Cultural Appropriation in the Age of Social Media

Call for papers
Cultural Appropriation in the Age of Social Media
African Studies Association UK’s Biennial Conference (ASAUK)
University of Sussex
9-11 September 2014

In recent years, social media have played a significant role in catapulting relatively obscure artists or cultural phenomena to international fame, seemingly overnight. The promise of Web 2.0 is that anyone with access to the Internet can find audiences and markets. The spontaneous uptake of memes on social media platforms seems to prove this. Likewise, we have seen South African bands, such as Die Antwoord, rise to fame via social media.

Despite the promise of newer, more decentralised media to liberate cultural expression, one could argue that, for the Global South at least, the exception does not prove the norm. The extent of the digital divide limits the ability of those from the Global South to participate in the World Wide Web equally, even in the Web 2.0 era. That said, this panel considers the appeal of a range of memes as well as ‘viral’ video phenomena, like Die Antwoord or the Kony video, in relation to notions of cultural appropriation.

Do newer media platforms facilitate the distribution of more diverse forms of public discourse, or do they simply facilitate the continuation of familiar inequalities associated with colonial representations of Africa, for example? How is Africa represented on these new platforms? How audible are the voices of African artists, journalists, activists, scholars or casual surfers? And how are they taken up by others? Are Africans able to participate in decentralised and, theoretically, more democratic spaces online or does digital life simply reinscribe spatialised forms of difference in new ways? This panel is concerned, then, with the extent to which representations of cultural appropriation and racial and gender stereotypes are reconfigured or extended into newer media.

Papers speaking to the following themes will be considered:
– Memes, Africa and parody
– Humour, Africa and viral media
– The case for political and/or creative agency in social media
– Cultural appropriation vs postmodern play in social media
– Cultural appropriation vs activism in social media
– Cultural appropriation vs cultural essentialism: where do you draw the line?
– Social media, democracy and the digital divide
– Race, gender or class politics in the age of social media
– Framing Africa in memes and viral videos
– Social media and activism in Africa
– Contesting representations of Africa
– Die Antwoord: postmodern play or blackface?

If you would like to participate in this symposium, submit your 250-word abstract to Adam Haupt and Carli Coetzee by 1 April 2014: culturalappropriationasauk2014[AT]

Please feel free to mail us your queries before making your submission. Journal of African Cultural Studies (JACS) may also consider publishing papers presented at this symposium.