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Messy methods and ‘going strange’ with fashion: Researching the fashion intermediaries’ community as an insider-becoming-outsider

29 juin - Yana REYNOLDS (LSE)

How does one transition from working in fashion to researching it as a sociologist? Not without effort, frustration and multiple iterations of trial-and-error, especially at a time when fashion as a social world is a shape-shifting reality.

This talk will discuss the methodologies and epistemologies that underpinned my PhD research which focused on the work of fashion agents and showrooms in Paris. My project was an ethnographic study rooted in phenomenological sociology and informed by my own experiences of work as an agent for over a decade before joining academia. The data analysed in my thesis was collected through ethnography, autoethnography and interviews conducted at Paris Fashion Week in 2017-2019 and analysed using thematic analysis.

Although I had been intimately familiar with the fashion world as a professional, my observations and interviews surprised me and necessitated a shift in focus. My initial research question focused on fashion agents’ aesthetic labour in terms of their bodily and sartorial presentation at work. However, my interviews and observations suggested a need to rethink and stretch the concept of aesthetic labour when applied to fashion work, taking into account the importance, for agents, of creating, and becoming enchanted by, the atmospheres and affective regimes of the showrooms in which they operate. This change of direction also required a slight change of methodology, with more emphasis on mobile and multi-sited ethnography and autoethnography and less on interviews; and, eventually, a shift in epistemology, moving away from a humanist to a posthumanist lens.

My presentation will trace the evolution of my research approach, highlighting the changes that my study underwent in response to themes that arose from the data. It will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of researching one’s own community and the difficulties I encountered when negotiating my dual position as a fashion insider and an academic researcher. It will consider the relevance of traditional methodologies for exploring tacit, embodied and practical knowledge, and propose how such methodologies can be enhanced and adjusted in order to be tailored to the study of fashion as a social world.