The principle aim of this volume is to put an end to what now seems a rather unnecessary if ancient antagonism. Material culture studies (see Buchli 2002), has roots in two quite distinct trajectories. Many researchers have a background in specialist institutions such as textile conservation, design or museum collections. There they may have gained considerable expertise in the analysis of cloth and textiles. By contrast there are many students whose background lies more in cultural studies, sociology or social anthropology with training in semiotic and symbolic analysis and an interest in the `social life’ of clothing. Specialists in textiles may have very little respect for those they lump together as `cultural studies’. They see this social analysis as merely mapping differences in clothing and fashion onto social categories such as class, ethnicity and gender. Such mapping removes any specificity to clothing studies since much the same mapping can be achieved with for example, food or housing. In turn, social scientists may denigrate scholars of textile, pattern, form, and technology as `positivists’ who study such things merely because they have collections. They see such attention to detail as emulating the assumptions of objectivity in the natural sciences and thus a kind of `right’ wing, failure to properly appreciate the politicised nature of all such research, which they have been trained to elicit from the material as what really `matters’.
The aim of this book is to show how contemporary material culture studies transcends and refuses this simplistic dualism. In our book the dissection of clothing into pattern, fibre, fabric, form and production is not opposed to, but part of, its consideration as an aspect of human and cosmological engagement. The sensual and aesthetic – what cloth feels and looks like, is the source of its capacity to objectify myth, cosmology and also morality, power and values. We are concerned with what might have been termed the political, or the study of gender, but view these as diminished by being abstracted as separate academic `debates’. Rather we see integrity in the complex interweaving of what can rarely be separated out into distinct material and social domains. The underlying claim is that such transcendence represents a certain maturity of perspective, one that recognises the virtues of various disciplines and forms of expertise and seeks to bring these together within the larger project of academic understanding. It also represents a new confidence within material culture studies more generally, as more than a meeting point, rather an alloy from which can be forged a sharper instrument whose point can strike further towards these goals of understanding.
Underlying these possibilities has been a deeper transformation of material culture studies and general approaches to materiality within anthropology. In a recent volume, (Miller in press) I focus upon the meaning of materiality itself. Using this to complement the common critique of the concept of culture with a more specific critique of terms such as society, social relations and the subject. A series of case-studies ranging from the study of religion to that of finance demonstrate what is gained by taking on board the intrinsic materiality of what are otherwise regarded as social relations. This is defended both on philosophical grounds but also pragmatically as often closer to the way peoples in many parts of the world understand themselves and struggle with the relationship between what they regard as the spiritual and material aspects of their lives.
Within that volume are two papers that are specifically concerned with the topic of clothing and textiles. Webb Keane (in press) argues against the idea that clothes are signs or representations of social relations. This has been the baleful legacy of many approaches labelled `semiotic’, although Keane argues that the work of Peirce was never limited in this way. The problem with such studies is precisely that clothing becomes reduced to its ability to signify something that seems more real - society or social relations, as thought these things exist above or prior to their own materiality. In effect, Keane is saying, not just that the emperor had no clothes, but that the clothes should no longer have an emperor. That they are not merely the handmaidens to the study of society, or culture or identity. Rather we are prepared now to see clothes themselves as having agency, as part of what constitutes and forms lives, cosmologies, reasons, causes and effects.
Küchler’s chapter (in press) takes this still further through a critique of our privileging of humanity as homo sapient, those who are distinguished through their possession of intelligence. By focusing upon new forms of textile that include elements that can respond to and anticipate their environment, she shows how intelligence can also be considered an aspect of materiality, and that it is not just the social but also the intellectual characterisation of humanity that needs to be re-introduced to its own materiality in order to transcend a false dualism that impedes rather than facilitates our understanding.
Behind the clash of prejudices found amongst students lies what is often already an assumption and thereby an assertion about what really `matters’. In colloquial discussion of clothing, the principle problem has been precisely that the whole topic doesn’t really matter. Since it is used as a covering or as a surface, clothing is easily characterized as intrinsically superficial. This may be connected to a wider critique of the concept of surfaces that can be related to architecture and other domains (e.g. Wigley 1995). We struggle with what might be called a depth ontology, a very specific Western idea of being, in which the real person, myself, is somehow deep inside me, while my surface is literally superficial, a slight, transient aspect that is shallow, more contrived, somehow less real and certainly less important. Politics as abstract and explicit debate is profound, while attention to forms such as clothing is trivial and self-indulgent. This denigration of surfaces has been part of the denigration of clothing and, by extension, of those said to be particularly interested in clothing, often seen as women, or blacks or any other group that thereby come to be regarded as more superficial and less deep. But I have argued (Miller 1994) that Trinidadians for example, see things very differently. What they regard as real, the real person, is considered to be on the surface. It is at this site that you can honestly appraise them, find out who or what they are. By contrast, that which is held deep inside them is seen as false, being hidden from public scrutiny. It is not the real self but the site of lies and deceptions. So for Trinidadians clothing is the very best route to finding out who a person is really about, both for others viewing them and even for oneself, since it is through dressing that one confronts who one is, and reveals how certain self-representations and pretensions are really delusions (compare also Strathern 1979 for a similar critique based upon Melanesian evidence). This indicates that there is little point in suggesting it is right or wrong to talk to in terms of the morality of surfaces, rather we simply cannot assume that the way Western Philosophy and conversation uses these concept will necessarily apply to any other society. Indeed in a marvellous reconstruction of the history of France in terms of its attitudes to clothing, appearance and the site of reality, Richard Sennett (1976) showed how much these assumptions have changed over the last few centuries within the West itself.
