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Design History Society

Review: Beyond the Pale: Reviewing the Relationship between Material Culture and Design
Reviewed Work(s): Production of Culture/Cultures of Production by Paul Du Gay;
American Material Culture: The Shape of the Field by Ann Smart Martin and J. Ritchie
Garrison; Popular Culture and Everyday Life by Toby Miller and Alec McHoul; Border
Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces by Patricia Spyer
Review by: Judy Attfield
Source: Journal of Design History, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1999), pp. 373-380
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Design History Society
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Beyond the Pale: Reviewing the

Relationship between Material Culture
and Design History

Production of Culture/Cultures of ciplinary implications of a material confidence in deterministic produ

Production culture approach in the study of the tion models for the interpretation of
PAUL DU GAY~ed.). Sage, 1997. 248 pp., history of design that does not the history of design with the
b&w illus. (ed). Sage, r248 pp., exclude any artefact or part of the in interest in consumption and
0 7619 5436 8. mundane everyday object-world ial culture as a less rigid fram
0 5436 meant venturing into territories that for the investigation of the rela
American Material Culture: The were once considered beyond the ship between designed object
Shape of the Field pale. Investigating
design primarilythe history
for what it can of those
conceive, persons
produce, andand
sell, buy institution
ANN SMART MARTIN and J. RITCHIE reveal about the social meaning of them.
GARRISON (eds.). University of Tennes- things, rather from the more usual The most remarkable characteristic
see Press, 1997. 428 pp., b&w illus. judgemental functional or aesthetic of material culture studies, and one
$39.95 cloth. ISBN 0 912724 35 8. standpoint, is risky either way-dan- that in a way it shares with design
gerous for those who still see them- history, is its hybridity. Both fields
Popular Culture and Everyday Life selves as guardians of 'good design', emerged from the need for a new
TOBY MILLER and ALEC MCHOUL. Sage, and unpredictable for those venturing kind of investigative approach that
1998. 224pp.,b&willus. ?14.99 paper. into unknown territory without a could take into account the new pro-
224N pp., illus. ?14.99 pape. 'good design' compass. ducts, practices and spaces of
It is necessary to define 'material modernity that could not readily
Border Fetishisms: Material Objects culture' in view of the liberal way adapt to the regimes of their parent
in Unstable Spaces the term has been used to refer to a disciplines-anthropology and art
number of very different, although history. Design history has attempted
PATRICIA SPYER (ed.). Roufledge, 1998. often inter-related types of objects to demarcate its territory quite speci-
262pp.,8 b&w illus.f?12.99paper. ISBN and issues, ranging from empirical fically, although not altogether suc-
0 415 91857 X. object-based analyses in the decora- cessfully, as testified by the
Even though fashion in scholarship tive arts, to contextual museum stud- recurring debates co
may not change as conspicuously ies involving the politics of display, objects of study sho
nor at such a fast rate as in the gar- and to the branch of social anthropo- within its remit. Mea
ment industry, it nevertheless oper- logy concerned with the symbolic culture studies, at least
ates just as evidently in the changing meaning of artefacts, to name just by the Journal of Ma
trends of academic research. In the three.3 Even more generally it is also refuses to give its all
last twenty years consumption studies associated by implication with disci- one particular disci
has grown from a precocious intruder plines, on the one hand, like anthropo- ages to consort with
to become an essential ingredient in logy which considers culture as of success with a bro
the understanding of the history of determining social action, and, on nate fields withi
design.' The most recent apparent the other, several generations of sciences, reflecting t
shift in methodological approaches, sociology-derived cultural studies of the term.5 Histo
pushing the boundaries of design his- that have critiqued the materialist sociology and cultural
tory even further from the produc- theory of Marxism which asserts that thropology, geogra
tion/consumption debate, has been 'the mode of production of material literary, religious and
to acknowledge the importance of life determines the general character ical studies, are just so
material culture as a more inclusive of the social, political and spiritual that have focuse
umbrella under which it is possible to processes of life.'4 The excuse for this called 'material cult
include the social life of things beyond crude over-generalization is to point lar way of engaging
