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Department of Social Anthropology


Professor Emma Tarlo, (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Tangled Tales and Racial Fictions: The awkwardness of human hair in global circulation

Hair is something intimate and familiar. Growing spontaneously from our heads, demanding attention throughout our lives, it is intrinsically bound up with personal and social biographies. But hair is also a commodity in an expanding  global market for wigs and extensions. In this context it is detached, collected up, accumulated, recycled, refashioned and redistributed worldwide where it becomes incorporated into new lives. This paper  focuses on the awkwardness of this human crop and on the techniques used in the trade to mask the actual origins of hair whilst at the same time emphasising its human qualities. It asks how and why China's central role in the industry is obscured and explores how ethnic and racial fictions are invented to make hair more acceptable and desirable as it transfers from head to head and continent to continent.The presentation draws on Emma Tarlo's recent book,  Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair (2016) which was written and published as a work of anthropological non-fiction. She will be happy to discuss the challenges of writing in this genre in the discussion following the talk.

Friday, 26 January, 2018 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge