Repatriation Beyond Property: Resolving the Tension Between Universalism and Cultural Specificity
Bernet Kempers, F.T.
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With more and more pressure mounting on museums to repatriate stolen and looted artefacts to source communities, a clear ethical framework is still missing. In a world where existing legal frameworks seem able to provide little guidance when it comes to ethical dilemmas surrounding restitution issues, the need for alternative frameworks becomes all the more pressing. Furthermore, the repatriation debate within philosophy is held hostage by a stalemate between two opposite positions concerning cultural property, cultural internationalism and cultural nationalism. In this thesis I will explore when the repatriation of stolen and looted art and artefacts is morally justified. First, the practice of repatriation is illuminated and I reveal the universal museum as an institution in line with cultural internationalism. Both cultural internationalism and cultural nationalism will be applied to a cases involving ancient looted art, Nazi looted art and the litmus test of repatriation claims: colonial looted art. In the last chapter I propose an alternative framework that deploys arguments from the cultural internationalist framework in favour of repatriation and combine them with Bernard Boxill’s harm argument from the debate about reparations for slavery.