Manifesto for a study of denim*


  • *

    We would like to thank Louise Crewe and Alex Hughes, and the two anonymous reviewers for comments on a draft of this paper, Mylene Mizrahi for sharing her Brazilian data and introducing Danny to Brazilian Jeans and funk balls, and Magda Craciun for giving him a tour of Istanbul fake brands. Also very helpful were discussions during an earlier abortive grant proposal with Fiona Jane Candy, Jo Entwistle and Clare Harris.


This paper considers the challenge to anthropology represented by a topic such as global denim. Using the phrase ‘blindingly obvious’, it considers the problems posed by objects that have become ubiquitous. While there are historical narratives about the origins, history and spread of denim, these leave open the issue of how we make compatible the ethnographic study of specific regional appropriations of denim and its global presence in a manner that is distinctly anthropological. Ethnographies of blue jeans in Brazil and England are provided as examples. These suggest the need to understand the relationship between three observations: its global presence, the phenomenon of distressing and its relationship to anxiety in the selection of clothes. As a manifesto, this paper argues for a global academic response that engages with denim from the global commodity chain through to the specificity of local accounts of denim wearing. Ultimately this can provide the basis for an anthropological engagement with global modernity.