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The Fabrics of Community: The Temporal Poetics of Fashion and Law in US-American Literature (2021-)

Samira Spatzek, Research Area 1: "Competing Communities"

Postdoctoral Research Project

Whether as art form, cultural practice or simply as a piece of clothing, fashion highlights the relation between the individual and the collective "in the production and consumption of creative work" (Hemphill and Suk 1154). The research project examines the cultural work (Tompkins) of fashion and fashion discourses—as a language/semiotic system (Barthes), theory, or cultural practice—from the late nineteenth and over the twentieth century to the present day. It interrogates the varied relationship(s) between fashion discourses, literature, and the law, particularly in the US but also globally. Elizabeth Freeman’s "twofold take on the word 'drag' as both a temporality and a performance, which connects queer community and individuals as generations across time" (Essi 249), is particularly instructive in this context, for it helps me to conceptualize fashion as a transtemporal ‘contact zone’ (cf. Pratt), within which notions of community and/versus the individual are negotiated against the backdrop of hegemonic socio-political, legal, and epistemic hierarchies and structures of power. The project wrestles with the question of how fashion discourses navigate nationalist, (post-)colonial and sexist politics and how they are shaped by them. In focusing on questions of intellectual property and creative freedom as one of its main analytical trajectories, the project furthermore examines the sexualized and racialized legal dimensions of fashion discourses from an intersectional analytical perspective.

I examine fashion magazines such as the US-American Vogue (first published in the late nineteenth century and presented to the New York 'upper class'); (popular) literary narratives and their fashion accounts (e.g. by Edith Wharton); and other texts such as interviews with designers, blog entries and textiles themselves. Thus investigating the temporal and legal dimensions of fashion, its representation within literature, and the discourses surrounding the politics of dress, the project is interested in how different fashion communities compete with each other and, ultimately, how fashion—through its global entanglements and networks—becomes a contested cultural site for the (un-)making of subjectivities.