their commodity phase.' The interdis- out the relation between the decline in plines through t

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material world of things. The literat- boundaries only seem to threaten to 1970s when it broke away from art
ure available on material culture is enclose it even further into an aca- history to form its own identity as a
growing at such a phenomenal rate demic backwater. An interdisciplin- distinct discipline.10 Nor does it take
that even experts like Daniel Miller, in ary approach recognizing the shared into account the many and varied
a recent survey of new books on the interests between material culture and approaches that have been used to
field, admitted that he has 'aban- design history/theory (studies) would study the history of design. But rela-
doned any attempt to retain an over- seem to offer a mutually compatible tively little of the more interesting
view of the field'.6 Yet because it is means of engaging with, and contri- research has found its way into
still a relatively recent fledged area, buting much more directly to, the print, a fact borne out by the range
even among those who actually prac- wider theoretical debates of cultural and extent of actual publications
tise material culture, not all are aware production across the humanities as available." What sustains the stereo-
of its scope. In his essay, 'Material well as the social sciences. type that design history's main con-
culture history: the scholarship The books selected for this review cerns continue to be the ideal object,
nobody knows', Cary Carson from are intended to give a representative the style of the decade, century, etc.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation view of four quite specific and con- and the designer as hero, is much
asks: 'Why have material culture trasting types of literature that are more to do with publishers' conserva-
studies produced so much excellent directly and indirectly associated tive insistence on the clich6d view of
scholarship that nobody knows and with current trends in material culture design as classified under the 'visual
nobody heeds?'7 studies and 'the everyday' and to arts' and ultimately, even more prag-
'Material culture' is quite a familiar show what they have to offer the matically, on which shelf the book-
term to design historians, increasingly design historian in particular. seller places 'design history' titles. It
adopted as an interchangeable altern- Although I started out by mentioning is extremely difficult to subvert the
ative to 'design history'. Both areas 'fashion', it must be clear by now that pervasiveness of a classification
also share the cross-disciplinary prac- I do not regard the changes and shifts system that lends design history a
tice of drawing from an eclectic mix of of focus in design history as cosmetic, particular identity by locating it
sources and resources. However, it but as symptomatic reflections of alongside books on the 'decorative
has to be said that design history has deep social and cultural changes arts' or 'antiques' as if it belonged
been much more pragmatic in its inscribed in the material world and, there naturally. Given its 'good
agenda, mainly seeing its brief to therefore, as evident in the history of design' pedigree, it is therefore not
train design historians to serve the design. It can no longer be possible to suprising that the bulk of the literat-
design profession through design take as given what constitutes appro- ure that is available should concern
education, museum services, and the priate design theories, objects or prac- itself with matters of so-called 'poor'
so-called cultural industries as jour- tices to apply in the study of the design and critiques of consumerism
nalists, media researchers and produ- history of design if it is to be relevant derived from a watered-down version
cers, public and private sector gallery to contemporary concerns. of commodity fetishism that has little
professionals. Although, as men- Beyond the specialized discipline of resonance with contemporary scholar-
tioned above, there is some acknow- design history, and for all the efforts ship, or for that matter with practising
ledgement of consumption as a that it has exercised to dispel the designers' interests.'2
cultural practice in the history of stereotypical narrow view of the Within the disciplinary specialism,
design, there is no clear agenda on 'useful' or 'cult' object, etc., neverthe- however, where there is no simple
broader issues beyond the profession less the assumption persists that its agreement over design history's
of investigating the role of design subject matter is mainly limited to remit or practice, it remains a recur-
within the context of sociality. It is modern design classics and the ring subject of debate. Richard Bucha-
the ambitious scope of an intellectual output of professional designers nan's recent review of Jonathan
