Northampton Shoe Museum Sneaker Speaker Symposium

by Jenny Hockey

Northampton Guildhall – 2nd April 2011                                                                                           Click on the image below to view a summary of the day…

This symposium accompanied two linked exhibitions at Northampton Shoe Museum, one entitled ‘From Sport to Street’ which evidenced the development of the modern trainer and its history in sports shoes of different kinds (opened January 2011) and the other, Sneaker Peek, focussed on sneakers, the work of a group of young people, including a video made by them.

Rachel Dilley and Jenny Hockey gave a talk entitled ‘Who do you think you are?’ which introduced the project’s focus on identity and explained why we had chosen shoes as the lens through which to work on this theme. It then explored analytic ideas emerging from focus group data, using the example of trainers to illustrate them. A key point was that for people in some social categories, trainers had not made the transition from sport to street and were not seen as desirable footwear. Also noteworthy was the importance of local knowledge in recognising particular trainers, and their wear marks, as indicators of social identity and belonging. Finally, we asked what the future of trainers was likely to be and considered the possibility that older retired adults might well be a social category for whom trainers would become important.

Alongside this talk, with its focus on contemporary empirical data, two historical presentations outlined the story of the lawn tennis shoe and its transition to fashionable leisure wear at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the history of the plimsoll. In addition the practice of collecting vintage trainers was a key theme throughout the day with a photographer’s images of collectors complementing an interview with a key trainer collector. Alongside academics, trainer collectors made up a large part of the audience at this event. Participants had also contributed a collection of vintage spiked running shoes and customised footwear. A drinks reception in the museum after the day’s symposium provided an opportunity for networking and this was made use of enthusiastically.





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