ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment


'Alternative' beauty in 'alternative' communities, scenes and subcultures

Location Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.12
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00


Panas Karampampas (EHESS) email
Natalia Koutsougera (Panteion University) email
Mail All Convenors


Cultural representations and conceptualisations of beauty differ amongst different subjectivities and collectivities. This panel will explore the performativity of alternative beauty and how it challenges normative beauty in dance, dress, art, objects, sound, music, selves and fantasies.

Long Abstract

Cultural representations and conceptualisations of beauty differ amongst different subjectivities and collectivities. This panel will focus on performances which challenge normative perceptions and stereotypical or natural 'icons' of beauty between different solid, fluid or 'imaginary' communities, scenes and subcultures, as well as on 'alternative' beauty formation in popular art. Emphasis will be given to 'beauty' as an open-ended social and cultural construction, especially in the arena of the interplay between dance, dress, art, objects, sound, music, selves and fantasies. The aim is to explore the ways in which feminine and masculine regulatory ideals, idioms of beauty, and models of the 'normal' and 'attractive' body are played out, materialized, and unsettled.

Beauty, within the framework of different communities, scenes and subcultures, is considered as a multi-layered and elusive zone where several modes of emphatic, alternative or 'out-of-order' beauty performances thrive and circulate. This will be discussed in the context of the relationship between self-collective identity and 'unnatural' or 'unusual' beauty image and body experience. The main concern of this exploration is with how order, harmony and norms within collectivities and popular art are challenged, deformed and destabilised through everyday performances of paradoxical and queer beauties, alternative body practices and conditions.

This panel will explore what kinds of public 'dis-order' and 'ab-normality' emerge from beauty experimentations within existing normative worlds and frameworks and outside the expected boundaries of sensibility. We invite papers that discuss 'alternative' beauty modes and bodies through music, style, performance, and body modification.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"Beating" seconds against "sweet" thirds: revival of Baltic archaic singing as a protest against normality

Author: Valdis Muktupāvels (University of Latvia)  email


This paper will explore performative practices of Baltic (LV, LT) neofolklore groups in the last decades of the 20th century, challenging normative aesthetic views within dominant music spheres. The conceptualisation of these new practices has certain worldview, social and political implications.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how the dominant aesthetics in Baltic folk music and social singing since the period of sentimentalism has been challenged by alternative musical trends in the last decades of the 20th century, particularly focusing on musical folklorism.

One of results of musical development in European continent in the last four centuries has been the establishing of functional tonality, represented by major-minor system. The core element of this system, representing the idea of beauty, harmony and consonance in music and forming characteristic triads, is a third. The new types of Baltic folk music from the 18th century and later have clearly characteristics of major-minor system, and so do the interpretations of traditional music since the period of national romanticism.

In the last decades of the 20th century, when global grassroots and anti-establishment movements took their shape, it was neofolklore movement in the Baltics, that involved significant segment of population in the search for ancient, therefore valuable forms of traditional culture. Archaic vocal music forms, especially Lithuanian sutartinė and Latvian rotāšana, have musical systems different than major-minor and, consecutively, different aesthetics, the core element of which is a second.

I propose to view the confrontation of the two aesthetic systems not as an aesthetic clash, but as a process reflecting significant changes in worldview and having certain social and political implications. Thus, the neofolklore movement was one of alternative cultural forms during Soviet period, and gradually became a strong expression of counterculture.

The clash of goth factions: representations and contests of beauty in the goth scene

Author: Panas Karampampas (EHESS)  email


This paper will challenge the normative representations of beauty and present the social fragmentation that is rooted on different tastes for beauty in bodies, music, dance and dress. In that case, goths create sub-scenes and contests between them, showing the significance of beauty in their scene.

Long Abstract

Cultural representations and conceptualisations of beauty not only differ amongst different subjectivities and collectivities but in the goth scene they are diverse internally creating a stylistic fragmentation. This paper will challenge not only the normative representations of beauty but will also challenge the belief of the homogeneity of the Goth scene. Goth factions share ideas and attitudes but their heterogeneity of ideas of beauty creates this categorisation in Goth factions or sub-scenes.

Beauty in goth differ (in and out of scene) regarding the bodies, music, dance, dress and style. Each individual has unique taste for beauty and appropriates different music, dance and dress that are characterised as goth creating a distinctive style and perform 'gothness' uniquely. Thus, these choices introduce every subject in the most fitting goth faction.

