Outline of appropriation depths.

Draft Model: Depths of Appropriation

Been working on a model of appropriation for a while. It’s pretty clear in my head and it’s proven very useful in interactions with diverse people, including learners and teachers. Much of it comes from work on digital inclusion. As such, “technological appropriation” is a factor of empowerment, in this model. But cultural reappropriation decreases agency, which is also part of the broad pattern.

Though some may dislike the term, it sounds quite fitting, to me. It’s almost a pun about “something you own” and “making something your own”.

There are depths of appropriation. Not like strict stratification or a linear pattern. But there are forms of appropriation which are deeper than others, insofar as they have deeper impacts. It’s a bit like Le Cornu & White’s “Visitors and Residents” continuum, in this sense. And it benefits from Doug Belshaw’s seminal work on multiple literacies.

For each depth in the model, a pithy description is followed by hypothetical examples from both concepts and tools which people can appropriate.

It’s really just a rough draft. Circulated it a bit, got limited feedback. Maybe others will appropriate it?


Know it exists.

“Heard this SAT word…”

“You can print a prosthetic ear?”


Possibility to play with it.

“Was able to plug this word in conversation”

“Got to print a figurine.”


Passive usage.

“That concept is now part of my vocabulary.”

“Been using the computer on my desk every day for the past five years.”


Open-ended usage.

“Tried this word in a joke. It flopped.”

“Just noticed a strange port on this device.”


Grasp of how far it extends.

“Can now ask interesting questions about this concept.”

“Got enough vocabulary to do Web searches to solve my Python problem.”


Realisation of what it can potentially do.

“This concept from geography could help engineers understand something deep.”

“Did you know you could use a payphone to check the time?”


Simulations of expertise.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“Fake it until you make it”


Covering most of the scope.

“Got to the limits of this idea.”

“Don’t think there’s much more to learn about tying my shoelaces.”


Social interactions value the process.

“She’s so eloquent!”

“She’s so computer-savvy!”


Ability to support others’ appropriation.

“She got me to understand this term.”

“Thanks to her, we’re now able to use our machines in productive ways.”


Depth of usage.

“She connects those thoughts in such a seamless way!”

“Not even breaking a sweat.”


New tools for the same usage.

“She builds her own lexicon to explain complex things.”

“She’s Macgyvered it.”


New usage patterns.

“Whoa! Never thought of it this way!”

“In her hands, a saxophone sounds like a whole orchestra!”

Full Appropriation

Full agency.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“Pff! Who needs computers anyway?”


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