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Fabricating Identities: Survival and the Imagination in Jamaican Dancehall Culture

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This paper explores adornment as a constitutive part of Jamaican dancehall culture. Practices of adornment speak as much of the world of the Jamaican ghetto, and of forms of socio-historical continuity and discontinuity, as they do of the explicit desire of women to communicate their own agency and lived experience. The sartorial excess prevalent in dancehall culture must therefore be understood as a creative response to the conditions of constraint, oppression and inequality that is a characteristic feature of lower class Jamaican urban experience. This response is part of an attempt to survive through alternative modes of being. I argue that survival is not based simply on physical need; rather, survival concerns desire and the imaginative world. By presenting the body as a site of spectacle, dancehall women push at the limits of survival to create a subversive world of corporeal imagination. Dancehall women thereby challenge the Eurocentric and patriarchal dichotomy between the sexual and the maternal body that operates in Jamaican society.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/136270406778664959

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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