Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Work >< Leisure

by Amanda Toohey

Barnard Communication: Chapter 5 “Reproduction” pp. 102-116: Reproduction, as used to discuss the concepts in this chapter, is not referring to its most common and everyday meaning. It is being used more in the context of fashion “responding to social and political changes, reflecting and reproducing these changes,” as state by Joanne Entwistle. It is about the idea that fashion often replicates developments and events in our social and political lives. Reproduction is simply being used to explain the ways in which elements of our culture are being sustained and how we ensure the continued existence of the sustained elements. The first example mentioned is that of the male suit. The ideas and practices surrounding a male suit have not changed drastically in over 200 years—the suits concepts and construction have continued to be reproduced. Another example is that of jeans. John Fiske explains how jeans are used to reproduce ideas and practices of the economic system in which they are made, bought and sold. Ideas such as individuality and freedom have become embedded in the meaning of jeans for those who choose to wear them. Next there is the discussion of the two main senses of the word reproduction. First, the mechanical and electrical sense of the word that often refers to reproduction in the photographic, printed or digital reproduction aspects. For example, a copy machine can be used to make an identical copy of something as many times as desired. Second, the biological sense of the word that tends to refer to sexual and genetic reproduction. For example, human beings procreate to maintain their species but no two people are identical. However, it is said that because the use of the word is metaphorical it is not useful to speak of reproduction in either sense.

The uniform distinguishes the worker from the consumer or leisure class.

In the second part of the chapter, there is a focus on fashion, clothing and class. It is mentioned that the existence of fashion was conditional upon there being different classes in society and upon the possibility of upward movement between classes. Thus, it is a very simple society that exists with no fashion. This means that class is a product of different economic conditions which in turn lead to fashions and clothing styles being developed. In order to understand this, one must take a step back and examine Karl Marx’s account of society. Marx explains how people need food, shelter and clothing in order to survive but a single individual is unlikely to provide all these necessities on their own; thus, people enter into social relationships in order to provide food, shelter and clothing. This is what Marx calls “production” and there are two elements to be analyzed in regards to production: the forces of production and the social relations of production. The forces of production refer to the means of production and include things like technology, machinery and anything else involved in the process. The social relations of production refer to the social relations that people enter into in production. However, when it comes to social class, this is defined in terms of the relations to the means of production. As in, ones relationship to the means or forces of production determines which social class one is a member of. For example, in ancient civilizations slave-owners owned the means of production which were the slaves themselves. In relation to fashion and clothing, Marxist accounts state that these things were simply the ways in which class identity was expressed or reflected. A person was first a member of a social class and then communicated that membership through their garments. Marx would explain that means of fashion and clothing are wholly dependent on economics. There are also arguments as to when fashion began to be as we currently understand it. Some say that fashion did not become powerful or influential until around the 1700s while others argue that with the beginnings of capitalism in the 14th century there was a creation and notion of fashion.

Distinguishing leisure, especially among women, is through clothing that is not appropriate to manual labor. Barbara Hutton, Tangier Morroco, 1961, Cecil Beaton

In the third part of the chapter, there is an examination of feudalist and capitalist fashion to better see and understand the relationship to social class. Feudalism is essentially seen as a set of ostensibly reciprocal rights and obligations between the aristocracy and serfs. Taking place in the Middle Ages, it is noted that clothing during this time was very static and simplistic. Laws were often established to ensure that class distinctions were preserved in regard to clothing. For example, King Edward III of England passed sumptuary laws decreeing that ermine and pearls were to be worn only by royalty and nobles whose income exceeded 1000 pounds. There is often evidence as well of distinguishing who rules whom through the different clothing that is worn. The idea is that the difference in clothing is experienced and explained as the source of another class’s authority rather than simply a reflection of economic positions. With capitalism, it is much more complex to divide classes due to intermediate and transitional classes that often obscure a simple capitalist-worker structure. Classes can be divided and then continuously subdivided based on things like skill level. Also, they cannot be thought of as homogenous or monolithic structures because each class can be divided into class fractions. Within capitalism, it becomes more possible for clothing and fashion to be used to construct, signal and reproduce the desire for social mobility between classes as well as class identity itself. Clothing and uniforms are often used to reflect ways already existing class relations are constituted. Different materials and designs tend to be used to help distinguish class levels as well. Thus, it is argued that only in societies that are class based, where social mobility is desirable and possible, fashion can be found.

The signs of wealth and luxury are combined with leisure and travel, Rolex F 2009

Next, there is the discussion of fashion being constantly in motion, always changing. Veblen offers three norms used to explain the changing of fashion. He states that the first is the great and dominant norm of dress is the principle of conspicuous waste. The second is the principle of conspicuous leisure. The third is the principle that dress must be up to date. Thus, it is according to this that fashion consists of a series of imperatives to change one’s garments as soon as they are no longer in style. Veblen goes on to discuss how apparel cannot be considered elegant if it shows the effects of manual labor on the part of the wearer. Also, he discusses how the way women dress goes even further than that of a man to demonstrate the wearer’s abstinence from productive employment. On these accounts, Veblen sees fashion as essentially a reproductive process in that it is used by the leisure classes, the superior classes, to construct, signal and reproduce their positions of leisured superiority. Fashion is simply a way to reinforce and signal these positions of wealth.

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