Stephen DaviesJul 10, 2023
What Self-Decoration Tells Us About Who We Are
Bloomsbury Publishing 2020
Elaborating the history, variety, pervasiveness, and function of the adornments and ornaments with which we beautify ourselves, Stephen Davies's Adornment: What Self-Decoration Tells Us About Who We Are (Bloomsbury, 2020) takes in human prehistory, ancient civilizations, hunter-foragers, and present-day industrial societies to tell a captivating story of hair, skin, and make-up practices across times and cultures.
From the decline of the hat, the function of jewelry and popularity of tattooing to the wealth of grave goods found in the Upper Paleolithic burials and body painting of the Nuba, we see that there is no one who does not adorn themselves, their possessions, or their environment. But what messages do these adornments send? Drawing on aesthetics, evolutionary history, archaeology, ethology, anthropology, psychology, cultural history, and gender studies, Stephen Davies brings together African, Australian and North and South American indigenous cultures and unites them around the theme of adornment. He shows us that adorning is one of the few social behaviors that is close to being genuinely universal, more typical and extensive than the high-minded activities we prefer to think of as marking our species - religion, morality, and art.
Each chapter shows how modes of decoration send vitally important signals about what we care about, our affiliations and backgrounds, our social status and values. In short, by using the theme of bodily adornment to unify a very diverse set of human practices, this book tells us about who we are.
Stephen John Davies is Emeritus Professor of philosophy at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He mainly writes on aesthetics, evolution, and particularly the philosophy of art.
Morteza Hajizadeh is a Ph.D. graduate in English from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His research interests are Cultural Studies; Critical Theory; Environmental History; Medieval (Intellectual) History; Gothic Studies; 18th and 19th Century British Literature. YouTube channel.