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Wordsmithing “appropriation” May 31, 2007

Posted by François in theory, writing process.

In our draft paper (pp. 23-35), we locate appropriation practices within a 3-step technology cycle (adoption / appropriation / re-configuration), then distinguish three appropriation practices: baroque layering, creolization, and cannibalism. We are not completely happy with these labels, for two reasons. First, re-configuration is confusing because it could also describe practices like creolization and cannibalism. Second, the labels conceal who does what: in our model, users appropriate and suppliers re-configure, but that’s not directly obvious. So, we went back to the drawing board and came up with this new version of the 3-step cycle.

We hope to convey four key ideas:

1) This cycle describes the iterative evolution of a technology. Suppliers roll-out a technology and, once they adopt it, users quickly begin to appropriate it – they modify it to make it their own. Suppliers then strive to re-claim control, either to take advantage of the innovations users have come up with, or to stop them. In the process, they produce a new technology, which users can then further adopt (or reject), then appropriate, etc. Technology evolution is the cumulative outcome of successive cycles.

2) Technology always entails an implied power structure – a set of built-in assumptions about who can use it, at what cost, under what conditions, for what purpose, and with what consequences. At their core, appropriation practices are the strategies users pursue to re-negotiate this power structure.

3) We identify three appropriation practices that constitute three increasingly conflictive re-negotiation strategies. With baroque infiltration, users personalize technology along options set out by technology suppliers – their practice is congruent with the supplier’s intentions and business plan. By contrast, when users creolize technology, they venture beyond the supplier’s intentions to ‘re-mix’ technological components in unintended ways, with results that may or may not match the supplier’s interests. At the extreme, users who cannibalize technology intend to confront suppliers – their re-invention clashes with the supplier’s interests. All three strategies, we argue, are deeply creative practices that result in innovation.

4) In reaction to users’ appropriation practices, suppliers will attempt to re-claim control over their technology. Mirroring user appropriation strategies, we identify three reclamation practices that are increasingly conflictive. At their most conciliatory, suppliers co-opt user-generated innovation and modify their technology to embrace new users practices. Then again, they may chose instead to compromise and accommodate only some portion of user-generated innovations. At the extreme, they may decide to close the door and block the innovations users have produced.

A few problems remain with these new labels: “personalize” isn’t great (but unfortunately, “baroquize” is not a word…), and “compromise” isn’t that good either to describe the suppliers’ middle-ground approach to reclamation. Suggestions welcome.


1. François - June 9, 2007

I am increasingly tempted to coin “baroquize” as a verb to describe appropriation through baroque infiltration. I don’t like any of the existing verbs I can think of: personalize, fill-in, layer, decorate, overlay, embellish, adorn,… they each tweak the meaning in a particular direction. Plus, “baroquize” would bring a nice symmetry with “creolize” and “cannibalize.”

Francis tells me that Glissant created “creolize” when there was no verb describing exactly what he meant, so maybe that’s OK.

The verb “baroquiser” does exist in French. Maybe not officially in the Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française, but it does show up on the web in phrases like:

“Un indigène cherchera d’instinct à baroquiser son français, à le rendre sonore, haut en couleurs, rabelaisien, sensuel et synthétique”

“l’empereur Charles Quint (1685-1740) s’employa à baroquiser l’ensemble, le dotant notamment d’une fastueuse Sala Terrena ”

Baroquiser la musique populaire et campagnarde, c’est à dire passer du rustique au champêtre, s’approprier éventuellement un nouveau répertoire dégagé du mythe arcadien”

there is even a dictionary entry for the reflexive form:

Néol. d’aut. Devenir baroque; prendre les caractères de l’art baroque. … c’est ainsi que l’art primitif de Tiakuanaco se baroquisa en art maya (P. MORAND, Air indien, 1932, p. 147).
1re attest. 1932 supra; dénominatif de baroque*, étymol. II, suff. -iser*.

2. Pierre de Vries - June 11, 2007

These are great ideas. I like the cycle diagram a lot. It conveys the dynamics and ping-pong power play very well.
Some thoughts on nomenclature:
I don’t like the term “appropriate” in this context. In the first place, it’s a technical term from the social sciences. Second, it has radical/activist connotations which don’t always reflect what’s going on, and may alienate some audiences. Third, I think the difference in meaning between appropriate-as-verb and appropriate-as-adjective may confuse some people who aren’t fluent in English.
As an alternative, you might consider “re-make.” A couple of advantages: (1) It’s a simpler word – more straightforward meaning, not technical, fewer syllables. (2) It alliterates with the other two processes in the diagram: roll-out, re-make, re-claim
I don’t have the problems with “personalize” that you do. It’s a well-worn term in ICT, and while not as evocative as baroquize, it does the job. But some alternatives to play with:
= Customize
= Embed
= Individualize
= Tailor
By contrast, I’m not completely comfortable with cannibalize. The anthropophagic connotation communicates the confrontational dimension well, but not the practice. “Co-opt” might work, too, but that already take in the Re-claim stage.
As for alternatives to Compromise, I don’t have much to offer:
= Accommodate (used in the text to describe Compromise)
= Cherry-pick (though this may be closer to Co-opt)
Hope this helps

3. François - June 15, 2007

Thanks a lot, Pierre! this is terrific.

Of course, we are very reluctant to stop using “appropriation” – but we’ll make sure to distinguish it from “appropriate” (actually, the connection between “appropriation” and “appropriate technology” is worth exploring…)

And no way we’re giving up our totem, the cannibal🙂

But I really like the alliterative roll-out/re-make/re-claim sequence. Among other benefits, it frees up the “appropriation” label and allows us to describe re-claiming strategies as appropriation of user innovations by suppliers. Perhaps we should just call the overall model an “appropriation cycle”, with these three steps.

I have started ‘test-driving’ your new words here and there. So far, they feel pretty good.

4. Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol - June 19, 2007

1. tr. Hacer que algo se vuelva barroco (recargado de adornos).

Source: DICCIONARIO DE LA LENGUA ESPAÑOLA – XXII Ed. REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA (http://buscon.rae.es/draeI/SrvltConsulta?TIPO_BUS=3&LEMA=barroquizar)

5. François Bar - June 19, 2007

Merci Mireia!
(et en catalan, on dit quoi?)

6. memory stick 16 go - May 30, 2013

Hi there your web site url: https://abaporu.wordpress.com/2007/05/31/wordsmithing-appropriation/ seems to be redirecting to a completely different web site when I click the home-page link.
You might want to have this checked.

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