What Subject Headings can be used for Materials about Appropriation, Assimilation, and Diffusion of Material and Intellectual Culture

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on cataloging issuesApril/May 2018

Question: What subject headings are commonly applied to anthropological or sociological works about cultural or intellectual appropriation, and what subject headings are also available to describe works about the transfer of intellectual and material culture between people or cultures?

Submitted By: Tom Durkin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anthropologists and sociologists have long researched the ways that cultural attributes such as languages, religions, material culture, and technological innovations diffuse from person to person and between social groups or cultures. The transfer and reuse of culture, such as scientific and medical education, is often very welcome. In other cases the reuse of cultural knowledge may be unwelcome, especially if a dominant social group appropriates culture from another group without permission. Cultural appropriation and intellectual property violations are two examples of unwelcome cultural diffusion.

General and Theoretical Terms
These general terms can be helpful for characterizing works on the appropriation, assimilation, and diffusion of culture. In many cases they can be subdivided geographically and/or topically.

  • Adaptability (Psychology)
  • Anthropology — Philosophy
  • Arts — Political aspects
  • Arts — Moral and ethical aspects
  • Arts and society
  • Authenticity (Philosophy)
  • Authorship
  • Cognition and culture
  • Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.)
  • Cultural awareness
  • Culture — Philosophy
  • Culture — Psychological aspects
  • Ethnic relations — Moral and ethical aspects
  • Social change — Cross-cultural studies

General Terms related to Culture and Identity:

  • Collective memory
  • Group identity
  • Identity (Psychology)
  • Identity (Psychology) in art
  • Identity politics
  • Identity politics in literature
  • Music and identity politics
  • Memory — Social aspects

Cultural Property

These terms describe works about things that are of significant importance to a nation or culture. In some cases, there are legal protections (including copyright) that determine the ways that cultural objects can be owned, used, shared, or distributed.

  • Cultural industries
  • Cultural property — Protection — Moral and ethical aspects
  • Folk art
  • Folk music
  • Folklore
  • Material culture
  • Popular culture

Cultural and Artistic Appropriation

Cultural appropriation has become a fiercely debated topic in contemporary media, with potentially wide-ranging implications for artists and others working on creative projects. Copyright and intellectual property laws intersect in complex and interesting ways with this debate, especially with regard to artistic reuse. The terms listed below may help to characterize or find works related to this contentious area of social and cultural debate.

  • Appropriation (Arts)
  • Art — Forgeries
  • Art – Reproduction
  • Copyright — Moral rights
  • Copyright — Philosophy
  • Copyright infringement
  • Counterfeits and counterfeiting
  • Fair use (Copyright)
  • Forgery
  • Fraud
  • Indigenous peoples — Legal status, laws, etc.
  • Imitation in art
  • Imitation in literature
  • Impostors and imposture
  • Intellectual property
  • Inuit sculpture — Canada — Trademarks
  • Marks of origin
  • Mashups (Music)
  • Mimesis in art
  • Mimesis in literature
  • Originality in art
  • Originality in literature
  • Patent laws and legislation
  • Plants, Cultivated — Patents. (In the case of rights regarding indigenously bred plant varieties.)
  • Plants, Protection of — Law and legislation
  • Piracy (Copyright)
  • Plagiarism in music — History
  • Plagiarism
  • Remixes — History and criticism
  • Trademarks — Law and legislation


Cultural Diffusion

This lengthy list of terms and subdivisions shows a variety of options for using LCSH to characterize works that interpret the many ways that cultural knowledge is passed from one person or group to another. There is a much larger body of LCSH terms and subdivisions that relate to cultural diffusion, these are just a few examples.

  • Arabic language — Influence on Berber
  • Arabic literature — 20th century — European influences
  • Arts and globalization
  • Berber languages — Foreign elements — Arabic
  • Bible — Influence (also, Qurʼan – Influence; Talmud – Influence, etc.)
  • China — Civilization — Western influences
  • Chinese language — Foreign elements
  • Culture and globalization — East Asia
  • Culture diffusion — Economic aspects
  • Diffusion of innovations — United States
  • English literature — Asian influences
  • Film remakes — Cross-cultural studies
  • Globalization
  • Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.)
  • Intercultural communication
  • Islamic civilization — Foreign influences
  • Languages in contact
  • Motion pictures and transnationalism
  • Music — Korean influences
  • Philosophy, German — 18th century — Asian influences
  • Tamil literature — Western influences
  • Transnationalism — Social aspects
  • United States — Civilization — Asian influences


The Process of Cultural Assimilation and Acculturation

When individuals come into contact with members of different cultures, they may choose or be forced to conform to new social rules. This assimilation and acculturation process is another mechanism by which culture is diffused.

  • Acculturation — Bolivia
  • Acculturation — Cross-cultural studies
  • Acculturation — Economic aspects
  • Acculturation — Moral and ethical aspects
  • Acculturation — Psychological aspects
  • Assimilation (Sociology) — Economic aspects
  • Immigrants — Cultural assimilation
  • Irish Americans — Cultural assimilation
  • Socialization


For further reading:

Aunger, Robert. “Cultural Transmission and Diffusion.” In Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, by L. Nadel. Wiley, 2005.

“Diffusion.” In Collins Dictionary of Sociology, edited by David Jary, and Julia Jary. 4th ed. Collins, 2006.

Nelson, Robert S. “Appropriation.” In Critical Terms for Art History, edited by Robert S. Nelson, and Richard Shiff. 2nd ed. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.