Similarly we recognise that some of these distinctions pertain to a difference in the material being discussed. Writers such as Simmel (1978/1907), or more recent commentators on fashion such as Davis (1994) or Entwhistle (2000) may at times give less attention to the details of fabric when the primary interest is how quickly these change as part of a fashion system, where it is the temporality of knowledge that commands respect, not the form taken by fashion at any given moment. It is not surprising that in the early studies of folk costumes which were one of the origin points of modern semiotics, or in anthropological decoding of colour and patterns of weaving, more attention is given to parameters of difference that are relatively stable (e.g. Weiner and Schneider 1989). On the other hand in creating modern material culture it is often those who work against this grain, such as an anthropologist who focuses upon the development of new fibres (Schneider 1994) that provides the best precedence for the current volume. It is those who may be devoted to the study of class, but understand that appearance can be the substance and not just the mechanism of class, and those whose primary concern is lustre within a collection of fabric, but realise that lustre may have been understood as the idiom for sweat and thereby relations of labour, that paved the way for contemporary material culture approaches.
I have portrayed this clash and its resolution from the very specific perspective of material culture studies. It is not my intention to provide a general survey of disciplinary work on the topic of dress and cloth, but clearly there are many trajectories here and in each case there will be a different variant upon these tensions, so that although the contributions in this volume may not follow so clearly upon this trajectory I suspect it will also have a place in resolving tensions that exist elsewhere, With regard to the broader study of dress and cloth in anthropology, we are fortunate in that there has been a very survey of the literature by Hansen (in press), which complements works by Eicher both as collections (e.g. Eicher 1995)and as synthesis (e.g. Eicher 2000). Since as Eicher notes one of the main contributions of anthropology fostered by its concept of culture is to emphasis the social context of material, these studies are changing with the transformations of the societies anthropology works with. So there was a time when such studies would largely have focused upon rituals, ancestors and kinship, something evident in the final set of papers within this volume, but many of the recent studies summarised by Hansen, are acknowledgments on a regional basis of the increasing importance of fashion and mass consumption as reflected in the early section of this volume (e.g. Freedman 2000 for Barbados, Heath 1992 for Sengal, Kondon 1992 for Japan and Leichty 2003 for Nepal). Of course this is only a trend, one of the earliest influential anthropologists to work on clothing A. E. Kroeber (1919) actually studied contemporary fashion.
The amount of relevant work more generally coming out of dress and textile studies has grown hugely in particular through the work of Berg the publisher of this volume, both in its book series and through the journal Fashion Theory. As Attfield (2000) has shown there are many points of integration between such work and the kind of material culture studies discussed here. The historical study of dress and fashion has itself undergone radical changes which are reflected in this literature (for example Taylor 2002, 2004) which has also involved re-thinking the relationship between form and context. Taylor (1998), in particular, has argued for a movement beyond the older form of object based research which parallels the case made here. One strong component of this is the emphasis upon materiality that comes from a focus upon clothing and the body, a topic which Entwhistle (2000) discusses in general and an exemplary monograph may be found in Summers (2001) study of the Victorian corset. There has always been a clear inter-disciplinary focus in these studies, which continues to be reflected in both the Berg catalogue which includes ethnographic work such as McVeigh (2001) on uniforms in Japan or on Haynes (1998) debutant balls in the US, and in Fashion Theory. But this inter-disciplinarity is equally true of the tradition of studies represented here and more generally in the Journal of Material Culture. So that in general terms the attempt by this volume to reach a new form of transcendence through an emphasis upon materiality that has little in common with the earlier fetishism of things in themselves should have resonance across a wide spectrum of current debates and studies.
In reference to this inter-disciplinary it is clearly one of the intentions of the present volume to ensure that for its own part we see the study of fibre such as `wash and wear’ fabrics and clothing such as a Maxmara skirt as used in New York or London can and should be subject to the same kind of understanding as barkcloth and Cook island quilts. Here too issues of cosmology, morality, or the objectification of a generation may be better excavated through a sensitivity to the nuances of form and fibre. So the volume starts with the clothing of mass consumption. For this reason also it ends with a more concentrated regional case study that helps elaborate upon some of these ideas, through a series of papers concerned with the constitution of Pacific persons. Here the richness of anthropological approaches to regions such as Melanesia are brought to bear on the intricacies of cloth production, pattern and form.
THE WORLD BENEATH ‘HAUTE CUTURE’
In contemporary material culture studies the challenge has been as much to re-unite work on designer labels with work on traditional ikat, as it has been to reject the dualism of society and materiality. Our understanding of both barkcloth fibre and a Maxmara skirt are considerably enhanced by their juxtaposition and both have been denuded by the artificial separation which tends to correspond also to the division between anthropology and sociology. The way Woodward, with her anthropological training, understands this skirt is after all largely derived from her interpretation of writings by Strathern and Gell. Importantly, and unlike most writers on contemporary fashion, her focus is on people wearing these labels, not the producers and firms. She is not drawn upwards to either the study of haute couture or haute culture. Furthermore her examples are largely of social failure, of how these items betrayed and failed to accomplish their expected and intended effects.
