UCL Anthropology


Lucy Norris

E-mail: lucy.norris@ucl.ac.uk

Ph.D, Anthropology, University College London, 2003

The life-cycle of clothing in contemporary urban India: an anthropological study of recycling and the cultural perception of materials.

MA, Anthropology of Art, University College London, 1997

BA, European History and Anthropology, University of East Anglia, 1987


Research profile

My research interests include the anthropology of new and re-fashioned materials, including contexts of innovation, material mobilities and user perceptions, with a specific focus on textiles and textile technologies.

I am currently researching emerging concepts of circular textile economies, with a focus on open source initiatives, the role of technology and user perceptions. This study will contribute to the research platform 'Textile Imaginations: Innovation and Perception'.

My regional focus has included India (including extended periods of ethnographic research in Delhi, north India and Kerala), the UK and north Germany.



Recycling Indian Clothing (book cover)

Norris, Lucy. 2010. Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Hitchcock, M. & Norris, L. 1995. Bali: The Imaginary Museum. The photographs of Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press

Journal Articles

Norris, Lucy. (forthcoming 2017). 'Urban Prototypes: growing local circular cloth economies'. Business History, Special Issue: Changing Second-hand Economies.

Norris, Lucy. (2015). 'Second-hand Clothing in India: the limits of ethicality in international markets'. Geoforum Special Issue: Ethical Consumption'.

Norris, Lucy. 2013. 'Aesthetics and Ethics: upgrading textile production in northern Kerala' in Geoforum. Vol 50, December, pp 221-231, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.09.006

Crang, M., A. Hughes, N. Gregson, L. Norris, F. Ahamed (2013). "Rethinking governance and value in commodity chains through global recycling networks." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 38(1): 12-24.

Norris, Lucy. 2012. 'Economies of moral fibre: materializing the ambiguities of recycling charity clothing into aid blankets' in Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 17(4), pp389-404

Norris, Lucy. 2012. 'Trade and Transformations of Second-hand Clothing: an Introduction' in Textile: the Journal of Cloth and Culture, Vol.10 (2) pp 128-143.

Norris, Lucy. 2011.'The Future of Handloom Textiles in Kerala' in Anthropology Now Vol. 3 Number 2 pp1-9

Norris, Lucy. 2008. 'Recycling and Reincarnation: the journeys of Indian saris' in Mobilities Vol. 3, No 3 pp 415-436. Special issue 'Migrant Worlds, Material Cultures'.

Norris, Lucy. 2005. 'Cast(e)-off clothing. A Response to K. Tranberg Hansen (AT 20[4]).' Anthropology Today Vol. 21 [3]. P 24

Norris, Lucy. 2004. 'Shedding skins: the materiality of divestment in India' in Journal of Material Culture Vol. 9 (1) pp59-71.

Special Issue

Norris, Lucy and Botticelli, Julie. (Eds.) 2012. Trade and Transformations of Worn Clothing. A special issue of Textile: the Journal of Cloth and Culture, Vol. 10, Issue 2.

Book Chapters

Norris, Lucy. 2012. 'Shoddy rags and relief blankets: Perceptions of textile recycling in north India' in Alexander, Catherine and Reno, Josh (Eds.). Economies of Recycling: The global transformation of materials, values and social relations. London: Zed Books. Pp 35-58.

Norris, Lucy. 2011.'Creating fame and fortune from the ruins of handloom in Kerala, southern India' in McAnany, Patricia & Walter Little (Eds.) Textile Economies: Power and Value from the Local to the Transnational. Lanham, MD, Altamira Press. (Society for Economic Anthropology Monographs Vol. 29) Pp285-306.

Norris, Lucy. 2006. 'What makes a textile modern? The recycling of clothing in the Punjabi shoddy trade' in Rogerson, C. & Garside, (Eds.) The Future of the Twentieth Century: Collecting, Interpreting and Conserving Modern Materials. London: Archetype.

Norris, Lucy. 2005. 'Cloth that lies: the secrets of recycling in India' in Küchler, S. & Miller, D. (Eds.). Clothing as Material Culture. Oxford, New York: Berg.

Norris, Lucy. 2004. 'Creative entrepreneurs: the recycling of second-hand Indian clothing' in Palmer, A. & Clark, H. (Eds.) Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion. Oxford, New York: Berg.

Public Engagement

Lucy Norris

This website features my research on global secondhand clothing economies and local recycling practices. It provides more information about the publications, exhibitions, photography and film projects that have arisen from projects in India and the UK.

Documentary: Unravel

Meghna Gupta's award-winning short documentary Unravel features the textile recycling industry in north India which I have been researching. 

Unravel can now be watched online at aeon.co

For public screenings, please contact the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Exhibition: Everything Must Go!

This exhibition was installed at the Bargehouse, South Bank, London, over a weekend in January 2012, and featured collaborative projects between artists and academics working on the ESRC funded Waste of the World project.

Content was developed from my research in north India and Nicky Gregson & Mike Crang's research on shipbreaking in Bangladesh and the UK. It included large format photographs by Tim Mitchell, the premiere of Meghna Gupta's film Unravel, upcycling workshops by Lizzie Harrison and Remade in Leeds, recycled fabric by Kate Goldsworthy, and was supported by Oxfam, who profiled their Frip Ethique project in Senegal.

India Recycled

An exhibition of photographs by Tim Mitchell documenting the recycling of cloth in Delhi were displayed at the Horniman Museum, London, from May 2008 to January 2009. Images include both the recycling of saris and everyday Indian clothing, and contrasted this with the industrial recycling of imported Western clothing.

A selection of these photos can be found at this Guardian Online gallery.

This research was funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant.

Previous research projects:

The Waste of the World (2006-2011)

As part of this collaborative ESRC-funded programme, I conducted research into various aspects of the global trade in textile manufacture and waste. This involved extensive fieldwork in both north and south India.

The project investigated two related topics:

  • The political economy of recycling grades of post-consumer clothing, ie the cast-offs that are destroyed in order to recuperate value from the fibres. The project was based on ethnographic research in shoddy recycling factories in Panipat, north India, and investigated local perceptions of waste, materiality and value.
  • A study of a declining handloom weaving centre in Kannur, north Kerala, that produces high quality furnishing fabrics. 

Both the mountains of cast-off clothing circulating the globe and the marginalisation of hand-crafted high quality domestic products can be viewed as a relative devaluation in the face of increasing over-production of cheap, low quality, high volume textiles.

This fieldwork widened the scope of the waste project to include the detrius of industrial decline such as buildings and equipment, and the ensuing waste of skill and livelihood. The research looks at competing local perceptions of the potential for reviving the handloom industry, despite highly mechanized competitors, in the broader context of the political ideology of handloom in India, the local influence of communist politics and the cooperative movement, against the increasing visibility of social movements outside India advocating slow fashion, fair trade and eco-friendly products.