Appropriation in the Cultural Landscape

The ‘cultural landscape’ looks to describe the landscape we live in. It would include all spaces and ‘things’ in society, public and private, that form the cultural experiences of everyday life.

We might see this as the whole from which disciplines (or subjects) are divided. Rancière (2009) calls this ‘the forest of signs’ through which we communicate and sculpt the world as we want it to be. This landscape is made up of things like architecture, town planning and thoroughfare, interior design, fashion, technology, entertainment, language, art, aesthetics, sport, advertising, goods and services, food, education and our attempts to shape nature. It is in this landscape that ideas gain traction, the place where we experience “…the human capacity to transform something in to emotions” (‘Alex Atala’, 2015).

Palermo Cathedral, Sicily

An issue bubbling within this cultural landscape is that of appropriation (or re- appropriation). On one hand this is seen as copying or stealing, on the other a love letter or homage to the source. Appropriation is something which transcends all levels of society. Whether it’s religious buildings, like Palermo Cathedral in Sicily, which has been occupied and modified by various religions over time, or fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior using art and religious iconography to add to the seductive quality of luxury products.

‘Manet’ bag by Louis Vuitton

Graffiti and tagging, particularly within European cities adopts locations and insignia frequented by shops and public services. There’s an underlying understanding or appreciation at work here. That the tool(s) you’ve chosen, or appropriated serve their intended purpose – meaning they are used in order to come into contact with the desired audience, or achieve a desired effect, by association or otherwise. In other words the appropriated is deemed successful in the eyes of the appropriator. What if this understanding was applied to research communication? What is the world like if mathematical equations or public service announcements were spray-painted in public space instead of crude or aggressive ramblings? What happens if your research has the same reach (or visibility) as your favourite brand?

If you said to a marketing or public relations expert that you want to change the world, but to do so you will use one form of communication, in one location, they’d take your money, but you’d be laughed out the building. So like Zeldin (1998), with no limits or boundaries to where the search can take place, we can look at the specific vehicles that have been employed across the cultural landscape and compile them as a list of tools. When looking, one must care more about what exists (or could exist), less about its current or past incarnations. This leaves us with a table of elements with which to pick from in the communication of research and the selection of activities and outputs.