In the two most extended studies within Woodward’s paper we are introduced to individuals with strong desires as to who they want to be, and a clear sense of themselves. But in both cases the clothing is the superior agent, its very materiality thwarts them and prevents them from becoming those persons. Kate has seven wardrobes, and is facing for her a key occasion. Yet such an expert strategist gets everything wrong. She fails to see how a retreat to clothes such as this Maxmara skirt, that have always worked in the past, is completely inappropriate for facing up to a context that is unprecedented and that really did demand something new. As a result the new Kate that she looks forward to fails to come into existence. Zina is the inverse of Kate, the person who will not buy clothes or dress up for an occasion. But as a result she also suffers from extraordinary constraints. At least Kate got to the Ivy restaurant, Zina cannot even go to the Sony award ceremony, since her clothing dictates again what she cannot be and by extension where she cannot go. There is no post-modern freedom here, rather highly constrained, highly anxious acts, which in stark contrast to the promise of the post-modern, are moments when you cannot escape responsibility to claims to authority, since these are foisted upon you by the judgements of others. Exactly the point made earlier with regard to superficiality (Miller 1994, O’Hanlon 1989, Strathern 1979).
As Woodward notes this reveals another side to Gell’s (1998) theories of the extended person. For Gell the emphasis upon this permeable relationship between the individual and their externality was the way in which their creative work could extend them outwards to influence others. But seen through Woodward’s example we see that this same theory reveals the extent to which the individual is thereby equally made vulnerable to the penetrating criticisms of others and. So just as in the Pacific cases we see here the key attributes of cloth is its conductivity not its setting apart. Clothing is the carapace that often conducts and connects (Thrift in press) rather than separates our sense of what lies within and outside ourselves.
To position Woodward’s chapter before O’Connor’s accords well with O’Connor’s own point - that the natural tendency to treat production as prior to consumption can often be misleading. In these Pacific papers there is no assumption of directionality. Pacific people may shred their fibres so that clothing can enact their understanding of relationships; technology is a creative and expressive medium and not just a means to a previously determined end. The final cloth may be there to justify the technology as well as the other way around. O’Connor starts from the observation that most contemporary clothing is the product of new artificial fibres, and the relationship between fibre and product is not given. It is not that one day Lycra is better suited to making girdles and the next day it is better suited to making leggings (see O’Connor 2003). There is no technological determinism here. The fibres do not determine whether they are used to hold a stomach in or assist in aerobic exercises. Rather for garments made of artificial fibres to simply exist in any real quantity, there had to develop an effective connection between the demand for particular kinds of clothing and the ability to make these. As in optical fibres this social economy can only work if people can see the light at both ends of the thread.
To be entirely new is in a sense to be entirely old. Fibres at first could only be artificial silk because they had no resonance of their own. To come into being in their own right meant not just the study of the new propensity of fibre but just as much a study of the new propensity of women. They too were inventing themselves in many unprecedented ways, they too were discovering new ways in which they could gain stretch and flexibility, for example in the management of time, and needed new labels to designate and thus understand who they had become as a generation. Indeed what O’Connor shows is that it wasn’t some new fashion or style that matched production to consumption, it was the emerging concern with `convenience’. The new system of production that came not from manufacturing, but from the technologies of housewifery, became the critical selling point of these new materials. The production system of manufacture had to accord with the changing production system of women as consumers, So to understand innovation as much as to understand custom we need to see the resonances by which people develop themselves as material culture, and become the` wash and wear’ generation.
One of the primary difficulties in juxtaposing the study of the self-designated modern with more traditional anthropological work is the degree to which the fields we study become abstracted and designated as distinct. With much of the Pacific material we do not need anthropologists to insist upon a seamless connection between religion and clothing, because it is the designation of these as two separate categories that appears artificial. When fibres, fabrics and ways of wearing are the medium for ones relationships to other people and to the gods, we cannot have `cloth’ and `religion’ we can only have the materiality of cosmology.
In the self-designated modern societies, by contrast, the tendency is to see things and discuss them as separated out domains, so that being religious and being fashionable seem naturally opposed rather than naturally integral. It becomes increasingly clear that the process of categorisation is itself deeply political, or more properly ideological, the attempt to gain hegemony for one or other view as to the `natural’. The modern movement in Turkey, which took its political form through Atatürk, tried hard to designate religion and its unity with everyday life as antiquated and opposed to modernity. So as Sandikci and Ger demonstrate the radicalism of their informants as contemporary urban women lies less in their explicit avowal of religion, and more in their espousal of religion as a legitimate and alternative form of modernity. Unlike the secular modernity that starts with the separation of these categories, such as politics and religion, we find cloth being used as an expression of interconnectivity. Once again we see an insistence upon a unifying cosmololgy, which takes a material and aesthetic form.
