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"The Anthropology of Stuff" is part of a new Series dedicated to innovative, unconventional ways to connect undergraduate students and their lived concerns about our social world to the power of social science ideas and evidence. Our goal with the project is to help spark social science imaginations and in doing so, new avenues for meaningful thought and action. Each "Stuff" title is a short (100 page) "mini text" illuminating for students the network of people and activities that create their material world.
Lycra describes the development of a specific fabric, but in the process provides students with rare insights into U.S. corporate history, the changing image of women in America, and how a seemingly doomed product came to occupy a position never imagined by its inventors and contained in the wardrobe of virtually every American. And it will generate lively discussion of the story of the relationship between technology, science and society over the past half a century.
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Kaori O’Connor is a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom. She holds four degrees in anthropology, worked on Vogue magazine, was the founding editor of the Fashion Guide to London, has written several books on fashion and shopping, designed hand knitwear and originated and presented fashion and lifestyle features for television, radio and national newspapers. She also works on the anthropology of food, for which she won the 2009 Sophie Coe Prize for her study of the Hawaiian Luau. Her most recent book is The English Breakfast: The Biography of a National Meal published by Kegan Paul.
"[O'Connor] offers an intriguing, well-written study about the development of Lycra....This well-researched study draws on insights derived from ethnographic and archival evidence to describe the complex history of this specific fiber, including technology, science, corporate history, and branding and marketing strategies employed to make Lycra a successful product found in many garments. Readers interested in women's studies will appreciate the connection between this popular fiber and the changing view of women in America, including issues of gender, sexuality, aging, identity, and body image. This fascinating work will appeal to a wide range of interests as it touches on the dynamics between mass-produced commodities and the political, economic, and cultural factors that drive the production and consumption of 'stuff.' Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduate through professional readers."―CHOICE, C. B. Cannon, Savannah College of Art and Design, USA
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