Gossip is the main context in which contests of beauty are taking place, digitally and physically; digitally in social media, mainly on Facebook and physically in goth locations like clubs. Every performance of 'gothness' must satisfy specific beauty criteria that are different for every faction and evaluated by fellow goths. However, the individuality in beauty taste makes it particularly multi-layered and fluid, creating complex representations and contests of beauty in the Goth scene.

"Beautiful people": collectively performing the psytrance festival ethos

Author: Leandros Kyriakopoulos (University of Thessaly - Greece)  email


The paper explores exclusion and technical and aesthetic mimetic as a crucial dimension for the enactment of the 'successful' psytrance festival ethos. An ethos that is intelligible through an affect of collective engagement - the product of which is natively recognized as 'beautiful people'.

Long Abstract

Psytrance festivals belong to the lineage of rave parties which flourished in the late eighties as a novel apparatus for dancing entertainment. Psytrance culture, in particular, is a manifestation of sixty's psychedelic aesthetics, youth nomadism, drug consumption, music innovation and the soundcrafts. Since the early nineties and the popularity India's famous coast, Goa, acquired due to its emblematic affinity with the above developments, psytrance festivals have become the ambassador of the euphoric, colorful and wandering qualities this culture embeds as phantasmatic possibilities. In this context, 'beautiful people' is a vernacularism and a native appreciation of a wide affective state that reveals the materiality of psytrance culture's spectrum. At the same time, 'beautiful people' belongs to a tank of allegories functioning as an appetitive element that engages the subject to the utopian appeal of a joyful connectedness. What I want to argue is that 'beautiful people' is not a given experience of the festive collective, always alternative to the 'grey' everyday life of urban existence or successfully resistant to the supposedly alienated character of modern social affections. It is rather a repetitive performative product whose failed outcomes reveal the exclusions of the subjects whose presence threatens its aesthetic and affective affinity - the subjects that are not able to confirm the psytrance ethos. A product of enacted technical and aesthetic mimetic of the apparition of the free, adventurous, out of social and cultural norms figure, that implicitly renews the psytrance festive' s spectrum of intelligibility and recognizability.

Feminine beauty as alternative practice in two Greek dance cultures

Author: Natalia Koutsougera (Panteion University)  email


This paper explores how feminine beauty and performances of charm and attraction, operate as potential destabilizing dynamics to the gendered heterosexual normalities of sensuality and flirting, within the framework of distinct, club and street, dance cultures in Athens, Greece.

Long Abstract

The focal point of this paper is feminine beauty and style performances as destabilizing forces. To argue this, I explore two ethnographic examples from contemporary youth-dance cultures in Greece. The first example draws on the spectacle of feminine beauty and female dance performances inside 'ellinadiko' club. Therein, glamorous girls use seductive dress codes and styles together with belly dance on the bar, dancing on the sounds of Greek-speaking and oriental-influenced mainstream music. Performing feminine beauty in the context of 'ellinadiko' brings forth a potential of 'dangerous', 'out-of-limit' woman - both a subject of desire and an object of fear - which troubles male control on heterosexual relating. The second example comes from the hip hop and street dance cultures in Athens. I follow female experimentations on street dress and dance styles as alternative beauty practices, in order to highlight the ambiguity of female identity which is not singular but multiple. In the context of street dancing, feminine beauty is performed by regressing between male, female and childish styles and ways of introducing the self, imbalancing the hegemonic norms of male hip hop community. Through these examples I suggest that beauty, style and female power can be understood as a battlefield of charm and attraction that portrays the destabilizing dynamics of gendered normality.

Finding balance and harmony and challenging dominant discourses of gender and the body: narratives from the Diné

Author: Dimitra Varvarezou  email


Metaphors surrounding gender and the body provide fertile ground for the exploration of perceptions of beauty. The example of the Diné challenges dominant discourses, and deconstructs hegemonic ideologies of bipolar gender antitheses.

Long Abstract

This paper examines perceptions of the body and beauty among the Diné (Navajo). I explore narratives from research participants on social perceptions of mobility differences among the Diné. I link constructions surrounding beauty and the body to gender perceptions. The case of the Diné offers new insights on how notions of harmony and balance are embodied and emphazised through gender identity,performativity, and interpersonal relationships. My work situates gender and metaphors of balance and harmony within a particular frame of thought, which research participants define as "pure Navajo thought" (nitsahakes). Traditional gender interpretations among the Diné acknowledge that any individual embodies both male and female gender characteristics. Maintaining balance between these gender valences is an expression of beauty. Furthermore, gender lends itself to a further exploration of social change. Narratives reveal a growing awareness of the shift of perceptions of the body and gender. Research participants link these discourses to the infiltration and (self) appropriation of dominant gender identity constructions, which contradict these principles of harmony and balance.

