Dress as Social Relations by Viestad, V M
Publisher: Wits University Press 2018
To dress is a uniquely human experience, but practices and meanings of dress vary greatly among people. In a Western cultural tradition, the practice of dressing ‘properly’ has for centuries distinguished ‘civilised’ people from ‘savages’. Through travel literature and historical ethnographic descriptions of the Bushmen of southern Africa, such perceptions and prejudices have made their mark also on the modern research tradition. Because Bushmen were widely considered to be ‘nearly naked’ the study of dress has played a limited part in academic writings on Bushman culture.
In Dress as Social Relations Vibeke Maria Viestad challenges this myth of the nearly naked Bushman and provides an interdisciplinary study of Bushman dress, as it is represented in the archives and material culture of historical Bushman communities. Maintaining a critical perspective, Viestad provides an interpretation of the significance of dress for historical Bushman people. Dress, she argues, formed an embodied practice of social relations between humans, animals and other powerful beings of the Bushman world; moreover, this complex and meaningful practice was intimately related to subsistence strategies and social identity.