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The Globalization and Development Reader: Perspectives on Development and Global Change, 2nd Edition by Nitsan Chorev, Amy Bellone Hite, J. Timmons Roberts

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13 Why Is Buying a “Madras” Cotton Shirt a Political Act? A Feminist Commodity Chain Analysis (2004)

Priti Ramamurthy

“Sometimes I think about the people in America who will wear it. I wish always a good relationship between India and America.”

“Mudaliar,” Lands’ End catalog, April 1995

Flipping through the pages of a Lands’ End catalog that arrived in the mail a few years ago, I was invited, simply, to buy “Madras”… The sign “Madras” does not refer to the major Indian metropolis, known until recently by that name, but to a baseball shirt. The visual image under “Madras” is of a white woman yet the linguistic description alongside anchors the sign to something “authentic” and “drenched in color.” To me, the “color” referenced something unmistakably racialized. (For the advertising designer and her putative audience, the “color” may well reference putting on a tan, temporarily, or perhaps, it refers to the shirt, not the person.) This confusing juxtaposition of images and referents is contradicted in text and visuals a few pages later in the catalog, where the reader is informed that “Madras” is a type of cotton cloth, not a shirt, which is made in “small villages around the Indian city of Madras”… The photographic images on this page are of an obviously Indian weaver and his wife standing by his side. Back, I thought, to familiar systems of representation and familiar geographies, but the accompanying text now informs us that “Madras” are “tartan patterns worn by Scottish ...

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