Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary

Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary

Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary

Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary

Synopsis

This fresh and accessible ethnography offers a new vision of how society might cohere, in the face of on-going global displacement, dislocation, and migration. Drawing from intensive fieldwork in a highly diverse North London neighborhood, Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward focus on an everyday item--blue jeans--to learn what one simple article of clothing can tell us about our individual and social lives and challenging, by extension, the foundational anthropological presumption of "the normative." Miller and Woodward argue that blue jeans do not always represent social and cultural difference, from gender and wealth, to style and circumstance. Instead they find that jeans allow individuals to inhabit what the authors term "the ordinary." Miller and Woodward demonstrate that the emphasis on becoming ordinary is important for immigrants and the population of North London more generally, and they call into question foundational principles behind anthropology, sociology and philosophy.

Excerpt

WHY DENIM?

This book is intended to advance contemporary material culture studies. We draw on interviews and observations of how people select and wear blue jeans in our effort to create a theory of the ordinary and its place in social science.* This theory of the ordinary has major consequences for topics ranging from immigration to questions of identity, equality, and the routine. While such a claim might initially appear to be somewhat grandiose, our aim is to arrive at these theoretical contributions through the course of this book, building upon the collection and analysis of empirical observations. The inspiration behind this sequence lies in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s exhortation to anthropologists to rethink the limits of their enterprise by considering the discipline to be a kind of philosophy by other means. This book may be read both by those who are simply interested in why people wear blue jeans and also by people with no interest in clothing, as the topic of jeans is used to create a contribution to the study of humanity more generally through our theory of the ordinary.

* In this volume the terms blue jeans and denim are generally synonymous, which accords with the usage of our informants, though on occasion we will refer to items other than jeans made from denim.

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