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Research reveals connections between social science and high fashion

November 17, 2015

While they're often linked with studying remote civilizations, the role of the contemporary anthropologist is changing. Stephanie Sadre-Orafai, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of anthropology, will apply one example as she examines how anthropology is linked with the high fashion industry in New York. The presentation is part of a panel at the 114th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Billed as the world's largest gathering of anthropologists, the meeting takes place Nov. 18-22, in Denver, Colorado.

Sadre-Orafai explains that casting agents often have some form of anthropological training. Although many of these casting agents apply this expertise toward scouting diverse talent for commercials, magazine layouts and other media in the New York fashion industry, Sadre-Orafai says they can be limited by conservative views in the industry. As a result, some turn to creative outlets on the side, creating documentaries and blogs.

"The role of the anthropologist is evolving and the kind of people we work with is evolving, too," says Sadre-Orafai. "As anthropologists studying professionals, if we're only focusing on what people do on the job, we may be unwittingly narrowing our focus. We need to grant multiplicity to our research subjects when we're measuring the work they do."

Sadre-Orafai's presentation features several vignettes based on years of fieldwork and face-to-face interviews with casting professionals in the New York fashion industry. The presentation is part of a session titled, Para-Ethnographies of Branding and Design.

The theme of the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association is "Familiar, Strange." Sadre-Orafai's paper reveals that "Just as ethnographers use techniques of intimacy and estrangement in their fieldwork, balancing insider and outsider perspectives to make the strange familiar (translating others' experiences so that they are intelligible beyond a local context), and the familiar strange (gaining enough critical distance to see underlying patterns and connections), so too, do street scouts and casting directors."
Funding for the research was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation of Anthropological Research, UC's University Research Council and the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center at the University of Cincinnati.

UC's Department of Anthropology in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences focuses research around bioevolutionary approaches to health, ecosystem dynamics and forms of social inequality. Researchers conduct field research around the world ranging from the forests of Nicaragua to Fashion Week in New York.

Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association calls itself the world's largest professional organization of anthropologists, with an average annual membership of more than 10,000. The Arlington, Va.-based association represents all specialties within anthropology - cultural anthropology, biological (or physical) anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and applied anthropology.

University of Cincinnati

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