Abstract

Dynamics of globalization redefine objects as agents of cultural exchange in various everyday contexts. Design activity constitutes a significant channel of cultural exchange because it presents objects to a system of social interactions that does not require geographical proximity of cultures. Design’s conceiving a cultural element in a product, thus starting the process of commoditization involves practices of cultural appropriation. Appropriation of cultural elements from their local contexts to be designed or re-designed translates the element’s cultural value into an exchange value that presents ‘negotiated decodings’ (Rogers, 2006) of the ‘different other’. Through design channels, ‘the cipher’ (Ono and Buescher, 2001), ‘a figure through which various commodities with multiple exchange values are marketed’, is produced as ‘a social concept that circulates like a commodity’ (Ono and Buescher, 2001, p. 26). ‘The cipher’ sets cultural stereotypes by encoding selected characteristics of a culture in a series of products and limits the (articulation) capabilities of design agency down to commodities floating in the market without any original cultural content. Design’s interpretation of culture needs a critical reflection on the processes of commoditization and practices of cultural appropriation. Through this critical reflection, design’s capabilities to propose new grounds for cultural exchange as an ongoing process of growth can be explored. This paper discusses cultural appropriation as a key strategy in design’s interpretation of culture in products and recognizes cultural appropriation as a practice for creating ‘the cipher’ through cultural encoding and decoding. The research project named ‘A Kaffiyal Project’ presented in this paper focuses on the transformation of the kaffiyeh (the Middle Eastern headdress) from a traditional element of cultural identity to a fashion statement in different parts of the world. By using strategies of creating ‘the cipher’, the research explores and documents ways of decoding cultural stereotypes through design processes.

Keywords:

Cultural Appropriation, ‘The Cipher’, Focus Group, Kaffiyeh, Stereotype, Participatory Design

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Jul 7th, 12:00 AM

Cultural Appropriation in Design and ‘The Cipher’

Dynamics of globalization redefine objects as agents of cultural exchange in various everyday contexts. Design activity constitutes a significant channel of cultural exchange because it presents objects to a system of social interactions that does not require geographical proximity of cultures. Design’s conceiving a cultural element in a product, thus starting the process of commoditization involves practices of cultural appropriation. Appropriation of cultural elements from their local contexts to be designed or re-designed translates the element’s cultural value into an exchange value that presents ‘negotiated decodings’ (Rogers, 2006) of the ‘different other’. Through design channels, ‘the cipher’ (Ono and Buescher, 2001), ‘a figure through which various commodities with multiple exchange values are marketed’, is produced as ‘a social concept that circulates like a commodity’ (Ono and Buescher, 2001, p. 26). ‘The cipher’ sets cultural stereotypes by encoding selected characteristics of a culture in a series of products and limits the (articulation) capabilities of design agency down to commodities floating in the market without any original cultural content. Design’s interpretation of culture needs a critical reflection on the processes of commoditization and practices of cultural appropriation. Through this critical reflection, design’s capabilities to propose new grounds for cultural exchange as an ongoing process of growth can be explored. This paper discusses cultural appropriation as a key strategy in design’s interpretation of culture in products and recognizes cultural appropriation as a practice for creating ‘the cipher’ through cultural encoding and decoding. The research project named ‘A Kaffiyal Project’ presented in this paper focuses on the transformation of the kaffiyeh (the Middle Eastern headdress) from a traditional element of cultural identity to a fashion statement in different parts of the world. By using strategies of creating ‘the cipher’, the research explores and documents ways of decoding cultural stereotypes through design processes.

 

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