Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Material intimacies and Black hair practice: Touch, texture, resistance

Rajan-Rankin, Sweta (2021) Material intimacies and Black hair practice: Touch, texture, resistance. Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 29 (3). pp. 152-164. ISSN 0803-8740. (doi:10.1080/08038740.2021.1912172) (KAR id:87612)


This article explores the socio-materiality of Black hair care practice as an affective surface through which we can understand Black women’s experiences of intimacy and belonging. Texture of hair has often been overlooked in the examination of racialised presentation, even as shade or skin colour has been over-determined. By paying attention to the centrality of touch in negotiating grooming practices in Black hair care, a multi-layered appreciation of the material entanglements in Black intimacies can be explored. Hair is more than part of the body, it is both highly visible, as well as intensely personal and political in terms of the ways it is worn and seen by the observer. Drawing on a sensory ethnography of Afro hair salons in the UK and biographical narrative analysis, this article explores Black women’s relationships with their hair in everyday life, alongside a parallel reading of the classic text “Cassie’s hair” by Susan Bordo. This layering of narratives allows for a new form of listening to emerge, an attunement that forefronts the habitual practices of hair dressing and hair making as ways of ‘becoming black’. In every twist, braid and weave, these biographies highlight the intimate entanglements by which the ambivalence of black belonging is negotiated. Touch in particular, both nurturing and hostile, represents an important socio-cultural ritual through which collective belonging is experienced: evoking memories of inter-generational and transnational intimacies with black communities in another time and another place. This paper offers a novel way of reimagining the role of affect in understanding collective intimacies and sustaining black identity in diasporic contexts.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/08038740.2021.1912172
Uncontrolled keywords: touch, socio-materiality, affective intimacies, racial politics, hair
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Signature Themes: Migration and Movement
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Sweta Rajan Rankin
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2021 16:21 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 10:58 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.