Clothing for Liberation: A Communication Analysis of Gandhi's Swadeshi Revolution.
By Peter Gonsalves
London, New Delhi: Sage Publications, March 2010.  Cloth: ISBN 978-8132103103, $34.95.  188 pages.

Review by Bridget R. Cowlishaw, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma

In Clothing for Liberation: A Communication Analysis of Gandhi’s Swadeshi Revolution, Peter Gonsalves examines the Indian independence movement led by M.K. Gandhi under three different theoretical lenses. There is no shortage of analyses of Gandhi’s strategies and certainly no analysis can go without examining Gandhi’s use of homespun cloth (khadi) in defeating British rule, however, Gonsalves’ unique contribution is his exclusive focus on clothing as a sign system in this specific historical context.
A concise book—a mere 188 pages including endnotes, charts, bibliographies, photos, and index—this volume is neatly organized into an introduction, three central chapters each analyzing the swadeshi movement from a specific communication theory, and a conclusion. Knowing his audience to be composed more of rhetoricians than historians or linguists, Gonsalves includes a useful glossary of important terms which cannot be translated without losing significance (e.g., the word swadesh itself which he translates as “of one’s own country”).
The second chapter, employing Roland Barthes’s “Fashion System,” convincingly asserts that Gandhi’s swadeshi movement created a new semiologics that counteracted British mystification of clothing.  Charts outlining the binary oppositions of the British versus Gandhian sign systems and the relationship of signifiers to signified will be useful to students of semiotics wanting to see Barthes’s theoretical framework used in a historical context. Most interesting in this chapter is Gonsalves’s demonstration that Barthes’s notion of “real cloth” was employed in Gandhi’s targeting the British domination of the textile industry.  This is, of course, the most remarkable aspect of the khadi movement: it was both a symbolic and economic strike against British authority.
In the third chapter, Victor Turner’s performance theory of communication is employed to analyze the ruptures within the swadeshi movement, which was not by any means unified in its symbols and goals. Gonsalves graphs the conflicts and liminal stages of the Indian independence movement through its various stages to examine how Gandhi navigated this internal lack of coherence. The resulting conclusion, that Gandhi periodically refocused the central issues of the movement to smooth over these ruptures, feels like a satisfyingly insightful explanation. It would have been more satisfying if the many excellent photographs were presented in this chapter, where they seem to naturally belong, rather than being corralled into an appendix at the back of the book.
The fourth chapter employs Erving Goffman’s ethnography of self in an examination of Gandhi’s personal authenticity. Though to most American readers an inquiry into Gandhi’s sincerity might seem like a quest for low-hanging fruit, there is a fashion for writing about Gandhi as a shrewd manipulator who used the posture of humility in order to humiliate.  Gonsalves uses Gandhi’s autobiography and Goffman’s dramaturgical theory of personal performance to refute this trendy cynicism as he concludes, “The symmetry between expressions given and given off, between his interior and exterior selves was now perfect. In his loin-clothed body Gandhi had found the spiritual stability and the psychological equilibrium to sustain his innumerable performances in the socio-political arena for the next 26 years of his very active life” (98).
In the end, this book will be of great interest to three groups of people. Most obviously, those interested in observing classic communication theory applied to a specific historical conflict will find this work a useful employment of Barthes, Turner, and Goffman. Those interested in understanding more about Gandhi as an agent of social change will have to drag through some theory that may seem superfluous but will find the insightful conclusions interesting. But my highest reading recommendation for this book goes to those interested in the power of clothing, not just as a sign system, but as an aspect of our material reality that is always already embroiled in political, economic, and even spiritual struggles. In our current, unsustainable global economy whose apparel industries are implicated in inhumane labor practices, clothing is still at the center of struggles for peace and justice.  Gonsalves’s book is well dedicated “to communicators and educators of peace.”

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