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Emory University

Publication Date

Fall 2014

Program Name

Morocco: Multiculturalism and Human Rights

Abstract

Clothes and their consumption become almost invisible in their very ubiquity, yet fashion acts as a sort of optical litmus test for the mood of society. Clothing can express cultural norms, serve as shorthand for social grouping, and provide a kind of corpus of visual allusion; in short, clothes and how we wear them constitute a system of signification, a visual language as dynamic, complex, and arbitrary as any spoken communication. I set out to investigate the grammar and syntax of Moroccan fashion, to explore what the diversity of observed choices meant to the people who made them and how those choices served as visual expressions of broader societal conversations. I investigated how Moroccan young people interact with their socio-political environment through fashion, and to what extent choices regarding style, textile, modesty, color, and cultural influence are politically and culturally charged. Gathered through observation and interviews, my data points to a complex discourse on modernity, nationalism, progress, political repression, globalization, feminism, and group identity politics, all played out in the sweaters and leggings so abundant on the streets of Rabat. For Moroccan youth, fashion choices reflect and reinforce social binaries: Traditional vs. Modern, Western vs. Moroccan, Liberal vs. Conservative, Young vs. Old; visual incarnations of Moroccan culture are exoticized and re-orientalized as young Moroccans consume their own culture according to colonial norms and values. Moroccan fashion then constitutes a symbolic battlefield on which today’s youth fight over the signs and symbols of modernity and attempt to construct an authentic individual identity free from the baggage of nation-building and the politics of social cohesion.

Disciplines

African Studies | Art and Design | Critical and Cultural Studies | Fashion Design | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Social and Cultural Anthropology

 

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