So for these women there is no contradiction between the espousal of fashion and having collections of scarves to match the collections of clothing that Woodward studies in the UK. The rise of the mass market does not diminish, but rather makes possible, the fulfilment of religious ideals. In this case the problem for these women is how to simultaneously conform to the commandment to be modest and avert the male predatory gaze, but also to embody the Islamic ideals of beauty and order, and to thereby express and embody Islam’s aesthetic understandings. Consider, for example, the way calligraphy has traditionally also been used to resolve the problem of expressing the beauty of Islam without the profanation of representing the body (a dilemma fictionalised recently in Pamuk 2001). What industrial capitalism provides is a vast array of materials, shapes, colours and forms which can help women interpret these injunctions so as to resolve them. How to have colour without being gaudy, to have elegance of shape without sexualised allure, to have opacity and also lightness, comfort and also convenience. As Sandikci and Ger show, the work of `interpretation’ is simultaneously verbal and material. These women can explain what they are doing and how it relates to their struggle to understand and interpret Koranic commands, but the most eloquent testimony is in their practice, what is termed their `beauty work’. The interpretation constructed from the richness of practice is often far more nuanced than anything that they can say about their relationship to religious text. Outsiders see a contradiction between the assumed materialism of mass consumption and religious spirituality, but insiders welcome the provision of new forms and materials as God’s blessing that enable them to resolve contradiction and as a furtherance of cosmological imperatives. When we step back and consider the centrality of the headscarf to political struggles from Iran to France today, we can see that this appropriation by no means diminishes the political impact, on the contrary it is the very essence of its politics. There is nothing superficial about headscarves.
LOCAL WEARING, GLOBAL TEARING
This general refusal to `see’ the materiality of clothing as part of the politics of clothing but instead to assume that to be political is to suppress the material makes the end point of Sandikci and Ger’s chapter the starting point of the chapter by Hansen. Hansen begins by considering the way the phenomenon she has been studying tends to be represented in the media as the international clothing trade. The point she makes is that for the journalists such trade is simply abstracted as a `symbol’ for their stance on the state of the world, for example, exploitation. But as such, there is no specificity to their enquiry and thus no understanding of why clothing, why this clothing. What is ignored by such a glib reduction of this complex encounter is any realisation of how clothing is constructed by the way it is combined and worn to create an effect. The materiality of cloth is manifest in the emphasis upon appearance. The very term salaula or sorting, makes reference to the active component of selection and recombination that makes such clothing in essence performative.
To illustrate this point Hansen looks at the development of what she calls `clothing competence’ in circumstances ranging from young men considering suits and jeans to older women’s sensitivities to the various contexts for which they need specific clothing. From the point of view of these consumers the important quality of salaula is not that they have been worn, but given the vast range of sources, it is that compared to high street clothing in other countries this clothing has a much higher percentage chance of being unique within the universe of clothing worn in this region. The interactive nature of this aesthetic means that, in effect, the clothing become the summation of the reaction of others to one’s attempt to carry it off to appropriate it as one’s new appearance in the world. To master this competence requires as much concern for the materiality of clothing in this case of second hand clothing as it does in Woodward’s analysis of clothing competences in first hand clothing. Indeed Hansen, like Woodward is drawn to the instructive lessons to be learnt from clothes that fail when worn to a public occasion. But the irony in this case is that the specificity of clothing is heightened because second hand clothes come to represent not lack of choice but greater choice than is available for first hand clothes and thus a greater burden of expectations and responsibility upon those engaged in the work of this re-assembling clothes.
The very first chapter and the very last chapter of this book echo with the sound of fibres being shredded. Norris also serves brilliantly as a final chapter because the message of her paper is precisely that the apparent end is often also an unacknowledged beginning. That shredding old cloth creates the basis for new materials, but also releases their symbolic and social significance, so that fragility and reconstitution are made available again as warp and weft. An idea again reminiscent of Küchler and Henare’s examination of the fibres of social connectivity. In the case of Norris, as also befits Indian social mores, whole castes are constituted by their precise place in this process of re-configuring value, for example the suspicion of that caste seen as responsible for removing old clothing as waste and replacing it with shiny new kitchen utensils. Particularly important is the way Norris uses her material to critique one more dualism that so far has been largely ignored, that between the study of social symbolism and political economy, since here it is the emphasis upon materiality itself, which again serves to connect rather than separate off these two genres of academic study.
