Entering the Contact Zone: Reflections on a Conceptual Framework Used to Study Brazilian Fashion
Keywords:The Contact Zone, Auto-Ethnography, Brazilian Fashion, My Positionality, Global Fashion Studies, Transnational Fashion Histories
This article reflects upon the critical framework – ‘the contact zone’ – used by the author in her recent book Fashioning Brazil: Globalization and the Representation of Brazilian Dress in National Geographic (2018) to examine Brazilian fashion as a transnational form of modernity. This AHRC-funded project examined the visual and textual strategies by which the popular ‘scientific’ and educational journal National Geographic has fashioned an idea of Brazil in the popular imagination of its readership, but also, the extent to which Brazilian subjects represented in its pages can be seen to have self-fashioned, through the strategic appropriation and reinterpretation of clothing and ideas derived through transnational encounter and exchange. Mary Louise Pratt defined ‘the contact zone’ as real or imagined ‘spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination’.Inherent within this space of contact are notions of friction or conflict played out in a militant area, or amorphous zone, in which the spatial and temporal presence of previously separate groups can be seen to interact. The contact zone provided a critical tool for the author to decentre her ‘foreign’ gaze – that of a light-skinned, European woman – onto Brazilian fashion. In conducting this research project, the author necessarily entered the contact zone, positioning herself in self-reflexive dialogue and debate with the range of different subjects that she came into contact with. The objective of this article is to ask, how might the use of the contact zone as a critical framework to examine Brazilian fashion be of value to other Fashion Studies scholars?
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