or an Irish republican; or, especially in Scotland, someone of Irish descent
- Artist Kara Walker has attempted to reappropriate the word "negress"
- "Redneck"—besides its usage for political conservatives, this term is alternately embraced and shunned by Southerners with rural backgrounds stereotypically considered to be unsophisticated. Example: the country music song "Redneck Woman".
- "Redskin" - The r-word, or its shorted form 'skin is used by a minority of Native Americans in a fashion similar to the use of the n-word by African Americans.
- "White Trash" by lower-class caucasians; traits of this group often overlap with "redneck".
- "Coon Ass" by individuals native to the state of Louisiana in the United States.
- "Okie" by individuals native to the state of Oklahoma in the United States.
- "Hoosier" by individuals indigenous to or originating from the state of Indiana in the United States.
- "Tar Heel" by natives of the state of North Carolina, USA.
- "Yid" by supporters of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club after being called this by racists, in an attempt to dilute the effect.
- "Yinzer" by individuals native to Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
- "Aspie" by people with Asperger syndrome, an affectionate non-medical term believed to be coined by Liane Holliday Willey in 1999.
- "Autie" or "autist" by autistic people.
- "cripple", "crip", "gimp" by people with disabilities.
- "Deaf" with the "d" capitalized used by people who are deaf.
More generally, any kind of community can reappropriate words referring to them:
- "Bastard", by adopted people
- "Brat" (as in "military brat") by children of U.S. military personnel
- "Fat" by the size-acceptance movement
- "Ginger", by persons with red hair
- "Pimp", used as an adjective or verb to describe something that is decorated or gussied up, or in a similar context as badass (e.g. a pimped-out car)
- "Pirate", by the peer-to-peer filesharing community and warez scene
- "Smoggie", used for people from the north east England town of Middlesbrough.
- "Springboks", by non-white South African rugby players and fans.
- "Tranny (slang)", by transgender people
- "Methodist", adopted by the theological student group of John Wesley (1703-1791); originally used in ridicule by others outside the group.
Recontextualization of material objects
A closely related phenomenon is the recontextualization of material objects, as for example when the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University displays such Jim Crow Era artifacts as golliwog marbles or Sambo masks.
Other such examples are the display of an anti-Semitic poster in a Holocaust museum, the removal of the Coat of Arms, featuring animals sacred to Australian Aborigines, from the Australian Federal Parliament building by Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott, or the use of the Confederate flag either by African Americans, or by White Americans in a non-racial context.
Similar recontextualization has occurred in black African cinemas. Boulou Ebanda de B'béri use the term "rappropriation", a Belgian euphemism, to explain the process of reclaiming and cleaning up the image of Africans on Western screen.
- Dysphemism treadmill, the process by which offensive terms can become acceptable without deliberate intervention.
Notes and references
- Croom, A.M. (2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences 33 (3): 343–358. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005.
- 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)
- Cedar (November 10, 2008). ""Tranny" and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming "Tranny" (or not) part 1". Retrieved September 23, 2010.
- Cedar (January 8, 2009). ""Tranny" and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming "Tranny" (or not) part 2". Retrieved September 23, 2010.
- Snyder, Mark Daniel (February 3, 2009). "Tranny". Queer Today. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
- "Trademark Office says no to Dykes on Bikes". National Center for Lesbian Rights.
- Anonymous (1911). "Cavalier". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Worden, Blair (2009). The English Civil Wars 1640–1660. London: Penguin Books. p. 2. ISBN 0-14-100694-3.
- Okrent, Arika (5 Nov 2013). "Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude". Slate. The Slate Group,. Retrieved 10 Aug 2015.
- 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.
- For 18th century example of effort at such reappropriation in Ireland, see this example here
- Ross, Gyasi (2013-10-16). ""Redskins": A Native's Guide To Debating An Inglorious Word". Deadspin. Retrieved 2014-11-10.
- "Article on history of term from UNC Alumni webpage".[dead link]
- Disability Studies and the Inclusive Classroom: Critical Practices for Creating the Least Restrictive Attitudes p 48-50 By Susan Baglieri and Arthur Shapiro. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
- Aspies and Auties New York Times October 19, 2009
- For example, the Bastard Nation website: http://bastards.org/bb/0.WhatisBN.html
- McKeown, Sarah (22 June 2009). "Ich bin ein Smoggy: reclaiming regional pride". Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- 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.
-  The Methodist Church in Britain "...to 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."
- "Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University Home". Ferris.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-03.