Public Program: Dressing in a Dangerous World





‘Dressing in a Dangerous World’


Thursday March 29, 2012, 1.00-6.00pm

Orozco Room, 66 W12th Street, 7th Floor

Co-organized by Dr Hazel Clark (Parsons) & Dr LHM Ling (NSPE)

The Workshop is free and open to New School faculty and students


Dr. Hazel Clark, Research Chair of Fashion, Parsons the New School for Design

This workshop continues conversations begun in Spring 2011 at the annual conference of theInternational Studies Association in Montreal, instigated by Dr Andreas Behnke, under the title of ‘Being Fab in Dangerous World: Gendered Bodies and the International Fashion World’. Contributors to thatevent will present their research at The New School as a way of addressing further the wider politicalcontexts and agendas under which fashion impacts and interacts with social, material and corporealfunctions in the context of geopolitics and biopolitics in the 21c. The workshop, which is open to thosewith varied and diverse interests in fashion, and politics, will also serve as a means of planning for alarger conference to be held at Parsons/The New School in spring 2013.

Being Fab in a Dangerous World

Dr. Andreas Behnke, Lecturer in Political Theory, Department of Politics and International Relations, The University of Reading, U.K.

The purpose of this introductory paperis to establish the relevance of fashion, style and dress codes for the study of politics. It places this investigation at the interstices of the ‘aesthetic turn’ in International Relations and the interest in biopolitics and the body as the site of political conflicts and contestations. Both approaches fail to address a crucial aspect of the phenomenal reality of politics: In Mark Twain’s words, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” In other words, the body always appears dressed, and the way it is dressed is rife with political, social, and cultural significations. It is precisely this aspect that the aesthetic turn has missed – an omission that itself needs critical reflection.

Geopolitical Couture Corporealities: Fashion as a Site of Revolution(s)

Dr. Anna M. Agathangelou, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and School of Women’s Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada.

Runway bodies are a familiar theatrical spectacle.  Fashion’s bodies are never blank canvasses; some are affirmed, re-cited, put on; others are stripped away, resurrected from another place and time to adorn a new historical position, and yet, the dominant fashion choreography tells only one “dominant political story”, that of consolidation of global power. Spinning the globe, I engage how bodies and couture disrupt authoritarian neoliberal practices and stimulate creativity and toward the formation of new and multiple worlds.  Drawing on  discourses of fashion this paper engages the contemporary moment— politics and creative forces surrounding what seems to be the “never perfect” site of contestation, the body, by addressing how couture itself with its varied elements of plays a central role in the formation of these multiple worlds. I set up an interpretive tension between postcolonial theorists, art galleries on fashion, and fashion magazines and ask: how do our fashioning bodies do what is to be done?  How do they, in tension, rupture those static approaches (i.e., making them non-sensical) to world relations while also stimulating creativity and less authoritarian politics?

Anorexia Nervosa Interruptus: Drawing Lessons from India’s Fashion Industry

Dr. LHM Ling, Associate Professor, Graduate Program for International Affairs, The New School for Public Engagement

Well-documented are the correlations between globalization, fashion,vand anorexia nervosa. Global advertising valorizes girls and women like Victoria’s Secrets “angels”: e.g., thin, angular features, big breasts, long legs.  Implicit is a racial stereotype that all women everywhere should resemble like Swedes or other Northern Europeans. Even in a country like India, where malnutrition afflicts 60% of the population and a tradition of voluptuous apsara beauty still prevails, eating disorders to thin down are spreading among middle- and upper-middle class girls in urban areas.  Responses focus on individualized therapies, denunciations of Western cultural influence, particularly in media outlets like films and television, and perhaps even recognition of the insidious, unceasing machine of desire that is global capitalism.  Though important, none of these critiques offer a viable alternative: neither fashion as a global industry nor Western influence nor the individual pathology that produces eating disorders nor the generalized wish of girls and women to “look good” will disappear.  A negation of the negation does not necessarily produce a positive.  Instead, let us try an alternative: an exploration of the positive within the negative. This paper draws on Daoist dialectics to suggest a structural approach to interrupting anorexia nervosa.


Fashion Statements

Dr. Linda Bishai, Senior Program Officer, Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, United States Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C.

This paper investigates the instance in which a pair of trousers – worn by Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein – triggered a jail sentence, demonstrations, interviews and international media attention.  The trousers and their wearer took on enormous significance in a highly complex political environment where the authoritarian government has been navigating a delicate course between appeasing and teasing Western arbiters of political legitimacy.  Sudan’s government has fashioned itself as both Islamist in legal codes and moderate in its cooperative stance against terrorism.  With an ICC indictment and imminent separation of the country as context, banning the wearing of trousers became emblematic of an assertion of control over the implementation of Islam by the government and an example of oppression taken too far for Sudan’s women, journalists and human rights community.  The wearing of trousers in this context becomes an expression of free speech and a sign of political resistance.


Veil Dressing & the Gender Geopolitics of ‘What (not) to Wear’

Dr. Marianne Franklin, Associate Professor and Director of the Global Media & Transnational Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London.

This paper  discusses ‘Burkha Ban’ legislation in Europe and surrounding public controversies by drawing links between the visual aesthetics of makeover reality TV, the veil, and the cultural politics of ‘visibly Muslim’ dress in western societies. In all cases we see women’s bodies and comportment under increasing scrutiny at the intersection of post 9/11 geopolitics, the global fashion industry, national identity, and everyday life.




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