project that engages directly with con- since the industrial revolution, Woodham's Twentieth-Century Design
temporary cultural production miss- together with the perception of an cited 'Giedeon's "epochal" history',
ing in twentieth-century design agreed methodology of investigation 'Forty's "exemplary" history' and
history studies that can be found in based on researching 'the facts'. A 'Heskett's "disciplinary" history' as
some of the cross-disciplinary endea- typical example of such an approach examples of the variety of approaches
vours in material culture studies. Cur- found in a students' handbook on that have made contributions to the
rent redefinitions of design history design history still in print until last study of the history of design.13 But it
that encompass theory as part of a year was John Heskett's dismissal of castigates Woodham for his greater
more generic area of 'Design Studies'8 'anonymous' design as inadequately emphasis, as if such a view were a
seem to be taking into account the researched design history.9 radical departure, on 'the role and
need for the contemporary dimension My characterization of design his- behaviour of the
to make the field relevant to the dis- tory above, of course, bears little rela- asks 'Does the author seek
cipline of design at present. But tion to the actual research that has design history within the framework
attempts to draw such tightly defined been carried out in its name since the of cultural studies, focused on mater-

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ial culture?'15 The criticism would various aspects of contemporary cul- American frontier heroes, technical
appear to be provoked by the central- ture depend on their realization in 'owners' manuals' that helped in the
ity that Woodham, according to material form within the domain of dissemination of the ideals of stand-
Buchanan, confers upon the con- the everyday. The kind of cultural ardized production, the colonial sig-
sumer, and the fear that such an em- analyses represented by these last nificance of the front porch in
phasis somehow suggests a 'dumbing two texts take place within the arena American domestic architecture, a
down' of standards encouraging of the material world where cultural refutation of the 'melting pot' model
'poor' design and thereby a slur on theory is tested out by the detailed of American ethnic assimilation
the work of professional designers. investigation of the interaction through the study of archaeological
Significantly, both Buchanan and between people and things. But they remains, and so on. Apart from the
Woodham mention 'the everyday' in shy away from placing things at the fascination of the particular studies
connection with 'material culture', centre of attention because they derive for their intrinsic interest and value,
hinting at some kind of acknow- from the type of cultural studies that many offered insights into ways of
ledgement of the 'popular' as a devia- consider 'materialism' as synonymous looking which could be adapted to
tion from the 'normal' subject matter with fetishism and therefore as other studies, although the interpreta-
of design studies. The reference to 'the tainted. However, although objects tion of the objects is primarily devoted
everyday' as deviant is entirely de- are not foregrounded, it doesn't take to defining the particularities of
pendent on what kind of design is much searching to come across illus- American national identity. Some of
being considered. As soon as one trative examples of objects such as the essays deal with 'variability' of
looks, for instance, at graphic design, Miller and McHoul's reference to identity and distinctive ethnicities as
or feminist critiques of design history, 'punk's use of rubbish as adornment: in the case of John McCarthy's essay
it is apparent that such an assumption bag liners, lavatory appliances and 'Material Culture and the Perform-
becomes a travesty. Nor does it con- ripped and torn clothing.'17 And just ance of Sociocultural Identity', which
form to all design historians' view of opening a page of Du Gay at random makes a study of burial practices from
what constitutes appropriate subject finds an illustration of 'The interior of the archaeological study of the First
matter for the study of the history of a United Colors of Benetton store'.18 African Baptist Church Cemeteries in
design.1 It is just this kind of joined- American Material Culture: The Shape Philadelphia applying 'acculturation'
up interest and engagement with the of the Field is an anthology of fourteen in preference to the more traditional
popular, the fashion system, the con- essays derived from a conference 'assimilation' model discussed by
sumer, the designer, and the cultural hosted by the Winterthur Museum in James Gregory Cusick in 'Archaeolo-
transformation of 'design' once it Delaware in 1993 with an agenda to gical Perspectives on Material Culture
leaves the 'visual' arena to enter the map the current state of American and Ethnicity'.
