Hair that circles the world

Where does hair come from, who handles it, who sells it, who uses it? How do mental images of “good” hair circulate in the hair business, and how do they affect race, gender and class?

In her four-year research project, Docent Riitta Högbacka, Ph.D. (Pol. Sci.), is tracing the circulation of hair, which is a global material.  In her research, Dr Högbacka has sought to grasp, in concrete terms, what globalisation really means. She has previously studied the circulation of children in international adoptions; on this occasion, she wanted to continue the same research approach within a new context.

“The international hair trade involves big money, an estimated 850 million euros or so per year. Supply is outweighed by demand. It’s also interesting that, even if most hair comes from the global East and its destination is the global North, demand has increased in the global South as well. Thus, the routes and the pattern of circulation do not always accord with expectations: surprises occasionally occur.”

Data is being obtained from many countries, since the purpose is to interview women in Finland and South Africa who are acquiring hair extensions, small suppliers who live off selling hair in South Africa, hair donors in India, and the management and employees at a Chinese hair treatment plant.

“Hair as such is also a fascinating subject: it is part of the human body – it grows in us – but when separated from us it is made into a commodity that can be bought and sold. The question is whether or not hair, as a product, can be entirely separated from its ‘maker’, and the kinds of social relationships in which it was produced,” Dr Högbacka explains.

Riitta Högbacka received EUR 174.500 grant in 2016 for her project Tracking globalisation: the transnational hair trade and the circulation of substances, money and imaginaries.