Clothing and Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa (1996)

By: Hildi Hendrickson, ed.

This volume examines the dynamic relationship between the body, clothing, and identity in sub-Saharan Africa and raises questions that have previously been directed almost exclusively to a Western and urban context. Unusual in its treatment of the body surface as a critical frontier in the production and authentification of identity, Clothing and Difference shows how the body and its adornment have been used to construct and contest social and individual identities in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, and other African societies during both colonial and post-colonial times.

Grounded in the insights of anthropology and history and influenced by developments in cultural studies, these essays investigate the relations between the personal and the public, and between ideas about the self and those about the family, gender, and national groups. They explore the bodily and material creation of the changing identities of women, spirits, youths, ancestors, and entrepreneurs through a consideration of topics such as fashion, spirit possession, commodity exchange, hygiene, and mourning.

By taking African societies as its focus, Clothing and Difference demonstrates that factors considered integral to Western social development—heterogeneity, migration, urbanization, transnational exchange, and media representation—have existed elsewhere in different configurations and with different outcomes. With significance for a wide range of fields, including gender studies, cultural studies, art history, performance studies, political science, semiotics, economics, folklore, and fashion and textile analysis/design, this work provides alternative views of the structures underpinning Western systems of commodification, postmodernism, and cultural differentiation.

More Information


Durham : Duke University Press, 1996
Format viii, 268 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
ISBN : 0822317915  9780822317913
OCLC : 34046451  ocm34046451

Table of contents

Table of contents

Virginity cloths and vaginal coverings in Ekiti, Nigeria / Elisha P. Renne

— “I dress in this fashion” : transformations in Sotho dress and womens’s lives in a Sekhukhuneland village, South Africa / Deborah James

— Mediating threads : clothing and the texture of spirit/medium relations in Bori (Southern Niger) / Adeline Masquelier

— Female “Alhajis” and entrepreneurial fashions : flexible identities in Southeastern Nigerian cloth practice / Misty L. Bastian

— Dressing at death : clothing, time and memory in Buhaya, Tanzania / Brad Weiss

— Dressed to “shine” : work, leisure and style in Malindi, Kenya / Johanna Schoss

— “Sunlight soap has changed my life” : hygiene commodification, and the body in colonial Zimbabwe / Timothy Burke

— Bodies and flags : the representation of Herero identity in Colonial Namibia / Hildi Hendrickson.

About the author

About the author

Dr. Hildi Hendrickson is associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Department of Sociology/Anthropology. Dr. Hendrickson joined the faculty at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus in 1993, having completed a Ph.D. at New York University in 1992. She has done ethnographic and archaeological fieldwork in southern Africa, southwestern France, Illinois, Maryland and lower Manhattan. Her interests include small-scale societies, African cultures, ritual and performance, art and material culture, and religion and spirituality.

Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Cobley, Alan G. “Clothing and Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa (Book Review).” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, African Studies Center. Boston University, 1 Jan. 1999, pp. 242–43, doi:10.2307/220876.

Student reviews