Monthly Archives: July 2012

‘Boots were made for talking, about who we are’ review of Virginia Postrel’s article for Bloomberg View

In April this year a group of American social psychologists published a study entitled Shoes as a Source of First ImpressionsThe study, conducted by the University of Kansas and Wellesley College, aimed to prove that people can make accurate assumptions about other people’s personalities by simply looking at their shoes. Despite its flaws – most notably that all 271 participants (subjects and observers) were undergraduate psychology students, thereby vastly reducing the potential ambiguities associated with varying ages, ethnicities, political affiliations and economic backgrounds – the study has sparked the public imagination: taken up across the globe with headlines like ‘Why this boot means you may be depressed’ (The Sun, June 14th 2012).

Thankfully some of these claims have also been critiqued in the popular press. Virginia Postrel contacted and referenced the ‘If the Shoe Fits’ team in her article Boots are made for talking, about who we are  for Bloomberg View and raised a far more interesting and insightful issue in relation to the publicity the study received:

“By getting so much attention […] it demonstrated a sociological truth: People love to talk about shoes.”

She goes on to look at various social, cultural and historical factors that may have contributed to our current interpretations of, and fascination with shoes – suggesting that simplistic reductions of meaning undermine the rich and diverse uses and experiences of shoes in consumer culture today.

Indeed it seems that everyone does have an opinion on shoes which is why it is a joy to be working on an academic research project that transgresses academic boundaries and engages the public in such a profound way. Our data promise to show that while some people certainly do use shoes to identify others, this process is far from straightforward and certainly can’t be codified or generalised – no matter how attractive this prospect may be. Postrel’s responses to the ‘If the Shoe Fits’ project and my own PhD research suggests that an audience for our research is ready and waiting to be presented with some of the sociological realities and fascinating intricacies of people’s relationships with shoes, and with one another through shoes.

To read Postrel’s full article click here.

Putting shoes on show

In December last year I helped curate an exhibition in the ICOSS building at the University of Sheffield which showcased the research that had been conducted to-date for the research project If the Shoe Fits: Footwear, Identity and Transition.  The exhibition was aimed at communicating the aims and objectives of the project, along with a sample of the data gathered so far, to a wider audience.

I later assisted Jenny Hockey in writing a review built on an exhibition toolkit written by Hazel Burke as part of the ‘Real Life Methods’ programme at the University of Manchester. Those planning on setting up an exhibition to disseminate data, or those interested in seeing some images of our exhibition may be interested to read the review (left).

I also produced a brief observational film of people’s shoes on Carnaby Street in London to accompany the exhibition. To view the film click here.