A Sociopolitical History of the Keffiyeh

In this essay, I draw upon historiography that acknowledges and attempts to contest the ingrained structures of orientalism, imperialism, and commoditization involved in the keffiyeh’s history and its movement into the western sphere. Despite these impositions, a constructive analysis of the circumstances surrounding the keffiyeh as an appropriated entity reveals space for alternative readings.  Utilizing Homi Bhaba’s theoretical framework of ‘cultural hybridity’ and ‘in-between spaces’, we can propose a re-configuration of the keffiyeh as a signifier within the Western sphere. This paper attempts an interventional examination of the keffiyeh through the lens of design change. The current literature, while sufficiently exploring many of the sociopolitical facets of the keffyeh as a transnational object, does not adequately acknowledge the dynamic implications of design change. Consequently, many of these developments are unconsciously attributed as corollaries of Western appropriations, and the prospect of Palestinian involvement is largely ignored. By introducing design change as a critical factor in historiographical developments relating to the keffiyeh, the all-powerful status of the West as being the sole purveyor of change is called into question. Although the repercussions of commoditization linger, Palestinians can now be recognized as active participants in several aspects of the keffiyeh’s evolution—thus reasserting Palestinian agency and authority over a venerated national symbol.

Key Issues

cross-cultural exchange, design change, cultural appropriation and ethics, politics of design, tradition and innovation, fashion and religion, national identity, cultural ownership, commodification, trend cycles, orientalism, postcolonialism, transnationalism, object analysis