Producing the history of fashion in the West
Paris, 11-12-13 may 2015
On the initiative of the “Appearances, bodies, and societies” Resarch Interest Group
This conference organised by the "Appearances, bodies, and societies" Research Interest Group is open to researchers working on the history of fashion and appearances in Europe or elsewhere, from the end of the Middle Ages up to the present day. It will provide a multidisciplinary analysis of museum and university discourses, concepts, experiments and experiences, and of their intellectual origins and the institutional frameworks within which they are produced across diverse local and national contexts. The aim is to better understand the various ways of tackling the subject so as to highlight new areas of research convergence, thereby giving new impetus to international cooperation.
For several decades now fashion has ceased to be seen as a repertoire of perpetually evolving forms for the researcher to strive to observe, with an eye to drawing up some illusory and ultimately futile inventory. In the wake of works by Georg Simmel, Norbert Elias, Roland Barthes, etc., ways of dressing and adorning the body have been analysed using concepts which place the individual within a network of social norms. Research conducted in the history of the body has added new dimensions to this field of research (such as beauty, hygiene, etc.). This could have acted as the basis over the past sixty or so years for more numerous and open forms of international cooperation to emerge with regard to the contemporary processes that promote mass fashion and generate uniform means of shaping attitudes and postures. This has not been the case, however, and many barriers persist. There is still a lack of balance in recent research, with the Scandinavian and English-speaking worlds receiving greater levels of funding than the rest of continental Europe.
Overall it is a matter of considering all academic approaches to fashion so as to see what role they fulfil and what place they have in the way knowledge in general is built up and organised in different countries. Several additional observations may act as a useful guide for the approach this conference will take to specific current problems in research into the history of fashion:
Concepts. Whilst the French concept of "apparences" has led researchers to analyse the political and social norms governing dressing, that of "clothing", for instance, has accorded greater importance to the interplay of consumerist practices, identity construction, and the individual's relationship to their body. A comparable divergence may be observed between the concepts of "mode” and “fashion”. In France the forms taken by la mode are deemed to be ephemeral and thus of no intrinsic interest. Instead, it is said, research needs to focus on the social tensions generated between the peripheries and the centres dictating these forms. Such an attitude means that the forms of clothing and their evolution are regarded as relatively unimportant, whereas the experience of researchers working in different contexts has led them to reconstitute items of clothing. In northern and eastern Europe the issue of appearances has been tackled via those of the construction of the State and/or the nation. This has also transpired to a lesser extent in the study of regional fashions in Western Europe.
The way researchers view collections and timescales. The way in which researchers view objects varies from place to place, affecting the ways in which they apprehend “mode/fashion”. This transpires in attitudes towards existing items, towards experimental archaeology and the reconstitution of costumes, and in how to tackle the thorny issue of the vocabulary used to name objects. Is it possible to draw up an overview of these various differences, on the basis of experiments carried out in the field of experimental archaeology for instance? How can we go about analysing the sources of the history of appearance when the collections are incomplete or inexistent, especially for distant periods?
These frameworks have generated different forms of history of fashion, characterised in particular by the use of specific timeframes which depend on the criteria and methods chosen in the light of the prevalent concepts. Intellectual developments in place since the 19th century mean that is feasible to draw up a history of these timeframes, especially as they affect not just the histories of fashion but also the collections of objects and the way in which these are classified and presented.
Institutional factors and networks. Institutional factors and specific networks all too frequently transmit these differences and entrench them. These factors include the place accorded to the study of fashion and textiles in academic teaching and research, the relative importance accorded to the various disciplines used (history, sociology, anthropology, etc.), and the ways in which universities, research centres, museum institutions, and collectors work together, etc. Editorial strategies and differences in the ease with which researchers can access various tools for international cooperation further add to this general diversity.
Papers may address the following themes:
1 The history of the history of fashion. The state of research into the issue.
Authors, overviews, and exhibitions which have influenced the history of fashion. What publications have had an impact on the history of fashion in the past and in the present day? The nature and objectives of publications in the West.
Concepts, timeframes, and methods used for research.
2. Writing the history of fashion – issues and approaches
How can we go about conceiving of a history of contemporary fashion? How can we produce a history of fashion without objects (for distant periods)? What role does the technical and economic context play in the histories of fashion? What place are we to accord to the materiality of the body? And to visual cultures?
3 Teaching and presenting the history of fashion
What place is given to the teaching of fashion in school and university systems? What disciplines are used for the history of fashion? What links exist between universities and museums? What role do exhibitions play in the presentation and dissemination of the history of fashion?
4 International cooperation
What forms of international cooperation are open to researchers? What about undertaking projects, their organisations and funding? Problems and difficulties encountered.
What problems arise from the scale and extent of undertaking within structures for international cooperation?
Proposals (a title, a summary of about 2000 characters, and a bibliography giving the author's main publications) are to reach the following address before 15 November 2014: email@example.com