In comparing the re-use of old Indian clothing with, in parallel to Hansen, the re-use of imported Western, Norris reveals the medium by which we can perhaps best understand materiality itself as an aspect of material culture. It is materiality as the form of value. While the term value sounds like the stripped down substance from which economic, social, religious determinations of what matters to people can be built up, even at this most basic level, value is still material. It takes material form with inherent propensities, in which form it travels continents, becomes re-configured, is reduced or substantially increased as value. Usually we think of abstraction as a loss of form, but in this book we can see that equally often it is materiality that constitutes rather than limits the very possibilities of value. For example, to pass through and accumulate value does cloth have to be first slashed and translated into the category of `mutilated hosiery’? What regulations, national and multi-national, attempt to control the relationship between these forms of materiality and their value potential? Who see and identifies themselves with opportunities to create value by entrepreneurial translations through selection, finding markets, re-labelling or seeing the cachet in old labelling? Norris shows how these entrepreneurs have to become experts in translation. To secure value is to be able to sniff out the precise colour, texture, or quality of the material and properly assess its potential in its next clothing life. Central to Norris’s paper is its own revelatory quality. So much of what she describes was not only unknown to us, but is unknown to local buyers, and its value dependent upon not revealing certain aspects, such as its never having been washed, or the fact that it is not actually made from Indian materials. Shoddy comes over as a wonderfully ambiguous term in this account of clothing lies. It is these lies that permit the extraordinary cycle of cloth from the kinds of wardrobe studied by Woodword, to India and sometimes back again. During this journey key attributes such as labels may suddenly fade into insignificance, while other aspects of materiality rise up and makes a claim to be the determinant quality of the material. In conclusion this chapter, as with all its predecessors, shows how much is gained by close attention to the fabric of identity.
THE CONSTITUTION OF PACIFIC PERSONS
The cumulative effect of the papers presented here, is to overthrow conventional ideologies that have limited our perception of cloth. But we hope this is not some esoteric, theoretical gambit, resonant of academics trying to show how clever they are. On the contrary it most often arises as a tearing aside of what has prevented us coming closer to the way cloth and clothing is actually regarded by the people who produce and wear it. This is particular evident in the series of papers that deal with cloth in the Pacific (see also Colchester 2003). In these papers the authors seeks to convey the experiences of such peoples where cosmology, that is ones understanding of the nature of the universe and ones place within it, is often formulated through the making, wearing, displaying and destruction of fibres. The complexity of all manner of relationships are understood through the idiom of fibre and cloth, which is not therefore to be understood as representation or metaphor, but is that from which those understandings and expectations are woven. They tell you what an ancestor feels like, what it means to say a relationship is fragile. Such work has been considerably enhanced by Strathern’s work in opening up our sense of the self as often only emergent through the reflection upon appearance. Indeed it is worth remembering that many of Strathern’s highly influential insights as to the partible and flexible nature of the self (1986) followed upon her earlier studies of self-decoration in Mount Hagen (Strathern 1979, also Strathern and Strathern 19 )
For Strathern this self emerges as a relational form that often knows what it is mainly through the impact of its own appearance. The materiality of presence, or personification, is what gives relationships their presence and their effects. But equally there have been important writings about materials and appearances such as McKenzie’s (1991 book on netbags in New Guinea, or Gell (1993 on tattooing in the Pacific) or Thomas (1991) on exchange that have given us a freedom in thinking about this same set of relationships from the perspective of the form and pattern that they take. These are in turn informed by a sense of relationships over time that make clothing and fibre something that embroiders the present, gives it shape and form onto fabric that is given by history and its embodiment in forms such as ancestors and custom.
A critical term in Strathern’s work is personification, which responds to her focus upon the person as the form by which we come to see what constitutes relationships, but this is a more specific version of a more general term, that of objectification which lies at the bedrock of material culture studies in its attempt to transcend subjects and objects and focus on this process of dialectical culture. But this word objectification has passed through quite different meanings also. What does it mean, for example, to consider law as a form of objectification? When applied to law the word objectification is likely to connote its more `Marxist’ pejorative version of an object as a fixture from whose hard dry form the fluid humanity has been sucked out. We tend to think of law as static, as forcing people into a more object like relationship to each other and to possessions. A kind of fall from the more dynamic, mutable relationships of customary understanding. But law and possession are all about relationships, and they are constantly transformed by a mixture of changing interpretation and changing moralities of fairness and appropriateness, saturated with moral, emotional and affective qualities. Consider the adjudication of possession in the case of an heirloom at the time of a divorce or inheritance. So law can equally well be associated with the more Hegelian sense of objectification which sees objects and institutions as the sole means by which subjects create themselves, the very essence of creativity. The former narrow usage ignores the commonality of law and custom. In Australian Aboriginal society we see the well defended rights of the painter as against the rights to oversee the painting and the rights to possession of the motifs being painted, all as integral aspects equally of Aboriginal kinship and Australian law (Myers in press).
For Henare this is why we must acknowledge that Maori cloth was treasured long before rights to cultural heritage were enshrined in state laws. Henare recognises and partakes in the process of weaving as the means by which an object, the cloth or cloak, is brought into being. Genealogy, she argues, partakes in the same technical process. A raw material, the corporeal body, is subject to a whole series of rituals and additions that creates its presence in a society as a living person or eventually as an ancestor. Indeed often the threads from which a body’s persona is woven, came through the positioning, wrapping, delineation of body and space with cloaks. The Maori language constantly recognises the sameness of processes through which persons and cloth are produced. So cloth and persons are equally the products of objectification. As such they are not subservient to the processes within which they are employed. The perspective of objectification already presupposes the potential of objects in creating and reproducing relational subjects.
