This essay is trying to look at Fashion through an anthropological methodology based on an ethnographic constellation. So, the concepts of
Syncretism’s, Fetishisms, Ubiquities, Polyphony are designing a transitive imagination with an astonishing perspective.
Perhaps in this moment Fashion must be observed and
transformed through an anthropological paradigm, beyond
the positivistic one. I can present my methodology based on an
ethnographic constellation. Syncretism’s, Fetishisms, Ubiquities,
Polyphony are my keywords which design is a transitive
constellation, to look at fashion with some different glances or,
better, with an astonishing perspective. Syncretism is connecting
fragments of incompatible cultures in a montage of familiar and
stranger beyond any dialectical synthesis. Fetishism re-enacts the
metamorphic desire of mixing organic and inorganic, subject and
object, screen, and skin beyond any dichotomic logics. Ubiquity is
expanding the possibility to experience differentiated spaces for
the same subject through digital communication. Polyphony is an
exchange between music, social sciences, and literature to affirms
the dissonant coexistence of diversified voices. The constellation
realized thanks to these keywords will project an epistemological
design, through which it will possible to discover a ubiquitous
utopia: in-between no-space and any-space is emerging the
unexplored fashion desire.
Here, I have already presented the first three concepts, so now
it will be the moment to listen polyphony.
According to one of Adorno’s liminal expressions referred to
Schumann, astonishment is the moment before: the one in which
this musician (an anthropologist or a fashion designer) perceives
a crisis in his conscious creativity and, before surrendering to it,
composes one of his most beautiful pieces of art.
Astonishment is the condition when a researcher starts to do
ethnography in a deep solitude. At this moment, astonishment
opens all its sensitivity to something or someone still unknown
but that he/she wishes to encounter. The unknown - as a person,
a ritual or a symbol - opens all the corporal porosity with the aim
to be ready to meet the stranger, to listen the sound never heard
before. Any researcher should be trained to develop her/his
mindful body, to be positioned on the desiring necessity to meet
the unknown as an incomprehensible code or story. The body’s
disposition to accept and to favour the astonishing narrative is a
pre-condition to invent the not-yet existence. I have to be ready
to meet the dissonance, that’s why I want to accept the limit of my
familiar-acoustic or designed - knowledge.
If dialogic is the key word that establishes a different
relationship between two subjectivities, polyphony relates to
the method of making research and the way of multiplying the
narrative styles, experimenting a new kind of essay-form, ethnopoetics,
visual communication, sound-scape. The exchange
between social sciences and literature, particularly comparative
literature, presents one of the most interesting terrains for fashion
An innovative interpretation of polyphony was realized by
Michail Bachtin who was applying the concept of polyphony from
musical pattern to classical novel . He was a marginal Soviet essayist. He wrote the essay The Author and the Hero (1988)
where he influenced a current of radical anthropologists since the
80s of the last century. According to him, the polyphonic narrative
is affirmed with Dostojewski as his novels develop a different
compositional model: against the hegemonic monologism, the hero
is no longer projection of the author, nor any secondary characters
are an extension of the same centralized model of language. On the
contrary, a multiple style is affirmed, a decentralized psychology is
experimented, and each character has his/her own way of being
represented through the Dostojewski’s writing. Every person is a
cosmological way of thinking and speaking. In this way, polyphony
affirms a composition of diversified voices (as in the symphonies)
in which everyone has his/her own subjective sonority. A very
revolution in the writing and perhaps also in the designing.
So, according to Michail Bachtin, he tries to solve the problem
of representing other subjectivities (for ex. a “native informant”)
in her or his identity, by decentralizing the author and his hero´s
style of writing. I was used (or I tried) to experiment this approach
towards multiple voices in my ethnographic representation
[3,4]. When a given research, context expresses a multiplicity of
messages and sources, one must develop an appropriate method.
There is a dialogical exchange between the context and the method.
So, in this polyphonic wandering, methods have to multiply the
points of view, observation, listening and the final transcription.
If the fieldwork of ethnographic representation is multi-vocal,
for example a big city or a fashion week, its composition can only
be multi-vocal favouring different points of view. Multiplying
research methods and styles of representation is the astonishing
assumption to entry and to listen some vague polyphony. It’s
fundamental to the extent the points of observation and explanation
even if they are divergent: the spatial and acoustic perspectives
might be in tension, contradiction or indifferent for the observer.
The method of anthropological research is polyphonic because it
multiplies sensorial styles of observations and representations. A
single empirical phenomenon may be narrated not only through
the classic essay-form, but also assembling photography or videos,
deploying a poetic sensibility, or experiencing body performance.
This method is polyphonic because, during processual fieldwork
and composition, it discovers that the alleged object is actually
also a living subject. Multiplying the researcher´s subjectivity
means that emotion and reason, poetry and science, organic and
inorganic may be an experiment beyond any dualistic paradigm.
The method that expands polyphony is making visible and audible
other subjectivities: that is the point for fashion and anthropology.
These subjectivities may also be non-human, like animals, plants,
building, advertising or even things, objects, commodities .
When I began an ethnographic research on the mega-city of São
Paulo, Brazil, I perceived the deep sensation that from such a kind
of no-ending urbanist conglomeration was emerging a dissonant
coexistence of different voices, sounds, noises, images, people,
styles, symbols, architecture, advertising. The challenge was clear:
I could try to represent the visual communication of the paulista
metropolis only using a polyphonic perspective. Polyphony means
looking for a decentralized pattern of behaviour, body language,
street style, mutant identities, the co-presence of fashion global
standard and how a young homeless is performing a mix of dresscode.
It’s all in the mix in the tumultuous urban panorama. Fashion
may be a strident, jarring, uncanny, astonishing pulse. Syncretism,
ubiquity, meta-fetishism, polyphony is pulsing along “my” paulista
scenarios… At the same time, but following different kind of
composition, also during my anthropological research in an aldeia
Bororo (Meruri in Mato Grosso) I discover that specially young
“native” people are using to mix traditional dress-code with the
urban ones they are used to look through Iphone. So, polyphony
is a transitive constellation floating between a big city and a small
aldeia (village). Anyway, this temporary polyphonic composition
will be impossible or homologated without the co-presence of a
syncretic mix of codes, ubiquitous identities, and a meta-fetishism
transition beyond dichotomous experiences [6,7].