Aso Ebi : The Dynamics of Fashion and Cultural Commodification in Nigeria

Article excerpt

Introduction

In recent years, research and theory on socio-economic development have given rise to two contending schools of thought. One school emphasizes the convergence of values as a result of "modernization". This school predicts the decline of traditional values and their replacement with "modern" values depicted by rationality, tolerance, trust and participation. The other school of thought emphasizes the persistence of traditional values despite economic and political changes. This school assumes that values are relatively independent of economic conditions. Consequently, it predicts that convergence around some set of "modern" values is unlikely and that traditional values will continue to exert an independent influence on the cultural changes caused by economic development. This paper adopts the latter perspective and critically examines the persistence of aso ebi practice as a cultural tradition that has endured despite modernization, among the Yoruba ethnic group in Nigeria. Aso ebi originally refers to uniform dress worn by family members during social events in Nigeria. However, this practice now includes a larger network of unfamiliarity, transcended the Yoruba ethnic group and is gradually becoming an integral part of a national culture. This practice is currently enjoying appreciable transformations in term of its contents and scope due to the dynamic nature of culture. Pelto, 1966 writing on cultural dynamism states:

"each new generation reshuffles and changes the systems of ideas, meanings and rules so that the social tradition is never fixed and unchanging in any society".

In line with above assertion, a cursory look at the Nigerian contemporary social milieu reveals that while some cultural practices are declining and some even going into extinction, there are yet others that are experiencing increased acceptance and popularity with some level of modifications. These transformations, modification or actual rejection of some practices are predicated upon both external and internal exigencies.

Clothing has remained an integral part of everyday life. In human history, cloth has evolved from being an object designed to cover nudity among humans or as an article for 'looking good' to an instrument for the display of cultural identity and solidarity amongst families and friends. Through clothing, individuals establish their sense of self as well as their place in society. Despite the presence of a rich literature on dress appearing across the scientific and popular board and highly profile international conferences on themes ranging from clothing and imperialism to fashion and consumption show casing dress scholarship, clothing seems to be a neglected topic of sociology. Because of the importance of dress as a component of our daily lives, the connections between dress and both individual and collective identities requires a renewed attention of scholars and practitioners in the world of fashion and dress.

The topic of clothing is predominantly classified under 'fashion" in sociological literature and dealt with as ongoing scene of competition and struggle, as ostentatious consumption, which primarily indicates the social status of those buying, owning and dressing in specific garment (Bohn 2004). Fashion in Sombart's (1902) theory of modern demand creation is an excellent example of luxurious consumption. Barber and Lobel (1953) give a rehabilitating account of the fashion habits of American middle-class women, calling it quite rational if interpreted as a representation of status considered in its latent functionality for the reproduction of the American social structure. For Bourdieu (1975, 1980) the fashion designers and their various brands are symbols of distinction in the magic of the social field of fashion where in a manifold struggle, primary positions, the definition of the rules of the game and the legitimate construction of reality are fought out (cited in Bohn 2004) . …