I’m pleased to announce that I have now achieved a doctor of philosophy from the Department of Sociological studies at the University of Sheffield. My thesis, entitled ‘This is Not a Shoe: An Exploration of the Co-Constitutive Relationship Between Representations and Embodied Experiences of Shoes’, was assessed by Dr. Agnès Rocamora and Dr. Katherine Davies in January, and after some minor amendments was awarded in April. The thesis is due to be edited into a book and so is not freely available online, however if you would like to request a copy please contact me through the blog.
Through their narrative incorporation in fairy tales, song lyrics, in movies and on television shoes have become a ‘loaded device’ recycled as metonymy for the wearer or as metaphor for experience (Pine, 2006: 353). This research argues that in academic studies a consequence of their visual and symbolic ubiquity has been the material invisibility or ‘humility’ of the shoe as a ‘thing’ (Miller, 2005). Following Magritte’s lead in his painting The Treachery of Images (1928-29) I suggest that a tendency to see and analyse the messages shoes convey, rather than the things themselves, has led to a lack of empirical interrogation into the role shoes play in everyday processes of identity and identification. This research addresses this lack, yet rather than separate the shoe from its representations to do so, it unites the material and visual to understand the relationship between representations and embodied experiences of shoes in processes of being and becoming. With a focus on the styles that comprise the Clarks Originals brand, particularly the Desert Boot, the study observes the ‘situated bodily practice’ (Entwistle, 2000b) of those who both produce and wear the shoes to understand them as medium rather than message in processes of identification and transformation. This approach enables us to identify the material and semiotic affordances that lead to their cultural visibility and to gain a picture of the complex ‘networks’ (Latour, 2005) and ‘meshworks’ (Ingold, 2010a) such significant objects facilitate. Consequently, the thesis addresses shortcomings in sociological approaches to fashion theory by offering a meso-level between structure and agency which undermines common dualities between production and consumption, masculine and feminine, and the material and visual. Ultimately, the research argues that Clarks Originals offer a valuable opportunity to understand how and why particular objects become culturally and socially significant and valuable.
Following the fourth international ‘on the Image’ conference in Chicago last year I developed my paper on the relationship between popular culture images and embodied experiences of fashion into an academic journal article in Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, published by Intellect. The article uses Clarks Originals shoes and data gathered from a small group of Sheffield-based male wearers to understand how identity is embodied though fashion. It has been published as the lead article of the current special issue on fashion and materiality edited by Tom Fisher and Sophie Woodward. Here’s what they had to say about the article in their introduction:
[Sherlock’s] article effectively manages to combine an understanding of the meanings and associations of the shoes with the material possibilities of the fashionable object. Through the object, wearers are fashioning an identity, which is both anchored in a particular fashion moment and period, yet simultaneously highlights the endurance of a style over time.
The meanings of a fashion object are therefore in part afforded by the materiality of, in Sherlock’s example, the shoe. Her analysis provides an important corrective to semiotic accounts which do not pay attention to the materiality of the fashionable object. (Fisher and Woodward, 2014: 14)
To access the article please click here.
Through their narrative incorporation in fairytales, song lyrics, in movies and on television shoes have become a ‘loaded device’ (Pine, 2006: 353) recycled as metonymy for the wearer or as metaphor for experience. Due to such extensive representation this article argues that they have become, in a sense, invisible. In existing academic literature we have tended to see the message rather than the shoe and we become blind to what Miller describes as the ‘humility’ of the shoe as a ‘thing’ (Miller 2005: 5). This neglect of the materiality of the shoe itself obscures the highly nuanced and subjective experiences of the wearer. As consumers/wearers, we might fully understand – even aspire to – the cultural connotations of a particular pair of shoes, yet this does not mean we will feel socially comfortable wearing them. Using empirical data gathered from wearers of the culturally significant Clarks Originals brand, this article reveals the co-constitutive relationship between the social identity of the wearer and that of the shoe. By focusing on the materiality of objects, bodies and environments we can overcome subject-object dualisms and really ‘see’ shoes in terms of the role they and their meanings play in a process of identification, transformation and cultural embodiment.
Accepted for publication in the The Information Society’s special issue: ‘The Death, Afterlife and Immortality of Bodies and Data’ – Vol. 29, Issue 3, Taylor and Francis
New debates surrounding the digital remains of people who have died and the possibilities that new technologies raise in terms of symbolic immortality are generating significant interest. These issues provide exciting opportunities for sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists to further understand evolving attitudes to death and mourning. But what happens when the deceased is a popular media figure and the symbolic immortality extends to a digital resurrection played out through the media in new contexts and over an extended period of time? Drawing on sociological, anthropological and cultural theory, this discursive paper addresses some of the reasons for the perpetuation of media personalities whose posthumous careers often exceed their living careers, both in longevity and popularity. It is argued that digital technologies add a new dimension to the many parallels that can be drawn between celebrity culture and religion in what are becoming increasingly secularised societies. For many, digital technology and the Internet remain incomprehensible, leaving room for mythical and magical interpretations especially in relation to a prospect many prefer to deny – ultimate non-existence. It is proposed that the disenchantment with religious belief, brought about by science and rational thought during the Enlightenment era, leaves many people with inadequate or unacceptable ways of understanding death and mourning. Ironically it seems that science and new technology now provide the fuel for a re-enchantment of society, and the now normalised suspension of disbelief inherent in the consumption of media entertainment and popular culture helps to facilitate this process.
Earlier this year I was asked to review the paperback edition of the book Shoes: a History from Sandals to Sneakers for the second issue of the journal Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, edited by Efrat Tseëlon and published by Itellect.
If you subscribe to the journal click here to read the review.
Shoes: A History from Sandals to Sneakers, Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil (eds), 2011 London: Berg, (448 pp.), ISBN 9780857850386, PB, £19.99
This was an anthropological experiment I did for the methodologies module on the Material and Visual Culture MA at UCL in 2010. The project now forms the basis for a regular lecture on innovative research methods delivered to Design and Visual Culture undergraduate students at Nottingham Trent University.
Four small plastic toys were released into the world and their journeys were photographically recorded by participants and logged through the social networking site Facebook (to visit the Facebook group click here). Photos were then compiled into a hard-back book with an accompanying essay which drew comparisons between modern exchange practices in the West and Bronislaw Malinowski’s study of the Kula exchange.
The experiment was inspired by Arjun Appadurai’s book ‘The Social Life of Things’ and Igor Kopytoff’s essay ‘The Cultural Biography of Things’. It sought to prove (sucessfully) that Appadurai’s so called ‘tournaments of value’ and Kopytoff’s ‘exchange spheres’ are indeed possible in late capitalist societies and not merely restricted to non-monetized societies like the Trobriand Islands. By following the objects’ biographies through the Facebook page, the experiment gave an effective insight into how material objects accumulate social and sentimental value.
To read the book please click here.
- Appadurai, Arjun, 1986, Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value in Appadurai, Arjun (ed), 1986, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Kopytoff, Igor, 1986, The Cultural Biography of Things in Appadurai, Arjun (ed), 1986, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.