Uniformity as an expression of material culture is a phenomenon which pervades many areas of our life. It appears, for instance, in corporate workwear, sportswear or the common style among certain youth subcultures. In the academic discourse on uniforms as a means of social communication, those civil forms have recently gained much attention. State uniforms, however, show a variety of additional functions beyond delineation and construction of identity. The uniform can, for example, serve as a prima facie identification of a person’s governmental authority claim. This affects the relationship of the wearer to his uniform, to his association and to his non-uniformed environment. Incomprehensible to outsiders, there may also be subtle distinctions among (at first sight) consistently uniformed associations, established by means of badges or other insignia.
The design of a uniform is usually determined by the head of state. Thereby, a public officer’s appearance might even be interpreted as a symbol of a state’s self-conception. The proceedings by which uniforms are established, however, sometimes lack transparency. This seems problematic, not least considering their cost. Changes sometimes come from within an association, resulting from practical necessities or a traditional manner of wear. The factors influencing a change in uniform style are widely unexplained. Beside practical advantages, political and ideological requirements, economic and legal considerations may play a role, as well as civil fashion or a recourse to traditional style elements of uniforms.
So in general, the functions, styles and degrees of uniformity in a state depend on the social and historical context. Obvious examples include the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which did not introduce insignia until the 1980s, the implementation of standardised blue police uniforms in most European Union member states or the discussion on a new camouflage pattern for the US troops in Afghanistan.
During the last years, traditional uniform styles in several states underwent significant changes within a relatively short period. The U.S., for instance, are replacing their traditional Army green uniform by a blue design since 2008, in Germany the police and the disaster relief organisation “Technisches Hilfswerk” are the ones to be named, and China introduced new uniforms for police and military in 2007. The successive implementation of “digital” camouflage patterns in the military of different states also shows that research on the development of uniforms may no longer focus on single states only.
The symposium centers around the phenomenon of uniforms as a means and expression of state power. Because of the numerous interdependencies, an interdisciplinary approach by historians, sociologists, philosophers, political and textile scientists as well as legal scholars seems necessary. Established scholars as well as young academics on the doctorate or postdoctorate level are invited to participate. Submissions, which can have both an empirical or a theoretical focus, are appreciated in English or German. As a subsequent publication is intended, all submissions must reflect original work and must precisely document any overlap with previously published or simultaneously submitted papers from any of the authors.
Abstracts for papers not to exceed 30 minutes in length should be received along with a short CV and information on your current field of research by June 30, 2010 for consideration.
Sandro Wiggerich, Steven Kensy
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Institut für Rechtsgeschichte, Germanistische und Kanonistische Abteilung