AbstractAs one of the oldest and most widespread materials, leather has taken a multitude of forms and has accumulated manifold meanings. As will be illustrated, leather-related understandings apply not only to the material itself, but also to the conditions of its production and the wider implications of its uses. The aim of this thesis is to identify and explore patterns of representations of leather and leather objects, and the ways in which they are used in the construction and management of identities.
The thesis begins with a review of theoretical conceptualizations of the relations between material objects and human societies, drawing on psychological, sociological and anthropological literature. It then explores theorisations of identity, with a focus on the construction and management of personal, social and ethical identities in relation to objects and consumer practices. Against this background, and drawing on social constructionist and discursive resources, I conducted an informed exploration into some of the ways in which people relate to leather and leather objects. Two Q methodological studies identified patterns of understandings around leather, firstly as a generic material and then as a personal possession. The findings illustrated how such understandings tapped into current cultural resources, and combined practical and symbolic elements in conveying characterizations of both leather and of the people involved with it as consumers or producers. A series of semi-structured interviews enabled a more in-depth examination of the ways in which leather and leather objects are woven into the construction of professional, cultural, gender and consumer identities, and in conveying particular moral and political viewpoints. The analysis investigated how depictions of leather by participants with a professional involvement functioned to promote the material itself and the manufacturing industry as essential for the wellbeing of society at large, on historical, cultural or environmental grounds. Additionally, I examined the manner in which leather-related consumer practices were used to uphold or challenge cultural representations around work identities, gender roles and subcultural affiliation. Furthermore, I explored how, by drawing on various philosophical, political, economic or moral discourses, respondents constructed the choice of leather as 'green' or ethical.
Overall, the thesis considers how understandings around a material substance such as leather function to (re)produce existing social and cultural representations in the context of everyday work and consumption practices. At the same time, it illuminates the ways in which ethical and environmental debates and concerns are oriented to and incorporated in accounts of individual actions and values.
|Date of Award||2011|
|Supervisor||Ian Tucker (Supervisor), Rose Capdevila (Supervisor) & Sarah Crafter (Supervisor)|