It should not be hard for anthropologists brought up on Mauss’s (1966) interpretation of the Hau to concede Henare’s further point here. The exchange of cloth is granted to be also an exchange of aspects of persons, since these same persons are partly constituted by their relationship created in that act of exchange. So also a cloth, or equally a technique of making cloth, that is held to come from an ancestor, is not just a representation or a memory, but an abiding presence of that ancestor. The very word ancestor speaks to a relationship joined to a descendent, a mutually constituting exchange, in this case, of temporalities. So in weaving a traditional pattern ones hands and their movements become the hands and movements of the ancestors who bequeathed the technique. A mistake is a ritual error, a failure to be that ancestor. This failure would be a breach of Maori law because it rends the cloth of the connectivity between present identity and the past, that which makes the fabric Maori. The claim to a right to inherit, that is to be Maori, is always a responsibility to an ancestral genealogy that wove one into being. To appropriately possess and employ the right cloak and to weave in the right way is to fulfil that responsibility to keep alive both ancestor and ancestry. So cultural heritage is an objectification, not because of the properties of Western Law, but because it cannot ever have been anything else.
There are clear continuities between Hanera’s concerns and Colchester, since it is precisely the role of cloth in the objectification of power that lies at the heart of Colchester’s paper, though here it is the ambiguities and competitive nature of that process of objectification that takes centre stage. Consistent with the previous chapter we see that to objectify is to constitute - that power exists in larger measure to the degree to which it can take a form - a form that re-configures the authority of the past with that of the present. The situation Colchester describes is one of power inflation, in which power as a limited good was being reduced by virtue of the sheer number of attempts to express it in the form of projects such as church building for new denominations or co-operatives. This accounts for the paradox of masi, which was simultaneously a revival, to return as a new player in this game, but one which depended upon being deeply conservative, since only its apparently unmediated form bore witness to its capacity to bring back ancestral efficacy into the present. Its stability and continuity as customary legitimacy becomes still more important at a time when there is increasing uncertainty as to the normative form that should be taken by claims to power, a common fate for materials such as clothing under conditions of modernity (Clarke and Miller 2002).
Masi is effective also because it is substantive, it combines a kind of labour theory of value, where labour it itself both sign and substance of commitment, with a genealogical model of personhood, where objects act as rememberances. At a general level the chapter updates the anthropological discussion of the Pacific concept of mana as a local concept of objectification, that is the necessity of a material aspect to power. But Colchester shows that this implicates the specificity of the material itself. Here the stability of its pattern and form as materialisation of the past takes on new aspects because of its juxtaposition with new materials such as photography. The change in context means masi could hardly be static for all their appeal to the past. This emerges in various creative, ambivalent and sometimes humorous and ironic effects. In turn this highlights one more synthesis, which is the necessity of such specific material forms as an essential component of general qualities such as power and spirituality. An ambivalence to materiality is itself central to Christian notions of spirituality (e.g. Engleke in press Keane 1997). So understanding the precise materiality of masi become a means for understanding the nature of the emergent syncretism between Christian and pre-Christian forms of religiosity and power.
Central to Colchester’s argument is the role of pattern, in particular the role of stability in relation to conditions of change. Pattern is even more evidently centre stage in the next chapter by Were. The gist of Were arguments rests upon the ability of pattern to create connections rather than to be the bearer of differences and distinctions. Work on other media such as shells and ornaments, especially when considered in the light of recent theoretical work by Gell (1998), suggests the ways pattern might have been used in the Pacific to facilitate this work of connecting. But Were argues that with the European introduction of calico cloth in the region, pattern also becomes important for controlling the nature of the connection between the islanders and the newcomers.
There is a poignant contrast drawn here. On the one hand the impotence of islanders in the face of the violence exhibited, for example, in the practice of blackbirding, that is kidnapping men to work in plantations such as in Queensland. On the other hand the subtle means by which discriminating between different imported calicos and wearing these or re-configuring these in accordance with prior custom allowed the islanders some degree of agency in determining the conditions of this colonial encounter. This follows the general argument of Thomas (1998) with regard to the two-way nature of selection and appropriation of material culture. As such the very goods that the islanders take from the Europeans becomes one of the means by which they seek to `tame’ the influence of missionaries and others and make this influence more appropriate to local sensibilities and customs.
These papers reach their conclusion in the essay by Küchler which returns to our intitial and basic question of what we gain through a new openness to the materiality of relationships as constituted by fibre and cloth. What we do with materials such as fibre and cloth is often the means by which we come to `see’ the very nature of our relationships. This is a materiality that incorporates the process of production, shredding and re-combining fibres that reflects the composition and decomposition of states of being, and is very different from our usual conceptualisation of clothing in terms of surface and depth. Textile is not here an appearance. It is the form of an everyday experience. In this constancy of shredding, sewing and altering, appearance become also tactile and auditory - how we use our hands, what material feels like, the constant soundscape around the house. So re-composition is felt to be in the nature of relationships. Textile is a medium through which people think their anticipation of new and withdrawal from older connections. It is these threads of connection that perform the relative density of cultural substance.
Küchler shows how this applied equally to introduced sewn cloth as to traditional fibres such as barkcloth and mats, since the former were also re-constructed through tearing, sewing and quilting and thereby seen to express animacy. As such clothing animated women’s emotional and relational attachments to both the living and the dead. Intricacy in layering and pattern could `stitch up’ sensual and affective relationships between people and the materiality of houses, rituals and the general form taken by connectivity with gods, adopted children, ancestors and lovers.
