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Open Access ‘It’s kind of where the shoe gets you to I suppose’: Materializing identity with footwear

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Through their narrative incorporation in fairytales, song lyrics, in movies and on television shoes have become a ‘loaded device’ (Pine, 2006: 353) recycled as metonymy for the wearer or as metaphor for experience. Due to such extensive representation this article argues that they have become, in a sense, invisible. In existing academic literature we have tended to see the message rather than the shoe and we become blind to what Miller describes as the ‘humility’ of the shoe as a ‘thing’ (Miller 2005: 5). This neglect of the materiality of the shoe itself obscures the highly nuanced and subjective experiences of the wearer. As consumers/wearers, we might fully understand – even aspire to – the cultural connotations of a particular pair of shoes, yet this does not mean we will feel socially comfortable wearing them. Using empirical data gathered from wearers of the culturally significant Clarks Originals brand, this article reveals the co-constitutive relationship between the social identity of the wearer and that of the shoe. By focusing on the materiality of objects, bodies and environments we can overcome subject-object dualisms and really ‘see’ shoes in terms of the role they and their meanings play in a process of identification, transformation and cultural embodiment.

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Keywords: affordances; authenticity; eco-semiotics; embodiment; emotional durability; materiality; parasite; quasi-object; representation; semiotics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Sheffield

Publication date: 2014-10-01

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