Performing 'Asian beauty' through make-up artistry: discussion and negotiation of beauty amongst Muslim Pakistani women in Sheffield

Author: Hester Clarke (University of Manchester)  email


I propose an exploration of how Muslim Pakistani women in Sheffield perform ‘Asian beauty’ through narratives of race, class, piety, and womanhood in the context of Asian bridal make-up artistry with reference to ugliness, transformation, and perceptions of alternative understandings of beauty.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will discuss performances of beauty amongst Muslim women of Pakistani heritage residing in Sheffield (UK) through presenting a section of my ethnographic research conducted in 2013 with women working as or training to become specialist Asian Bridal Make-Up Artists (known as MUAs).

MUAs transformed their clients for special occasions, predominantly weddings and religious celebrations, striving to create 'false', 'fake', and 'doll-like' looks which conformed to a strict understanding of 'Asian beauty'. Looks were created through imagined constructs of Asian, Arabic, English, American, and celebrity beauty contrasted with English and 'Paki' ugliness.

Beauty was not a fixed set of aesthetic and moral values but incorporated ambiguity, uncertainty, and an emphasis on the transformative process, which relied upon the development of aesthetic ugliness and unattractiveness by clients, particularly brides, in the weeks preceding the celebration. Exaggerating the change in the individual's appearance through removing make-up and dressing down, enhancing the effort employed by the individual in transforming, was a practice driven by the desire to impress and compete with female guests.

I suggest that the negotiations and relationships between understandings of race, national identity, class, piety, appropriate expressions of womanhood, and a desire to be 'a little bit different' within a particularly strict expression of 'Asian' beauty make for an interesting discussion on how beauty norms are constructed in relation to imagined alternative interpretations of beauty amongst those designated as English, Arab, and 'Paki'.

Pornography for blind and visually impaired people: on sexuality and monstrosity

Author: Elia Charidi (Panteion University of Athens)  email


This paper explores how the negative concepts of carnal pleasure and sin, of animality and the non-rational, with which the body and sense of touch has been attributed in western contexts, construct the sexual desires and behaviours of blind people as anomalous and monstrous.

Long Abstract

One of the main claims that the disability movement has raised regards the relation between impairment and sexuality. The conversation needs to get out of the narrow private sphere and to be published, it has been contested, deconstructing at the same time the myth that people with disabilities have no sexual identity and desires. The first pornographic magazine that has been created especially for blind and visually impaired people points exactly to this direction. Titled as Tactile Minds (2010), it includes tactile pictures of naked women and men, all accompanied by descriptive texts in Braille, giving blind people the opportunity to access the pornographic experience. Nevertheless, although important, the issue here is not about whether this initiative can actually succeed a step towards their inclusion, but that it seems to recognize for them the access to a very particular kind of sexuality: the one that is reflected in the figure of the foucauldian ''monster''. This paper explores how the negative concepts of carnal pleasure and sin in the contexts of Christianity, of animality and the non-rational in those of the European enlightenment, with which the body and sense of touch has been attributed, construct the sexual desires and behaviours of blind people as anomalous and monstrous.

"Unforgettable" beauty in cinematic dance: challenging 'economic' crisis through masqueraded choreographies in local rhetoric in Korydallos of Attica (Greece)

Author: Mimina Pateraki  email


This paper explores how people challenge the 'normal' crisis in Greece through long lasting 'unforgettable' beauty's dance performances in cinema cultivating a deeper study of the ways people engage dance and especially cinematic dance in their life.

Long Abstract

Performing in order to attract, to charm, to "promise happiness", beauty, according to Greek etymology (ωραίος, στην ώρα του(being on time), has to be on time. If we accept that beauty is a journey in time, a journey for be-coming, a kind of fermentation, then it is safe to argue that beauty performance can be, amongst others, a locus of challenge, a site of negotiation. This paper explores how people challenge the 'normal' crisis in Greece through long lasting, 'unforgettable' beauty's dance performances in cinema. People in Korydallos criticize contemporary sociopolitical situation and their personal choices through certain film dancing scenes of cinema in Greece. "Unforgettable" cinematic dance that Korydalliotes really enjoy and desire to watch constantly on screen informs a path from screen towards their lives. What can be challenged through "Alice's dancing masqueraded as Pipis or Sifis", or by "Xarchakos and Silenos' choreography masqueraded as women in the harem"? People share their thoughts about dance, cinema and social life introducing us through the cinematic dance to a veiled practice of resistance through cracks and breaks to stable and fixed schemas challenging their tolerance.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.