accumulation of ordinary things that material culture studies. It followed Another evident characteristic
turns it into 'the everyday', that an on from an earlier conference held in common to the essays in American
interdisciplinary material culture 1975 with a similar remit to investig- Material Culture is the concern with
approach can accommodate. ate objects as a means of understand- the interpretation of the object as
The selection of four books under ing and interpreting American 'document' within 'multiple contexts'
review here represents two texts that culture. The multidisciplinarity of the but with particular reference to its
talk about material culture as physical project is reflected in the mix of aca- place within the context of the
objects, and two that refer to the con- demic and museum backgrounds of museum and the heritage site. In 'Eval-
texts within which culture is con- the authors. Each essay presents a uating Exhibitions: History Museums
structed rather than in the objects case study with the common objective and Material Culture', Ellen Paul
through which it is made physically of researching a particular aspect of Kenker bases her essay on period
manifest. Of the first pair, American Americanness with varying degrees rooms around the politics of museum
Material Culture mainly refers to 'ma- of focus on material culture as an practice and addresses basic questions
terial culture' as the artefacts within interpretive method, questioning its about the audience and the application
the privileged space of the museum or appropriateness to the study of of scholarship to the display of objects
the 'heritage' site, and Border Fetish- ethnic, national, gender and indi- as a means of interpreting the past. The
isms privileges the object as a focus of vidual identity, and discussing vari- dominant perspective of the anthology
primary attention and interest, delib- ous types of museum display and is from that of the museum curator
erately concentrating on materiality techniques. The case studies included: interpreting objects for the benefit of
and overturning the negative associa- animal artefacts in nineteenth-century the 'observant viewer', with an aware-
tion of the fetish. In the second pair of domestic interiors, twentieth-century ness of such practicalities as the impact
texts, neither Production of Culture/Cul- dolls in an educational museum pro- of the baby-stroller on the pace of the
tures of Production nor Popular Culture ject, the intimate 'secret' meanings of museum visitor.19 This aspect is not
and Everyday Life refer to materiality. portrait miniatures, the social dimen- the most original of the anthology
Nevertheless, the concepts and sion of Tupperware, leather stockings since it has been amply dealt with
methods discussed in order to explain and hunting shirts as representative of elsewhere by British and American

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authors who have written extensively unfair criticism particularly in view of such transactions in the object itself
about collectors and collections from the vast amount of literature which he and therefore where object/subject
museological, anthropological and ignores, such as that dealing with con- relations should be investigated.
sociological points of view.2" Kenker's sumption directly related to material When the fetish object is cast in the
assertion that the 'crux of material culture.28 Carson's surprisingly pre- role of identity formation, as is the
culture study [is] to understand postmodem perspective-that his case of Border Fetishisms, it presumes
which object proves the clearest inter- 'professional responsibility is to con- a special quality that makes its mate-
section with a cultural concept' dis- tribute to the larger task of rewriting a riality more stubbornly percipient,
closes the perspective of a museum unified narrative of the nation's past', more obvious and less amenable to
curator using objects to convey a might derive from the imperative of cultural appropriation because it was
story rather than as a primary source the heritage-driven museum. So specifically brought into existence to
in the study of sociocultural history. although there is much to be learnt subvert any attempts to colonize, take
Keenly aware of competition posed by from the American branch of the ma- over, reform or exchange it for some-
the entertainment industry, she spec- terial culture field it should be seen as thing else. The feature that charac-
ulates that 'there may be little reason only one part of a much larger and terizes a fetish is that its function is
for the public to go to a static museum growing interdisciplinary field. always over-determined. Conven-
display for their visit to "nostalgia Patricia Spyer's Border Fetishisms: tional design studies can only really
land".' Significantly enough the Material Objects in Unstable Spaces deal with functional objects and their
Cooper-Hewitt National Design represents a very contrasting static symbolic representation. Border
Museum in New York recently approach, focusing on the 'irreducible Fetishisms offers an alternative metho
mounted an exhibition on the Disney materiality' of objects as a way of dological approach for dealing with
Theme Parks called 'The Architecture coming to grips front-on with the dis- such questions.32
of Reassurance',21 possibly suggesting tinctive meaningfulness of 'things'. Speyer's anthology re-evaluates th
a certain amount of self-interested The anthology sprang from a confer- negative connotations accrued by
curiosity in researching the popularity ence29 based on the notion of a 'border fetishism through a series of sugg
of the nostalgic escape supplied by the fetish' as a way of investigating the tive case studies that reveal the no
popular Disney mythological inter- materiality of different types of cul- negotiable character of things even i
