Dr Lesley Whitworth

Lesley Whitworth

arts research University of Brighton

Scholarly biography and interests

Dr Lesley Whitworth gained first class honours in the pioneering history of design degree at the University of Brighton in 1988. She studied for her doctorate at the Centre for the Study of Social History at the University of Warwick, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council (1993-1996). Having worked at Coventry University and at Goldsmiths Hall, with the Library and Archive of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, she returned to Brighton to take up one of two new founding posts in the University’s Design Archives, where she is Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Curator. She is presently also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Business History Unit of the London School of Economics.

Between 2003 and 2005 Whitworth completed a project within the ESRC-AHRC funded Cultures of Consumption research programme. She has been an officer of the Design History Society, Women’s Committee of the Economic History Society, and Social History Society, and has co-organised a number of workshops, symposia and seminar series. She organised the third in the international, inter-disciplinary ‘Living in a Material World’ conference series (University of Brighton, 2001) and recently inaugurated the Material and Consumer Culture Network of the European Social Science History Conference. She has presented her research in France, Holland, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Estonia and the US.

Whitworth is a twentieth-century social historian whose primary focus is the shaping of material environments. She is interested in the evolution of shopping habits particularly with reference to issues of class, gender and locality. Allied to this is an interest in retail spaces and practices; the reception of products; and the early development of the design profession in the British context. She was a founding member of the University’s ‘Gender and Built Space’ research group, and initiated the Material and Consumer Culture Network of the European Social Science History conference. Her research has engaged with aspects of institutional history, an interest fostered by her curatorial role with the University’s Design Archives and her research relationship with the Business History Unit, LSE. This has led to publication in the areas of Design Council history, Mass-Observation history, Co-operative history, and an ongoing investigation of the relationship between the design reform community and the radical independent think-tank, Political and Economic Planning (PEP) after 1931. 

Recent work has been predominantly concerned with the (UK) Council of Industrial Design / Design Council's history of consumer engagement, following participation in the major ESRC-AHRC funded Cultures of Consumption network.  Many aspects of this research have now been published.

Whitworth is interested in supervising research which engages with issues of design, or design-related propaganda, in domestic, educational, retail and industrial settings in the twentieth century; and investigations of consumption from the same period which foreground issues of gender, class and locality. 

Research activity