Today Cook Islanders sew together quilts and quilts sew together Cook Islanders living in disparate lands. As such they use a new medium to replicate the same symmetry found in traditions where wrapping images of the gods had been the means by which people felt in turn wrapped up in the comfort accorded by being surrounded by spirits. Neither was simply a covering, they were a forms of connections effected through the juxtaposition of layers and materials. Küchler illustrates the vision of material culture that this volume speaks to - fine attention to detail creates a phenomenological sense of how, for another society, being is experienced as a nexus of relationships in which the idea of living and the lightness of life is itself diffuse. Dead people with a living presence, made cloth that is shredded and re-configured, children that are removed from their past and re-configured. A sewn cloth anticipates, acknowledges, constitutes, recalls and memorialises relationships. Just as genealogy traces the threads of connection.
I want to conclude by making analogous points with reference to our recent study of the Sari (Banerjee and Miller 2003), a study which adds one further dimension to this re-integration of materiality with sociality. This is the dimension of wearing, which also can be seen to internalise aspects of the materiality of clothing, a point also made by Sandikci and Ger. The chapters of this book set in the Pacific make clear that these material culture approaches are as much about returning to a sense of the materiality of the person as to the materiality of the cloth. This is not simply the materiality of the body. The material presence in question may equally well be an ancestor or an aspect of kinship. The point is that there is no simple boundary or distinction between persons and their environment.
This becomes very clear when we look at cloth that stands at the very place of this `boundary’. In examining the South Asian sari, one is always drawn to what is called the pallu (Banerjee and Miller 2003: 29-41). This is the end of the cloth that normally has far more elaborate decoration than the rest and, in the most common style of sari draping today, is also the part of the sari that appears to be `semi-detached,’ draped over the shoulder as a loose item of cloth. It is the part of the sari that stands at this ambiguous boundary, simultaneously part and not part of the person. Investigated in its own right, the pallu is seen to be in constant use as a functional, sort of third hand, for wiping chairs, holding keys, protecting from the sun, or holding hot pans in the kitchen. It is equally in constant use as a means of shifting the appearance of the wearer in relation to those around her and thereby indicating both attitude and emotion. It can be tucked in to the waist to make one authoritative, held between the teeth to indicate modesty and veiling, it can be used to flirt or to demonstrate confidence as a `power sari’ in an office. Finally the pallu turned out to be `instrumental’ in examining the relationship between mothers and infants. It can be played with by a child, in a peek-a-boo game to create affection, it is what an infant may hold onto while sleeping with their mother or learning to walk. Like the famous `transitional object’ of psychoanalysis (Winnicott 1971, best known as the Linus’s blanket in the cartoon Peanuts), it becomes that aspect of the mother that appears semi detachable and thus semi-appropriated by the child.
In all three cases we see the sari not simply as the cover of the individual but as the mediation between the individual and that which lies outside of them, their child, their kitchen, their office workers. This semi-detached nature means that a pallu may extend the individual, but can also betray them, for example, by catching on fire or being caught in a car door or stepped on by a malicious male. So it is not simply an extension of will. What this implies is not just a difference in clothing, but a significant difference in what it means to be a woman. To have clothing that has this dynamic built into it, so that one can radically change ones appearance several times in a hour, if need be, has no equivalent in the relatively fixed, tailored clothing that dominates the west, which also has none of the ambiguity central to the sari. As argued in The Sari this has an impact on how the individual relates to themselves, to others, and to wider issues such as the nature of rationality or modernity.
But none of this is an intrinsic feature of draped clothing. Another draped cloth in another place or time may exhibit none of this dynamism. So the materiality can be considered a propensity but not simply a cause. And this has been true of every chapter in this book. As O’Connor showed artificial fibres too have propensity as materials, but this does not determine what they have become over the decades. Biological anthropology tells us every year more about how people have propensities, given their genetics and the course of human evolution, but no amount of biological anthropology will ever account for the diversity and the extraordinary possibilities of culture that are detailed in this book. Propensity does matter, and it is the way in which matter becomes integral to cultural processes. It would be a shallow analysis that failed to understand how and why the pallu, or rayon or barkcloth or cotton lend themselves to what they have become, or in some cases how a usage has had to overcome the intractability of material. Indeed many of these chapters are about tearing, shredding, re-configuring and transforming the potential of fibre and textile as it moves from one context to another, often hiding and denying its own story. We need to respect biological anthropology but always with a clear understanding of its limitations. In the same way to re-focus upon materiality is in no sense a return to determinism.
This then is the current state of material culture studies as they pertain to textile and clothing. They lead to a new respect for the scholarship involved in the precise analysis of the propensities of fibre, shape, texture and pattern. They lead to a new scholarship that considers draping, feel, comfort and assemblage. The technologies of wearing and of genealogy are re-introduced to those of weaving. The result is immeasurably richer, because we can now understand genealogy as technology, weaving as a form by which patterns of value are created not just patterns of style, Assemblage emerges not just as craft but also as a thwarted or failed expression of will, in the face of stronger forces whether that of elite society or of colonial authority. But to produce this richness of texture demands our acknowledgment of one more technology. We have also re-integrated the technology that we term scholarship, found in anthropology and other social sciences that investigate the nuances of kinship, cosmology, death and commensality. We are forcing the scholarship that pertains to analysing kinship and social distinctions, and that which pertains to understanding fibres and style and that which pertains to exchange and international trade, to not just respect each other but be interwoven into a thereby much stronger material culture. None of these technologies can be appraised over any other. All become requisite. We do not reduce to a simple category of cloth for the same reason we do not reduce to a simple category of gender, class or ethnicity.
