Elizabeth Darling and Lesley Whitworth (eds), Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950, Ashgate, Aldershot and Burlington, 2007. ISBN 10: 0754651851, ISBN 13: 978-0754651857
In 2002 Whitworth co-organised with Elizabeth Darling and Professor Helen Meller, the second annual workshop of the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Nottingham. The event was titled ‘Women and Built Space’ and involved two further Brighton colleagues Gillian Scott and Jill Seddon. Building on its impetus, and cognizant of a groundswell of new academic interest in the shaping of material environments, Darling, Scott, Seddon and Whitworth established the Gender and Built Space research group at Brighton, that developed and carried through an ambitious programme of activity including conference panels, symposia, seminars and workshops over subsequent years. We are delighted that this year has seen the publication of Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950, which contains chapters developed from papers given at the original event.
The group was conceptualised with a broad remit, and this is reflected in the book’s content. Fundamentally our focus is on the interplay between the construction of gender and the gendering of constructions. The term ‘Built Space’ is intended to encompass architectural space; everyday space; products; artefacts; and related discourses. That is, any material or social form which may be understood as playing a part in the production, reproduction or contesting of gender identities. Whitworth co-edited the volume and co-wrote the introduction, both with Elizabeth Darling. The contributors are drawn from an emphatically wide range of historical disciplines: urban, literary, labour and social, architectural and cultural. The practices they consider, and most of the bodies they analyse, have not hitherto been framed in this way, and taken as a whole the book proposes the startling conclusion that women’s influence over the making of space has gone from ‘multifarious and significant’ to a more nuanced and eroded one by the end of our time-frame.
Whitworth’s own chapter is concerned with a pioneering but short-lived initiative of the Council of Industrial Design, itself newly formed by the Board of Trade in 1944. Deriving its inspiration from a variety of inter-war women’s groups and wartime formations of housewives, this small ‘Housewives’ Committee’ embodied many of the consumer engagement hopes of the parent Council. Drawing on archival sources in Brighton’s own Design Archives, as well as the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick; the Manchester Guardian Archive, John Rylands University Library of Manchester; Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester; and National Archives, Kew; the piece assesses the role of key figures, the scope of the committee’s activities, and the reasons for its short duration. Research was supported by the ESRC-AHRC funding of Whitworth’s ‘Towards a Participatory Consumer Democracy’ project, within the Cultures of Consumption research programme.
Publication has been too recent for reviews to have gone to press thus far, but Professor Sally Alexander, of Goldsmiths College, University of London, wrote that "Women and the Making of Built Space brings women into new relationships with the built environment, in vivid vignettes of class, architectural and modern history," in pre-publication publicity.