Clothing and Difference

Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa

Clothing and Difference

Body, Commodity, Text

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 22 b&w photographs Published: June 1996

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

This volume examines the dynamic relationship between the body, clothing, and identity in sub-Saharan Africa and raises questions that have previously been directed almost exclusively to a Western and urban context. Unusual in its treatment of the body surface as a critical frontier in the production and authentification of identity, Clothing and Difference shows how the body and its adornment have been used to construct and contest social and individual identities in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, and other African societies during both colonial and post-colonial times.
Grounded in the insights of anthropology and history and influenced by developments in cultural studies, these essays investigate the relations between the personal and the public, and between ideas about the self and those about the family, gender, and national groups. They explore the bodily and material creation of the changing identities of women, spirits, youths, ancestors, and entrepreneurs through a consideration of topics such as fashion, spirit possession, commodity exchange, hygiene, and mourning.
By taking African societies as its focus, Clothing and Difference demonstrates that factors considered integral to Western social development—heterogeneity, migration, urbanization, transnational exchange, and media representation—have existed elsewhere in different configurations and with different outcomes. With significance for a wide range of fields, including gender studies, cultural studies, art history, performance studies, political science, semiotics, economics, folklore, and fashion and textile analysis/design, this work provides alternative views of the structures underpinning Western systems of commodification, postmodernism, and cultural differentiation.

Contributors. Misty Bastian, Timothy Burke, Hildi Hendrickson, Deborah James, Adeline Masquelier, Elisha Renne, Johanna Schoss, Brad Weiss


“This is a most thought-provoking and entertaining collection, which should challenge many traditional Africanists to think about the meaning of hitherto unconsidered aspects of cultural representation in African societies.” — Alan G. Cobley , International Journal of African Historical Studies

“An excellent book. Clothing and Difference will contribute to knowledge about Africa as well as to the general topic of the communication process involved in dressing the body.” — Joanne B. Eicher, University of Minnesota

“Innovative, rich, and engaging. This collection’s concern with how the body surface mediates constructions of identity in colonial and post-colonial Africa makes an important contribution to ongoing scholarship on the body, clothing, and consumption in anthropology, history, and cultural studies.” — Karen Tranberg Hansen, Northwestern University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Table of Contents Back to Top


Introduction / Hildi Hendrickson

I. Creating Social Identities

1. Virginity Cloths and Vaginal Coverings in Ekiti, Nigeria / Elisha P. Renne

2. "I Dress in This Fashion": Transformations in Sotho Dress and Women's lives in a Sekhukhuneland Village, South Africa / Deborah James

3. Mediating Threads: Clothing and the Texture of Spirit/Medium Relations in Bori (Southern Niger) / Adeline Masquelier

II. Challenging Authority

4. Female "Alhajis" and Entrepreneurial Fashions: Flexible Identities in Southeastern Nigerian Clothing Practice / Misty L. Bastian

5. Dressing at Death: Clothing, Time, and Memory in Buhaya, Tanzania / Brad Weiss

III. Intercultural Relations and the Creation of Value

6. Dressed to "Shine": Work, Leisure, and Style in Malindi, Kenya / Johanna Schoss

7. "Sunlight Soap Has Changed My Life": Hygiene, Commodification, and the Body in Colonial Zimbabwe / Timothy Burke

8. Bodies and Flags: The Representation of Herero Identity in Colonial Namibia / Hildi Hendrickson


Notes on Contributors

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1791-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1783-8
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