Making things to make sense of things….. with hair

Louise Rondel (Sociology PhD student)

Thursday 3rd May

This interactive workshop was run by Louise Rondel, a Sociology PhD student.

This was a hands-on, creative, experimental methods-orientated workshop designed for social science students who are interested in exploring what a methodological attention to matter could bring to their own research projects.

During the workshop, participants crafted with hair in order to consider what a physical engagement with the materiality of a research object might bring to their academic enquiry.

Participants were asked to provide some hair – their own, a friend’s, a pet’s, hair they’ve found on the street, from the hairdressers – for the group to craft with. In response to a set of provocations, the group crafted using the hair and other materials and paid attention to what our multisensory, physical and affective engagement with the materiality of the hair might offer to a sociological investigation of hair.

Drawing on new materialist scholarship which highlights the vibrancy and agency of matter and attempts to decentre the human subject (Alaimo and Hekman 2008; Bennett 2010; Coole and Frost 2010), this workshop corresponds to a move away from words, interviews and surveys as sociological methods of enquiry to thinking about what people and indeed objects do and what they do together in the unfolding of the social world. The workshop will offer an opportunity to explore how making things and how making things with things can enliven our sociological methods and sharpen our attention to the non-textual registers of social life.

When considering what materials do, hair is useful to think with. Both on and off the body, hair occupies a liminal state between human and nonhuman, it is dead and yet it is defined by its life-force (Miller 2008) carrying a material record of its owner’s life (Holmes 2014). Off the body, it quickly becomes ‘matter out of place’ (Douglas 2002) with a capacity to repulse. The way we wear our hair is very personal and at the same time entirely public. Hair is gendered and classed. It carries racialised histories. Worn long or short, straightened or in an Afro, dyed or left to go grey, removing or leaving body hair, hair can also be politicised. We do not trust just anyone with our hair, hairdressers are carefully selected and followed from salon to salon. This is highly skilful labour and yet often undervalued and hazardous to health. The materiality of hair, then, offers a range of possibilities for our sociological imaginations.