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Blue Jeans

Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary

Daniel Miller
Sophie Woodward
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Blue Jeans
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95208-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    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...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Life
    (pp. 16-29)

    If we had simply approached people and asked them to tell us about their jeans, we suspect the response would have been muted. The very clothes-conscious or fashion-aware might have jumped at the chance to engage in detailed discussions of their wardrobes or their opinions on style and fashion. But many others, especially men, might have felt awkward and unnatural, preferring to see clothes as merely something they need to wear but not necessarily make the foreground of conversation. Some older men may hardly ever have been called upon to talk about their clothing, let alone their jeans. In fact,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Relationships
    (pp. 30-45)

    It is apparent from the last chapter that a clothing biography is never entirely personal. Life histories through clothing always draw in relationships to others, such as parents, siblings, and peer groups. These are present both as more generalized influences upon an individual’s life and through specific stories, interactions, and memories. Two points of intersection are particularly prominent: stories of how clothing is gifted, borrowed, or passed on by others (Clarke 2000; Corrigan 1995; Woodward 2007) and constant reference to the opinions of others as to how a person looks in his or her clothes. The case study of David,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Fashion
    (pp. 46-64)

    The primary concern in this volume is with jeans as refracted through the experiences of the people who live in the three ordinary streets in North London where we carried out the research. We regard these individuals as the determinants of what jeans mean and how they come to matter. Our focus is upon their routines, their relationships, the broader trajectories of their lives, and the role that jeans have in these. But in a book about denim we cannot ignore the fact that jeans are also a commodity. The people who appear in this ethnography encounter jeans in the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Comfortable
    (pp. 65-83)

    Despite the wide range of people we interviewed for this project, one thing we heard over and over was that what matters most to individuals about their jeans is simply that they are “comfortable.” While this may seem dismissive of most of the factors that we have been discussing so far, on closer interrogation this seemingly straightforward word,comfortable, can be seen to be both complex and profoundly important. Comfort is far more than just the feel of a fabric, as this physical experience also encodes a sense of what seems suitable or appropriate for a particular person. More than...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Ordinary
    (pp. 84-101)

    To say that the most extraordinary finding of this research is the discovery of ordinariness is clearly to suggest that being ordinary is not something one can take for granted. As later chapters of this book will argue, it is an achievement that in some ways has taken thousands of years, and comes into its present form only through new technologies that give us an imagination of a global ecumene that has no precedent. However, for the purposes of this chapter we will remain close to our ethnographic material of people’s relationship to their jeans, and the larger historical and...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Struggle for Ordinary
    (pp. 102-120)

    The evidence in this book suggests that being ordinary is far from something to disparage. It is not a failure to be special. It is actually a state most people in this study aspire to, at least for some of their lives, a state that may or may not be difficult to achieve. The last chapter ended with examples of people for whom being ordinary doesn’t seem to pose much of a problem. It is something of a given in terms of how they are situated themselves and how they are situated by others; they occupy a kind of median...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Anthropology: From Normative to Ordinary
    (pp. 121-138)

    The reputation of social science in the wider world has undoubtedly been tarnished over the last several decades by the public perception that much research makes claims that either seem entirely obvious to most people or produce original, perhaps curious results and information without making it at all clear why these matter sufficiently to anyone for time and money to have been spent obtaining them. Another way of putting this was the question we posed at the end of chapter 5: so what? We honestly do believe that prior to this research no one could give us a decent explanation...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Sociology: The Ordinary and the Routine
    (pp. 139-156)

    Chapter 6 established the significance of being ordinary to the people we studied, while chapter 7 examined the consequences of this for our understanding of how society reproduces itself and the challenge this represents for the concept of normativity as used in anthropology. By contrast, in this final chapter we recognize that to select denim as a topic of academic inquiry is to invoke another sense ofordinary, that is, quotidian and mundane. This gives rise to a quite separate debate about when, why, and how academics should turn their attention to what otherwise might seem more banal topics of...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-164)
  14. Index
    (pp. 165-169)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 170-170)