Making Hair Matter: Untangling Black Hair/Style Politics

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Watson, Nicole
Hair , Women , Gender , Race , Racialization , Black , Identity , Performativity
Hair is a remarkably complex material-semiotic entity. Caught on the cusp between self/society, meticulously contrived and purposely styled, hair is crucial in the articulation of identity and difference. However, although scholars have focused a great deal of attention on the body as a site of cultural production and identity politics, discussions surrounding hair have been largely ignored and relegated to the realm of the trivial or inconsequential. Addressing this void, this project places hair at the centre of examination in a two-part qualitative analysis. First, hair is reconfigured as sign and examined as a socio-cultural performance achieved through the reiteration of historically contingent practices, and materialized through the body. Particular attention is paid to Black women’s hair/styling practices as a vital site of cultural production, identity negotiation and radical subversion. Following this is a critical discourse analysis of the representation of hair within popular culture, with a specific focus on the way in which Black women’s hair/styling practices are fundamentally implicated in the production of identity and difference. The possibility of resistance through transgressive hair stylizations is also explored. Overall, hair is found to be intimately involved in the (re)constitution of sexed/gendered beings, integral to the process of racialization and a potential locus of resistance. However, this investigation also finds that popular culture displays –even those that purport to offer a critical analysis – fail to destabilize the underlying regimes of domination and oppression that limit and sustain the systems of meaning through which hair is understood.
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