pretation of American history. tural encounters across mind/matter the case of artefacts like paper money
Apart from the variety supplied by borders and through the vehicle of the specifically created for exchange
the individual contributions, the value 'fetish' in which neither the object's Whereas it may be easy to conce
of the anthology lies in the way the materiality nor its historicity can be of the fetish as a means of subverti
amalgam of essays under one cover reduced. A common point of refer- the colonizing intent of cloth giftin
applies and illustrates the usefulness ence for all the authors is provided 'to subjugate peoples in order to con
of various types of material culture by William Pietz's genealogy of the secrate and give substance to colonia
analyses based on a range of methods, fetish derived from West African colo- policies',34 Adela Pinch's case study
citing almost everybody from Henry nial trade and anthropological studies shoplifting is used as a means of 'r
Glassie22 and James Deetz23 to Ian of an object that managed to subvert ing questions about how a thing
Hodder24 and Dick Hebdige.25 But in the definition of capitalist exchange. comes to be legitimately one's own'Y3
the end the effect is that of a unitary In 'The Spirit of Matter' Peter Pels The most stimulating essay of the
project tellingly expressed by Cary describes its eventual metaphoric collection-'Marx's Coat' by Peter
Carson of Colonial Williamsburg adoption by two of the most import- Stallybrass-is remarkable in its bril-
Foundation who confesses that 'ma- ant intellectual endeavours of Wes- liantly simple analysis of the negative
terial culture studies is still energized tern modern discourse-Marxism misunderstanding that is commonly
by our zeal for a populist American and psychoanalysis, as the articula- attributed to Marx's use of the concep
history ... we still want to believe that tion of desire whether in sexuality or of fetishism. Using Marx's own over
this history of material life is the gate- the over-valuation of Western com- coat as an analogy he describes how
way to a more open, more equal, more modities, in which 'the fetish when Marx was hard up and had to
democratic, more popular American remained an object of abnormal traf- pawn his coat, transforming it into
History.'26 His view of material cul- fic'7.3 He argues with some of the most exchange value and thus entering the
ture as down to earth-'you know- avowed material culturists for concen- capitalist economic system, he could
tables and chairs'-betrays a lack of trating too much on matters of con- not go to the British Library and
regard for 'the academy' and theoret- sumption rather than the matter itself, research Capital and had to resort to
ical approaches such as that of Chris- asserting that 'things can talk back' journalism to earn his living. Whereas
topher Tilley's groundbreaking presenting fetishism as 'animism when he was prosperous enough to
Reading Material Culture,27 which, with a vengeance'. afford to wear his coat he could pres-
according to Carson, 'sell artefacts Material culture studies concen- ent a respectable enough appearance
short'. This is not an opinion shared trates on the process of meaning to be admitted to the British Library,
by all the authors and seems a rather acquisition and locates the site of only to pawn it once again to buy

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paper. According to Stallybrass what What Production of Culture does consumption. Chapter 3 of Culture of
Marx ridiculed in his critique of com- with its holistic approach is to locate Production, 'Fashion: Unpacking a
modity fetishism, was not fetishism design within a network of systemic Cultural Production', states that 'fash-
nor the object itself but the fetishiza- convergences rather than to prioritize ion' is 'often used as if it exclusively
tion of the commodity-'the evacu- the economic over the cultural and refers to apparel'. It instances business
ated non-object that was the site of thus separate them into discrete com- management, law and medicine as
exchange', interpreting Capital as partments. It introduces the concept of some of the 'wide variety of fields'
'Marx's attempt to give back the coat discourse as the explanatory means where it also operates but where 'the
to its owner'.36 Stallybrass reminds us through which the relationship idea that they are involved with fash-
that Marx used 'materialism' to refer between 'culture' and 'economy' is ion would be derided'. This would
to 'the animised material object of mutually constitutive. In this schema agree with my opening remarks to
human labour and love'vividly exem- 'design' is acknowledged to have a this review-that fashion can equally
plified in the nineteenth-century 'pivotal' role as a 'cultural intermedi- apply to changes in academic prac-
clothes repairers' term 'memories' ary' in the signifying practices of ad- tices. It is therefore disappointing to
used to refer to the wrinkles in the vertising and production of a find that, rather than uncovering one
elbows of sleeves in worn garments.37 multitude of goods and services-a of the less obvious workings of the
The last two titles Production of Cul- phenomenon that has not gone unno- fashion system, it should fix on the
ture/Cultures of Production and Popular ticed by design historians. The Open most cliched and conventional-that
Culture and Everyday Life do not deal University's textbook house-style of of fashion clothes-to illustrate the cul-
with 'material' culture as such. They providing a highly structured model ture of fashion, thereby seeming to
are both textbooks that present and a standardized set of pre-defined reinforce the notion that it is not a
methods and theories with illustrative theoretical terms, while excellent of its serious area of study. It is also here
examples for the interpretation of cul- kind, nevertheless might irritate those that Cultures of Production is particu-
