Governmentality and design: inventing the industrial design councils in Great Britain and New Zealand
Funded by New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission
Drawing upon a wider archive than has hitherto been employed in investigations of the history of design promotion, this study focuses on the key institutions, strategies and techniques that led to the invention of design councils in Great Britain and New Zealand during the twentieth century. Between 1914 and 1944 in Great Britain and 1958 and 1968 in New Zealand, primarily in response to changing patterns of trade, efforts were made to establish state-supported bodies promoting design as a mechanism for improving the productivity and efficiency of industrial manufacturing. In the process of forming these bodies, new models were proposed for interrogating the nature of design. These initiatives were made not only against backgrounds of shifting patterns of governance, both local and international, but also in light of changes in production, distribution, mediation and consumption of commodities. They were driven by interests that included educational reform, the emergence of new practices and technologies, the organisation of industrial concerns, the assertion of national self-interest and post-colonial strategies adopted by both countries as they sought to relocate their economic and political bases. In each instance, the models proposed were repeatedly recast as the state attempted to mediate between competing power formations, both within and without the constructs of governance. Using the differences of scale between the two resulting organisations to highlight the problems encountered, this study suggests that the failure of these design promotion agencies to achieve their initial objectives resulted from a fundamental confusion as to the nature of the political economy of design and, in institutional terms, from flawed constitutions that prompted unanticipated distortions of their purpose.
To document and develop an understanding of the formation of the industrial design council phenomenon, observing its development in two locations through the Foucauldian concept of governmentality, that is ‘the ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex exercise ofpower, which has as its target population, as its principal form of knowledge political economy, and as its essential technical means apparatuses of security’;
To explore the concept that the workings of governmentality at aspecific level of (collective rather than distributive) power distribution can be considered from a spatial perspective. This idea develops an idea previously advanced that ‘design should be seen in terms of a conceptualised historical space; this space should be conceptualised simultaneously through a synchronic postcolonial construct and through diachronic narratives of social, economic and political histories’; and
To understand the processes and discern the connections that prompted the normative modernist discourse of ‘good design’ adopted by the design councils in two interlinked - politically and economically, but arguably disparate - societies.
Two institutional agencies of state charged with promoting anawareness of and improvements in design form the focii of this research: the British Council of Industrial Design (CoID) and its distant counterpart the New Zealand Industrial Design Council(NZIDC). Notwithstanding the link formed by the cultural, economicand political nature of empire, the transparent fact that the New Zealand council was a established in formal imitation of the British prototype and the joint aim of improving export productivity, these two organisations are best defined through their differences; those of scale, location and governance.
In the widest possible sense, the study aims at developing an understanding of the processes underpinning the formation of these two different bodies in order to articulate a sense of what the councils were about and the impact they made on the economic, social and political interests they were designed to serve.
The project is not intended as an ‘universal history’ of the design council phenomenon as it was manifest in Great Britain and New Zealand. Rather it should be viewed as an investigation of a type that seeks to identify and analyse the overlaps and hiatuses of power formation that occurred in the two organisations as they pursued their agendas of promoting ‘good design’.
Initially the study will investigate in broad terms the circumstances that, during the Second World War, saw the United Kingdom government establish the CoID as part of a planned response to anticipated post-war conditions, most particularly the need to stimulate manufacture for export; the way in which its institutional form reflected larger structural concerns, particularly those relating to the machinery of government issues, the rise to prominence of the technocratic ‘expert’ and the manner in which its form and function resulted from its invention within the broad context of the ministerial committee addressing issues of post-war reconstruction.
It will secondly seek to document and analyse the rationale behind the establishment of the NZIDC in the early 1960s, a period of economic and political anxiety for New Zealand, as the country’s bonds with the United Kingdom began to dissolve with the latter seeking a relocation of its economic and, ultimately, political to Europe, in preference to the [British] Commonwealth.
Finally, employing some of the key investigative processes identified in Foucault’s examination of disciplinary power networks, the project aims at providing a theoretical understanding of the structures underlying and the links existing between the two identified organisations. It will seek to identify the transformative events that characterised the activities of the two design councils within the matrices of governmental power.
The approach adopted in this study of the two industrial design councils differs significantly from the orthodox analyses of political economy and, moreover, projects key elements of design history as a tool for the understanding of contemporary policy making in the field of design. This study aims at using design history as a tool to investigate directly and conceptually both historical and spatial concerns within wider economic and political contexts.