GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Fashion, Spectacle and Identity in the Arab Gulf
Paper Proposal Text :
Fashion, Spectacle and Identity in the Arab Gulf

Sobhi al-Zobaidi
Ph.D candidate. Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

This paper will examine how men and woman in the Gulf region negotiate their sense of identity, between tradition and modernity through their personal looks, including fashion, hair style and the use of accessories. Especially in the Gulf region, there is a dominant code of traditional dress for men and women, and although maintained by the older generation, the younger ones seem to approach it with a certain ambivalence. Generally speaking, people in the Gulf switch freely between the two styles (the modern and the traditional) but only to assert a certain sense of identity be it personal or collective. On certain occasions, (formal, religious, national) people tend to wear the traditional dress in the way of affirming a national or, collective sense of identity. Whereas, through modern or western style of clothing people seem to assert a certain personality or personal identity that begs to differ form the collective. Individuals make statements about their wealth, class, beauty, and sexuality through their looks.

As a theoretical assumption, this paper will suggest that identity is never a finished product, but a production site. To use an architectural metaphor, I will argue that identity is like the scaffolding that surrounds a building under construction, but not the finished building itself. Identity, in other words is how we negotiate a sense of orientation in the world. I venture to make the connection between identity and what psychologist Kurt Lewin refers to as our sense of ‘hodological space’, i.e. the social space where according to Gilles Deleuze our sensory-motor schemata is located. Unlike Euclidian space that is concerned with measurements and points, hodological space is multidimensional and composed of forces and the tensions between these forces. Euclidean space that is concerned with distances measured, hodological space is concerned with paths crossed. In short, hodological space is the social and psychological space where our memory is formed and therefore our sense of orientation in the world is founded.

Drawing on theories by Kurt Lewin, Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Henri Bergson, Frankfurt Schools, Roland Barthes, Timothy Mitchell, Stuart Hall, Guy Debord, and others, I situate spectacle in general within this notion of hodological space. I see fashion, costumes, dress (as in dressing up or dressing to conceal or to protect) as elements of this social space that is multidimensional, excessive and forceful. It is my intention in this paper to tease out these playful and powerful dynamics in the way Arab people in the Gulf use dress, costumes and fashion to negotiate their sense of identity both individual and collective.