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Lucy Norris


Ph.D, Anthropology
University of London, 2003
The life-cycle of clothing in contemporary urban India: an anthropological study of recycling and the cultural perception of materials

Master of Arts (MA), Anthropology of Art
University College London, 1997

Bachelor of Arts (BA), European History and Anthropology
University of East Anglia, 1987



Research interests

Current interests include the anthropology of materials, including innovation, mobility and routes to market, with a specific focus on developments in textiles and textile technologies in Germany and South Asia. This study will contribute to the research platform 'Textile Imagination: Innovation and Perception'.

Ongoing research includes the anthropology of waste and materials, with a focus on the global economy of post-consumer clothing and textile waste; indigenous and industrial recycling technologies; material culture; craftsmanship, upcycling and sustainable design; and cultural heritage.

My regional focus has been in India, including extended periods of ethnographic research in Delhi, north India and Kerala.

Selected outputs

The Worn Clothing website features my research on global secondhand clothing economies, and provides more information about publications, exhibitions, photography and film projects that have arisen from my various projects.

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. Largely based on my research in north India and research on shipbreaking in Bangladesh and the UK, it included large format photographs by Tim Mitchell and the premiere of Meghna Gupta's film Unravel (see below). 


Meghna Gupta's film Unravel features the textile recycling industry in north which I have been researching over many years. Meghna worked as a research assistant during my fieldwork in Panipat, and went on to make this award-winning short documentary, now available for hire or sale from the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Recycling Indian Clothing

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

Recycling Indian Clothing (book cover)

Recycling Textile Technologies workshop

This workshop was held on June 14th 2010. More information can be found here.

The workshop was held as part of the ESRC-funded The Waste of the World project, with a contribution from the Journal of Material Culture.

India Recycled: a photographic exhibition

Photographs by Tim Mitchell, a freelance photographer, 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 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.

Completed 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 not sold to developing economies as reusable clothing but 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.

Previous post-doctoral research

  • Research Fellow for SusDiv, an EU project addressing the role of art and material culture in the creation of sustainable diversity, focusing on cloth consumption by the West African market in Tower Hamlets. Sept 05-Sept 06.
  • ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow. (Nov 03 - Jan 05)
  • Research Fellow for ECHO, an EU project led by the Max Plank Society for the History of Science promoting the online access to cultural heritage (Jan - Dec 03)

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