Cultural Tariffing: Appropriation and the Right to Cross Cultural Boundaries

Abraham Oshotse, Yael Berda, Amir Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why are some acts of cultural boundary-crossing considered permissible whereas others are repudiated as cultural appropriation? We argue that perceptions of cultural appropriation formed in response to the emergence of cultural omnivorousness as a dominant form of high-status consumption, making boundary-crossing a source of cultural capital. Consequently, the right to adopt a practice from a culture that is not one’s own is determined on the basis of the costs and benefits one is presumed to accrue. People express disapproval at boundary-crossing if they believe it devalues or extracts value at the expense of the target culture. We call this process cultural tariffing. We test our theory in a between-subject experimental design, demonstrating that individuals who enjoy a privileged social position, as inferred from their social identity or socioeconomic status, have less normative latitude to cross cultural boundaries. This is explained by perceptions that these actors are either devaluing or exploiting the target culture. While symbolic boundaries and cultural distinction theories are inconsistent with our results, we find that Americans who are disenchanted about group-based social mobility are the most likely to be outraged by cultural boundary-crossing. Cultural tariffing, we therefore posit, is a form of symbolic redistribution.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)346-390
Number of pages45
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • cultural appropriation
  • cultural omnivore
  • cultural sociology
  • intergroup relations
  • symbolic boundaries

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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