Monthly Archives: November 2013

Here’s Looking at Shoes: Conference Paper for the 4th International Conference on the Image

In October I presented my research on Clarks Originals shoes to other academics and practitioners with an interest in the ‘image’ at the Fourth International Conference on the Image in Chicago.

The paper is based on data gathered during recent focus groups with male and female Clarks Originals wearers in Sheffield along with interviews with the Clarks Originals team at their headquarters in Somerset. It reflects the relationship between popular representations and embodied experiences of wearing the classic styles.

‘Here’s Looking at Shoes’ conference paper

‘Here’s Looking at Shoes’ Exploring the relationship between popular representations and embodied experiences of shoes.

According to Benstock and Ferris (2001: 67) “Shoes are hot”: from calendars, magazines, coffee-table books, postcards, fridge magnets and book covers to visual references in film, television and the popular press, shoes are everywhere. But how do these representations affect everyday embodied experiences of wearing shoes, and to what extent are these representations informed by these experiences? This paper takes a sociological and anthropological approach that departs from traditional semiotic interpretations of images to give an empirically grounded insight into the co-constitutive relationship between representations and embodied experiences of this ubiquitous item of material culture. Following several months of interviews and observations at Clarks UK headquarters, the Originals Desert Boot, steeped in a rich history within visual culture, has emerged as a case study through which to understand this relationship. The Desert Boot – despite its perhaps distinctly un-remarkable appearance – carries an extremely rich set of meanings and associations for both men and women across a broad range of age groups and cultures. This paper shows how these meanings are carefully negotiated and facilitated through the process of representation in a subtle and complex dialogue between consumer and producer. Ultimately, this research provides a new bridge between structure and agency by showing how these representations are embodied by the Clarks Originals team themselves, affecting not only their perceptions of the footwear they produce but also their own shoe-wearing experiences.