Culture, Class And Conflict In British Design. Image Power And Space: Studies In Consumption, Meyer & Meyer, 2007
This essay extends earlier research into cultural influences on the practices and representations of design reflected in such publications as Design And Cultural Politics In Postwar Britain (ed with J M Woodham, Leicester University Press, 1998) by placing the debates about the role of design, and design education, in a wider cultural and political context than had previously been the case. The specific focus is on the aspirations of the infant Council of Industrial Design to affect developing government industrial and educational policy through influencing the various working parties established in the aftermath of Labour’s 1945 electoral success. The evidence presented by the Council, together with internal documentation and the records of the sponsoring departments, are used as a vehicle to explore both the realities of design practices within British industry at the time and the cultural discourse surrounding efforts and aspirations to significantly increase its profile and professional location.
As with earlier work, this research was conducted in the interface between economic and design history. The former largely ignoring the design function in industrial and commercial activity, particularly in the rapidly developing markets of the advanced and newly industrialising countries after the Second World War with economic development facilitating, and being facilitated by, an emphasis on consumer products and the latter largely ignoring the commercial and industrial context of, and constraints on, the design process through an emphasis on individual designers or design successes (which, as in the case of the mini motor car, could be financial disasters). In looking at the cultural preconceptions both of cotemporary protagonists as well as of later historians, the work also addressed the cultural, and class, assumptions which informed both attitudes towards commercial and industrial developments and the relationships between elite sectors of the state governing apparatus and the rapidly developing world of quangos and lobbying organisations. In utilising the methods of business and economic historians, allied to a close analysis of prevailing political structures, this work, as with previous publications in the field, offers a fresh perspective on the trajectory of design in post-war British industry and on the cultural and ideological constructions of design organisations and lobbyists. In that sense the research was as much concerned with the cultural assumptions of the leading actors as with the ‘objective’ economic and commercial structures within which they operated.