Synopses & Reviews
"Ashley Mears is a talented ethnographer, a first-rate sociological thinker and an artful writer. Pricing Beauty
offers a dazzling, engaging, utterly original contribution to public and scholarly understanding of embodiment, gender, race, culture, and markets. A riveting work of priceless beauty!and#8221; and#151;Judith Stacey, author Unhitched: Love, Marriage and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China
and#147;Mearsand#8217;s winning formula: combine deep inside knowledge of the fashion business, based on intensive observation, with useful sociological ideas, and present the result in readable, witty and incisive prose. I learned a lot and you will too.and#8221; and#151;Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds
and#147;Ashley Mears shows us beauty is not in the eyes of the beholder but in the complex ensemble of organizational imperatives, social networking, and critical timing. She reverses stereotypes of gender pay, sexuality, and the making of markets. It is a first-hand analysis that does not let up in its page-turning intelligence and unremitting clarity.and#8221; and#151;Harvey Molotch, Professor of Metropolitan Studies, New York University
"Pricing Beauty is a a courageous and provocative book. Mears takes us behind the curtain of high-stakes fashion. Drawing on her own experiences as a model, Mears uncovers the far less glamorous side of the industry, one that few of us will ever see. This is sociology at its finest: thoughtful analysis, great storytelling and an empathetic perspective on the lives of so many who pursue their dreams, only to find a few nightmares along the way. A must read for anyone interested in understanding how celebrity is made." and#151;Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day
"This book is a pleasure to readand#151;an entertaining, well-written and sophisticated analysis. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the intersection of aesthetics, gender, and labor.and#8221; and#151;Debra Gimlin, author of Body Work
"Mears gives voice to a group of women who are paid to be seen and not heard."
“Mears has produced a fascinating study.” Boston Globe/The Find
and#8220;Mears acknowledges that walking the runway can be a thrill unlike any other [but also] notes some of the industryand#8217;s exploitative aspects.and#8221;
and#8220;A nuanced, and deliciously complicated depiction of an industry.and#8221;
and#8220;Mears's book represents an original, highly readable contribution to the field.and#8221;
and#8220;This book is sociology at its finest. Mearsand#8217;s rarified status as a model-researcher provides rich insight into the specific nuances of fashion.and#8221;
“In American Allegory, Black Hawk Hancock has written a rich and intricately detailed ethnography of the distinct worlds of lindy hop and steppin'. Here, readers are offered a guide to the ways in which cultural expressions have come to occupy separate racial and spatial realms and how this apparent segregation of race, culture and identity is practiced in the United States today.”
“Black Hawk Hancock provides a fascinating dance ethnography situation within the larger context of Chicago’s segregated social landscape. By deploying Bourdieu’s notion of ‘habitus’ as a recurring conceptual hook in a ‘carnal sociology’ reminiscent of Loic Wacquant’s, Hancock offers an entertaining and valuable new perspective in the ongoing debates about the organization and reproduction of America’s racial order. American Allegory is a fluent and nuanced piece of scholarship.”
"You will be glad to have come across this study. It keeps a good balance between academic study and cultural practice 'as told by an insider' who carefully investigates an art form both intellectually and physically."
"Hancock critically engages the racial imagination surrounding the expressive nature of dancing and how black and white bodies are coded differently. His argument is an important expansion of scholarship in American culture because Hancock posits the body as a site of cultural memory. . . . An important piece of scholarship on racial displacement, expressive culture, and the residue of racial segregation in urban spaces and places. The author makes an original contribution to American culture by the honesty and bravado he displays by writing a genealogy of the Lindy Hop and the complications of race that influence the dance from the 1920s to the present day Steppin', which is performed today."
and#8220;Mears has produced a fascinating study.and#8221;
“Hancock’s American Allegory represents the first book-length meditation on how the neoswing renaissance, and its ahistorical cross-cultural engagement with ‘African American cultural forms,’ sustains racial domination. . . . Hancock’s prose is…inspired. . . . . Allegory deserves a readership beyond well-credentialed white liberals committed to more expansive forms of self-loathing and would be a vital addition to syllabi in courses on racialization, culture, and methodology. Like the protagonist of Invisible Man, Hancock’s hunger for justice remains unabated, I figure, and I look forward to his next excavation of the remaining riddles in the American vernacular.”
Sociologist Ashley Mears takes us behind the brightly lit runways and glossy advertisements of the fashion industry in this insiderand#8217;s study of the world of modeling. Mears, who worked as a model in New York and London, draws on observations as well as extensive interviews with male and female models, agents, clients, photographers, stylists, and others, to explore the economics and politicsand#151;and the arbitrarinessand#151; behind the business of glamour. Exploring a largely hidden arena of cultural production, she shows how the right and#147;lookand#8221; is discovered, developed, and packaged to become a prized commodity. She examines how models sell themselves, how agents promote them, and how clients decide to hire them. An original contribution to the sociology of work in the new cultural economy, Pricing Beauty offers rich, accessible analysis of the invisible ways in which gender, race, and class shape worth in the marketplace.
“Perhaps,” wrote Ralph Ellison more than seventy years ago, “the zoot suit contains profound political meaning; perhaps the symmetrical frenzy of the Lindy-hop conceals clues to great potential power.” As Ellison noted then, many of our most mundane cultural forms are larger and more important than they appear, taking on great significance and an unexpected depth of meaning. What he saw in the power of the Lindy Hop—the dance that Life
magazine once billed as “Americas True National Folk Dance”—would spread from black America to make a lasting impression on white America and offer us a truly compelling means of understanding our culture. But with what hidden implications?
In American Allegory, Black Hawk Hancock offers an embedded and embodied ethnography that situates dance within a larger Chicago landscape of segregated social practices. Delving into two Chicago dance worlds, the Lindy and Steppin, Hancock uses a combination of participant-observation and interviews to bring to the surface the racial tension that surrounds white use of black cultural forms. Focusing on new forms of appropriation in an era of multiculturalism, Hancock underscores the institutionalization of racial disparities and offers wonderful insights into the intersection of race and culture in America.
About the Author
Black Hawk Hancock is associate professor of sociology at DePaul University. He is also coauthor of Changing Theories: New Directions in Sociology.
Table of Contents
AcknowledgmentsPrologue: This Strange DanceLead In: The Cost of Insight
Introduction: The Lindy Hop Revival
1 Finding the Pocket
2 Caught in the Act of Appropriation
3 Put a Little Color on That!
4 Steppin Out of Whiteness
Lead Out: Learning How to Make Life Swing
Conclusion: Toward New Territory