Racial Hair: The Persistence and Resistance of a Category

Tarlo, Emma. 2019. Racial Hair: The Persistence and Resistance of a Category. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 25(2), pp. 324-348. ISSN 1359-0987 [Article]

[img] Text
RACE Hair FINAL revised JRAI Tarlo 3.1.2019.docx - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (4MB)

Abstract or Description

This article explores how hair and notions of race are entangled both within anthropology and in the commercial world of the billion dollar global market for human hair. Focusing in particular on detached hair, it explores the recurring dynamic through which hair is racialized on the one hand and resists racialization on the other. This is explored in three inter-related contexts the roots of which are deeply embedded in historic relations of power. The first is that of 19th and early 20th century physical anthropology when hair was thought to provide a key to racial distinctions; the second refers to contemporary black hair cultures in which hair is racialized both in the market place where it is advertised through ethnic signifiers and in the natural hair movement which relies on ideas of authenticity based on biological differences. The third context is that of factories in China where items such as ‘Brazilian’ hair extensions and ‘Afro’ wigs are physically manufactured through combinations of hair and labour that confound ethnic, racial and national boundaries. By shifting attention to the materiality of hair, the article highlights the enduring materiality of race, exposing its shape-shifting qualities and persistent ideologies and providing a unique angle onto the dynamics of nature-culture articulations.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):



Hair, race, racialization, physical anthropology, material culture, wigs, Afro.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



24 December 2018Accepted
29 March 2019Published Online
June 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Jan 2019 14:42

Last Modified:

29 Mar 2021 01:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)