tural production concentrating on the sensitive to 'jargon' and the authorial larly unconvincing in its attempt to pin
processes of meaning construction. command-style voice-over form of ad- down the caprices of fashion to the
While not entirely ignoring the physi- dress. There is an undoubted advan- 'circuit' formula, baldly stating that
cal world, the main focus is on theor- tage to the set of common reference 'The essence of fashion in clothes is
etical models and methods of analysis points provided, both within each that it compels us to discard a garment
quite far removed from the object textbook and cross-referenced to the before it has outlived its usefulness.'42
world. Production of Culture is one of other volumes in the series, making it What it fails to mention is that it is often
a series of textbooks on cultural stud- an ideal teaching tool with built-in not even bought for its usefulness in
ies produced by the Open University, aims and objectives, activity sugges- the first place. And even when consu-
each of which addresses one aspect of tions, bibliographies and readings. At mers can be shown to conform to 'con-
what the editors refer to as 'the cycle the same time, it locks the reader into spicuous consumption' or some other
of culture' comprising: representation, a particular holistic theoretical world- equally classic critique of consumer-
regulation, identity, consumption and view which gives little space for inde- ism, that does not necessarily explain
production. Its main project is to look pendent thought. And while the read- the working of the culture of fashion
at the centrality of culture as product- ings are selected to give a variety of except to reinforce the concept of it as
ive, in direct line with the Frankfurt points of view, they are ultimately trivial or redundant, etc. A material
School of critical theory that originally used to illustrate an interpretation culture approach such as those in
set out to finesse Marxian analysis by that conforms to a self-referential 'cir- Border Fetishisms, that depends on a
refusing the deterministic model of cuit of culture' framework to which more ethnographic approach, soon
earlier crude interpretations.38 The the different authors contribute on a shows how particular cases on the
Sony Walkman is the subject of one united front. This is not the place to go ground constantly confound any
of the six books in the series39 and is into the fors and againsts of the prin- attempts to be locked into a theoretical
the only one that presents a case study ciple of using a set of textbooks as a system43 by bringing us back to the
of an actual object. It tracks the trajec- pedagogic tool. Although it makes it physical object.
tory of the artefact through the vari- easy for the tutor and the student to I would not want to conclude that
ous stages of the 'cycle', reminiscent have a total picture of the mechanism there is not much to commend Pro-
of John A. Walker's earlier 'Produc- of 'culture' between the covers of one duction of Culture when it is used
tion/Consumption' model40 and Igor set of six books, it can nevertheless selectively. In a way, if it were to be
Kopytoff's 'cultural biography of lead to a false sense of security where posited as a case study of its own
things'.4" While in theory cultural there is little left to question or doubt. theory it would be possible to view
studies may, as the editors claim, Fashion is the most elusive of all the as a standardized cultural product
/make sense of our everyday lives', it cultural processes and an area that has that has swallowed its own theory
is difficult to conceptualize that pro- traditionally been trivialized by about the way that culture is pro-
cess without bringing objects into the academics but is now increasingly duced. What is missing from the
equation. recognized as a significant aspect of schema is precisely the facet that a

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material culture perspective would ture. Written by two American media format with bite-size references to a
provide by taking it beyond its own studies academics, it suggests that the wide range of theoretical concepts
internal system. It would investigate study of popular culture should start does not give enough context and
how readers, teachers, students and from its embeddedness in ordinary may be too concise for students unin-
others use the textbooks, what they everyday practices, presenting four itiated into the subject. Nevertheless,
take from it and how they apply it, case studies: food/eating, sport, self- the extensive bibliography offers
what they reject, how they adapt and help/therapy, and talking. It acknow- useful additional material. The some-
interpret the material, in spite of the ledges the need to take historical spe- what eccentric glossary, however,
seamlessly constructed pedagogical cificity into account and proposes the displays a less successful attempt to
paradigm presented by its authors. use of ethnographic methods of inves- systematise what is a very eclectic
But the messiness of how to do such tigation in conjunction with a selec- interdisciplinary project. Its virtue is
research, what to do with it and ulti- tion of theoretical tools derived from that it allows room to investigate
mately how to interpret findings that discourse theory, anthropology, eco- 'everyday' practices without a pro-
are difficult to quantify and therefore nomics and media studies which it forma. The missing ingredient,
to synthesize into generalizations that calls 'ethnomethodologically inspired though not necessarily surprising in
cannot easily be refuted would not fit cultural studies', or 'EMICS'. It takes a view of the two authors' media stud-
the neatness of such a totalizing critical stance towards the 'speculat- ies background, is the material world
theory. So much so that one could be ive' nature of recent writings on pop- of goods.
