2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Brandon Wallace

University of Maryland
Decolonizing the Sneaker: Symbolic Creativity and the Politics of Post-Fordism
Decolonizing the Sneaker: Symbolic Creativity and the Politics of Post-Fordism
The history of the athletic sneaker is rife with manufactured symbolism (Miner, 2009). In efforts to constitute a consumer market, the sneaker industry has long exemplified post-Fordism’s tendency to mobilize the subjectivities of “Otherness” for commercial purposes. This has been most commonly realized through the invocation of racialized discourses and ideologies as a means to cultivate the sneaker's sign-value (and thereby, use and exchange-values) (Baudrillard, 1983; Hall, 1996; Turner, 2015). The broader impact of this seductive conflation of commodity-sign and racial ideology has been more than just the exploitative manipulation of the sneaker’s symbolic meanings; it has also constituted individual and collective identities organized through the material and symbolic consumption of sneakers (Wilson, 1996). Drawing on 15 interviews with sneaker consumers, I critically explicate how contemporary consumers conceptualize the relationship between race, identity, and sneakers. In particular, I empirically examine how and why participants largely perceive the relationship between the sneaker industry and black culture to be exploitative and non-reciprocal. Lastly, I outline the various consumer responses to the sneaker industry’s callous commercialism, using sneaker customization to “symbolically create” (Willis, 1990) meaning on more individualized and autonomous terms than merely replicating the cultural directives of the sneaker industrial complex.