When we go out into the world we want, even as academics, to look good, and looking good and stylish depends upon our ability to wear new garments; a material culture that no longer unravels into the warp of materiality and the weft of society, but is there to accentuate and express every subtle contour of that body of understanding we bring out into the public gaze.
Attfield, J. 2000 Wild Things. Oxford: Berg.
Banerjee, M and Miller, D. 2003 The Sari. Oxford: Berg
Buchli, V. Ed. 2002 The Material Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg
Clarke, A and Miller. D. 2002 Fashion and Anxiety. Fashion Theory 6: 191-213
Colchester C. Ed. 2003, Clothing the Pacific. Oxford: Berg.
Davis, F. 1994 Fashion Culture and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Eicher J. Ed. 1995. Dress and Ethnicity: Change Across Space and Time. Oxford: Berg
Eicher J. 2000. The Anthropology of Dress. Dress 27:59-70
Engelke, M. (In press) Sticky Subjects and Sticky Objects. In D. Miller Ed. Materiality Durham: Duke University Press
Entwistle, J. 2000. The Fashioned Body. Polity Press, Cambridge
Freeman, C. 2000 High Tech and High Feels in the Global Economy: women, work and pink-collar identities in the Caribbean. Duke University Press
Gell, A. 1998 Art and Agency: An anthropological theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Gell, A. 1993 Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Hansen, KT. 2004 The World in Dress: Anthropological perspectives on clothing fashion and culture. Annual Review of Anthropology 33:….
Haynes. M. 1998 Dressing up Debutants. Oxford: berg
Heath D. 1992. Fashion, anti-fashion, and heteroglossia in urban Senegal. Am. Ethnol. 19(1):19--33
Keane, W. (1997) Signs of Recognition: Hazards and Risks of Representation in an Indonesian Society, University of California Press.
Keane, W. (in press) - Signs are Not the Garb of Meaning: On the Social Analysis of Material Things. In D. Miller Ed. Materiality Durham: Duke University Press
Kondo D. 1992. The aesthetics and politics of Japanese identity in the fashion industry. In Re-Made in Japan: Everyday Life and Consumer Taste in a Changing Society, ed. J Tobin, pp. 176--203. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press Kroeber, A. L. (1919). On the principle of order in civilization as exemplified by changes in fashion. American Anthropologist 21(2): 235-263
Küchler, S. (in press) Materiality and Cognition: The Changing Face of Things. In D. Miller Ed. Materiality Durham: Duke University Press
Liechty M. 2003. Suitably Modern: Making Middle-Class Culture in a New Consumer Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press
McVeigh, B. 2001 Wearing Ideology. Oxford: Berg
MacKenzie, M. 1991 Androgynous Objects. Chur: Harwood Academic Press.
Miller, D. 1994. Style and Ontology. In J. Friedman, ed., Consumption and Identity. Chur: Harwood, pp. 71-96.
Miller, D. (in press) Materiality. In D. Miller Ed. Materiality Durham: Duke University Press
O’Connon, K. (unpublished PhD thesis 2003) Production, Consumption and Technology Innovation: The Material Culture of the Midlife.
O’Hanlon, M. 1989 Reading the Skin: Adornment, Display and Society among the Wahgi. London: British Museum Publications
Mauss, M. 1966 The Gift. London: Cohen and West.
Pamuk, O 2001 My Name is Red. London: Faber and Faber
Schneider, J. 1994. In and Out of Polyester: Desire, Disdain and Global Fibre Competitions. Anthropology Today, Vol 10, No 4.
Sennett, R. 1976 The Fall of Public Man. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Simmel, G. 1957 Fashion. American Journal of Sociology, 62, 541‑58.
Strathern, M. 1979 The self in self-decoration. Oceania 44: 241-57
Strathern, M. 1988 The Gender of the Gift. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Strathern, A. and Strathern, M. 1971 Self Decoration In Mount Hagen. London: Duckworth
Summers, L. 2001 Bound to Please: a history of the Victorian corset. Oxford: Berg
Taylor, L. 1998 Doing the laundry: A reassessment of object-based dress history. Fashion Theory 2 (4) 337-358
Taylor, L 2002 The Study of Dress History. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Taylor, L. 2004 Establishing Dress History. Manchester. Manchester University Press
Thomas, N. 1991 Entangled Objects. Cambridge Mass. Harvard University Press.
Thrift, N. (in press) Beyond Mediation: Three New Material Registers and their Consequences. In D. Miller Ed. Materiality Durham: Duke University Press
Weiner, A and Schneider, J. Eds. 1989 Cloth and Human Experience. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Wigley, M. 1995 White Walls, Designer Dresses: the fashioning of modern architecture. MIT Press
Winnicott, D. 1971 Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock
Request page update
UCL Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London, WC1H 0BW Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8633