Beauty, like art and love, is thought to be priceless. Yet in contemporary capitalism, such goods are routinely bought and sold, albeit in what economists typically ignore as atypical markets. This talk opens with the problem of pricing beauty based on an ethnographic study of the fashion modeling market: What is the value of a fashion model, and how is this determined? The case of this seemingly marginal market brings insights applicable to all economic exchange – the role of networks in structuring opportunities, the mutual constitution of cultural and economic values, and the persistence of gender norms. Though beauty has returns on the market, for women, beauty is a short-lived capital with the potential to exacerbate gender, race, and class inequalities.
Ashley Mears is a Visiting Professor at the Department of Gender Studies and the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University. Her research focuses on the cultural foundations of economic inequalities. She is the author of Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model (University of California Press, 2011). She received her PhD in Sociology from New York University. While in Budapest, she is writing her second book, an ethnography of conspicuous consumption among global elites, forthcoming with Princeton University Press. Her research articles appear in Ethnography, Poetics, Social Forces and American Sociological Review, and she has written for The New York Times, The Week, ELLE magazine and Jezebel. She lives in Boston and Belgrade.
2016 Ashley Mears and Catherine Connell. “The Paradoxical Value of Deviant Cases: Toward a Gendered Theory of Display Work.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter 2016.
2015 “Working for Free in the VIP: Relational Work and the Production of Consent.” American Sociological Review 80(6): 1099-1122.
2015 “Girls as Elite Distinction: The Appropriation of Bodily Capital.” Special Issue on New Forms of Distinction, Poetics 53: 22–37.
2014 “Aesthetic Labor for the Sociologies of Work, Gender, and Beauty.” Sociology Compass 8(12): 1330–1343.
2014 “Seeing Culture through the Eye of the Beholder: Four Methods in Pursuit of Taste.” Special Issue on Measuring Culture, Theory and Society 43(3-4): 291-309.
2013 “Ethnography as Precarious Work.” The Sociological Quarterly 54(1): 20-34
2012 Noah McClain and Ashley Mears. “Free to Those Who Can Afford It: The Everyday Affordance of Privilege.” Poetics 40(2): 133-149.
2011. Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model. Berkeley: University of California Press.