In this article, the authors look at the theoretical and methodological implications of the autobiographical writings of James Baldwin for doing qualitative research in the related areas of youth identity formation and the production and circulation of meanings in popular culture. They argue that Baldwin’s use of autobiography provides one very useful way to register important contradictions and tensions in the circulation of contemporary fashion styles. Specifically, the Hilfiger and Timberland lines of clothing deploy signs and symbols that are up for grabs, discursive resources that can be coded and recoded in multiple and complex ways by young people defining a sense of racial identity for themselves in the face of massive social, cultural, and material uncertainty. Yet, these resources circulate in a historical landscape that radically circumscribes their mobility. The contradictions have not been adequately addressed in contemporary approaches to popular culture, especially in the field of cultural studies. The authors call for more autobiographical work on popular culture, the kind exemplified by Baldwin’s collection on film, The Devil Finds Work. This article is offered as one—albeit partial—effort in this direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-187
Number of pages17
JournalQualitative Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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