Accepted Paper:

New Heights: Shoes as Technology of the Self  

Author:

Chris Hesselbein (Cornell University)

Paper short abstract:

Footwear is an important technology with which gendered, ethnic, and class identities are created, maintained, and destabilized in Western society via the interaction of bodies and artifacts at the intersection of fashion, consumption, and the commercial classification and standardization of sizing

Paper long abstract:

Clothing is usually only considered a technology in its hi-tech guise as 'wearable technology'. However, studying the daily practice of dressing contributes much to understanding the role of technology in the performance of everyday life and the enactment of power and politics through material means.

Footwear, especially in its high-heeled form, is an object with which distinctions between gendered, ethnic, and class identities are created and (de)stabilized. Footwear is able to perform this role through its situated and everyday use as a symbol of femininity and professional success in Western societies. Its paradoxical character as a ubiquitous and highly visible artifact that nonetheless has become taken-for-granted and nearly invisible makes footwear an important topic for studying how (unequal) worlds emerge from the close interaction of bodies and artifacts at the intersection of Western fashion, cultural consumption, and the commercial classification and standardization of sizing.

The importance of washing machines, reproductive technologies, onions, and the Internet in the materialization of social order has been well established in feminist technoscience. Studies on the gendered politics of technological design and usage of everyday consumer goods such as clothing have been surprisingly scarce despite the clear impact of such artifacts on personal affect and comportment, not to mention the possibilities and constraints that such sartorial choices have for the perpetuation and subversion of gender stereotypes. The politics of technology can be found (and hidden) as much in the seemingly superficial practice of wearing shoes as they can in hi-tech artifacts.

Panel T059
Making Worlds: Feminist STS and everyday technoscience