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Dirt, Undress, and Difference

Critical Perspectives on the Body's Surface

Edited by Adeline Masquelier

Publication Year: 2005

"A magnificent volume! It offers brand new perspectives on body politics and identity or subjectivity formation in the post-colonial world." -- Dorothy Ko, Barnard College

While there is widespread interest in dress and hygiene as vehicles of cultural, moral, and political value, little scholarly attention has been paid to cross-cultural understandings of dirt and undress, despite their equally important role in the fashioning of identity and difference. The essays in this absorbing and thought-provoking collection contribute new insights into the neglected topics of bodily treatments and transgressions. In detailed ethnographic studies from around the world, the contributors recast assumptions about filth and nakedness, exploring how various forms of transgression associated with the body's surface are drawn up into relations of power and inequality. They demonstrate imaginatively how body surfaces are powerfully mobilized in the making and unmaking of moral worlds.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The idea for this book originated in the context of a panel presentation titled ‘‘The Politics of Dirt and Nudity in Africa’’ which I organized and chaired at the 2000 American Anthropological Association annual meeting in San Francisco. The papers by Misty Bastian, Deborah Durham, and myself were first presented there. They were enriched by the critical suggestions provided by ...

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Dirt, Undress, and Difference: An Introduction

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pp. 1-33

Precisely because lack of proper cover is such a visible marker of difference, what struck European travelers first and foremost during their original encounters with indigenous people was the apparent nakedness of these populations. When, upon meeting Amerindians, Columbus wrote that ‘‘they all go naked, men and women, as the day they were born’’ (in Todorov 1984: 35), he ...

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1. The Naked and the Nude: Historically Multiple Meanings of Oto (Undress) in Southeastern Nigeria

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pp. 34-60

In the first stanza of Robert Graves’s famous poem above—probably written in response to Kenneth Clark’s ([1956] 1972) equally famous distinction between states of undress in art—the poet sets out a problem in Western perceptions of bodies and their representations. Nudity is a term that was reserved in aesthetic circles for an elevating or ennobling undress, an innocent, ...

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2. Breasts, (Un)Dress, and Modernist Desires in the Balinese-Tourist Encounter

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pp. 61-95

These two quotations raise a host of analytical issues. Clearly, Balinese styles of dress have undergone a dramatic change. What happened between 1933 and 2002 and what role did tourism itself play in changing Balinese practices and values? Moreover, precisely who counts as undressed or potentially improperly dressed also has changed: the appealing sight of bared Balinese ...

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3. Body Talk: Revelations of Self and Body in Contemporary Strip Clubs

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pp. 96-121

I spend a lot of time preparing before I go onstage at a strip club, which seems almost counterintuitive—spending all day getting ready to take off your clothes. Preparation is ongoing, of course—most dancers have regular salon appointments for manicures, pedicures, facials, body scrubs, waxing, highlights or coloring, or hair extensions. Many dancers also spend a lot of time in the gym. But a work ...

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4. The Naked Spirit: Disrobing, Deviance, and Dissent in Bori Possession

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pp. 122-148

In May 1989, during a bori possession ceremony held some ten miles south of Dogondoutchi (Niger) in a Mawri1 village I shall call Ourgam, something quite unexpected happened. It was late in the afternoon and some villagers had assembled on an empty lot to witness a husband’s gesture of gratitude to the spirits who had made his wife well following years of illness. ...

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5. Japanese Bodies and Western Ways of Seeing in the Late Nineteenth Century

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pp. 149-168

Hall repeatedly noted that he saw laborers working in fields in their loincloths, children in a state of complete undress (1992: 154), and women dropping their garments to their hips to nurse or cool down (1992: 210). Furthermore, it was not uncommon for men and women to bathe together at a public bathhouse. Artist William Heine, who came to the U.S. from Dresden and joined Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan in 1853, ...

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6. Purity and Conquest in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan

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pp. 168-189

There is a scene in the film Topsy-Turvy1—about the musical partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan—in which London actors dining at the Savoy ponder the news that General Charles Gordon is dead. The year is 1885. The men are indignant and perturbed. Gordon, ardent Christian and campaigner against the slave trade, hero to his countrymen, and governor of Sudan in Ottoman ...

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7. Did You Bathe This Morning? Baths and Morality in Botswana

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pp. 190-212

The two Herero1 girls laughed, taking a break from their morning household work to lean over the compound fence and chat. Their arms and legs were coated with dust and the residues of sweat and oils smudged their faces: they may have bathed earlier themselves, but it didn’t show at mid-morning. I suspected the teenage girls were being impudent, ‘‘playing with me,’’ as children in the urban village of Mahalapye sometimes ...

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8. The Politics of Dirt and Gender: Body Techniques in Bengali India

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pp. 213-232

On my second trip to the village in West Bengal, India, where I was later to live for a year and a half, a girl met me by the roadside, crying. She had been the one to show me around the village on my first visit and had generously shared with me her and her sister’s egg curry. She reported that the other village girls had seen her washing my dish, and so she had become ‘‘untouchable.’’ She was a Brahman, member of the highest Hindu caste, but I was not ...

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9. Corrupted Alterities: Body Politics in the Time of the Iranian Diaspora

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pp. 233-254

In these lines from Mirzazadeh’s poem ‘‘Statue of Liberty,’’ Boroujerdi (1996) introduces the notion of ‘‘Westoxification,’’ an intellectual concept developed in the work of Iranian writers to describe the unexamined attraction to things Western (glossed as ‘‘non-Iranian’’). Here ‘‘Westoxification’’ is portrayed poetically as ‘‘gendered’’ female, embodied or disguised as a woman, ...

list of contributors

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pp. 255-256


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pp. 257-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111531
E-ISBN-10: 0253111536
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346285

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos, 1 index
Publication Year: 2005