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Materialising cultures: West African diasporan engagement with African print in Britain

Oboh, Ehinomen (2018) Materialising cultures: West African diasporan engagement with African print in Britain. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis addresses a gap in our knowledge about the shifting meanings and practices associated with dress as it moves into diasporic cultural surroundings. Specifically, it looks at West African diasporans living in Britain (WADIB) and their engagements with African print. It does so by gathering stories of WADIB clothing experiences, alongside images of how they acquire, make, wear and keep their clothes. Academic research until recently has focused on dress in Africa, but largely ignored the contemporary use of African prints among diasporan communities. By moving beyond the African setting into a diaspora setting, this research expands our understanding of how meaning in dress is shaped, re-shaped, and more generally, the interrelationship of people and clothes, thus, contributing towards scholarship on contemporary dress in changing cultural contexts. This research also adds the African dress perspective to studies of transnational lives from the standpoint of other diasporans. This study reveals African print as largely a special occasion dress within the British diaspora unlike how it is used on the African continent. The research provides new insights about how living in the diaspora has encouraged individuals to modify and expand the range of looks present within African dress, and how such changes have in turn altered meanings of African print for its wearers. This study expands our understanding of the role that African print plays in forming cultural and social meanings including situations in which gendered social identities are assessed, negotiated and materially expressed. Another contribution of this study arises from its exploration of different qualitative methods of co-creating evidence. The study took a collaborative approach using community engagement to allow power sharing and participation as interdependent conditions of curatorial practice. It addressed identified challenges that curators and participants face in developing a framework in which the knowledge is generated from and through dynamic and ongoing social interactions between participants and the researcher. A specific innovation was using a call-in radio talk show as an addition to the existing range of qualitative research methods (notably interviews, participant observation and group workshops, sometimes known as focus groups) in order to enrich the possibilities for multi-methods qualitative research practice.

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