permitted to speculate that the case ular culture, in similar vein to Angela The wealth of literature relating to
studies of firms like Benetton and McRobbie's critique of current trends material culture studies signals how
Sony have been selected because they in cultural studies in Back to Reality,45 much interest and relevance this field
prove the theory rather than produce bringing back a welcome credibility to holds for academics in many disci-
the theory. The only book in the series empirical 'data-driven' research into plines at the present time. It would
that is not governed by the 'circuit' the particularity of the overlooked therefore seem to offer an excellent
theory because it starts from the inves- world of the everyday. Popular Culture opportunity for design historians to
tigation of a particular product, comes and Everyday Life favours the 'mun- engage much more actively in some
closest to a material culture study. In dane' over the 'spectacular' arguing of the lively debates that are flourish-
Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the that there has been too much emphas- ing beyond the boundaries that at
Sony Walkman" theory is employed as is placed on subcultures as knowing times tends to confine rather than
an investigative tool to give 'a resistance to the ideological pull of define our discipline.
dynamic picture of how commodities dominant culture, questioning 'its
are given meaning through their inser- claims to empower'. The critical
University of Southampton
tion into everyday social relations' acknowledgement of 'the distance
(p. 119). The study shows how in the between the site-specific interest asso-
process of consumption the Walkman ciated with ethnomethodology and
time and again broke the conventional cultural studies' claim to understand
boundaries, penetrating those liminal entire ways of life' is particularly well
spaces beyond the pale, invalidating exemplified by the 'circuit of culture' i See e.g. three recent titles by design
several theories to earn the categor- model. In the conclusion Miller and historians: Christopher Breward, The
isation of 'ambivalent' and 'hybrid' McHoul, referring to 'cultural Culture of Fashion, Manchester Uni-
increasingly used in postmodern dis- devices', assert that 'the crucial ques- versity Press, 1994; Penny Sparke, As
course. Yet it is significant that the tion is: how do these figure in actual Long As It's Pink, Pandora, London,
conclusion finds it necessary to historical arrangements and in everyday 1995; and Jonathan M. Woodham,

inform the reader how Sony devel- events?', emphasizing the 'particulari- Twentieth-Century Design, Oxford
University Press, 1997.
oped the product in response to con- ties and specificities of each case and
2 I say 'apparent' because 'material
sumer demand and market research in how they might or might not be con-
culture' is not a recent addition to
order to be able to close the loop nected with wider issues'.
the many ways in which design has
between production and consumption The clear style gives a deceptively
been viewed within the discipline of
'lest the idea of the "circuit" be reced- readable historiography and develop-
Design. Nor would I want to imply
ing from your grasp', ending with the ment of cultural studies of 'the pop- that it has only latterly appeared on
reminder 'Remember the circuit ular' and 'the everyday' combined the scene according to some sort of
now?', as if anyone reading the series with practical case studies to illus- teleological order.
could possibly forget. trate 'how to' conduct research in 3 See Judy Attfield (review), Journal of
Popular Culture and Everyday Life is what the authors claim to be a Design History, vol. 8, no. 3, 1995,
also a textbook, claiming in all of 224 'new' way. But rather than a refuta- p. 232.

pages to offer a survey of social and tion they present their methodology 4 Karl Marx, 'A contribution to the
cultural theory as well as a new as an intervention into the current critique of political economy', Preface
approach to the study of popular cul- state of cultural studies. The textbook (1859), in T. B. Bottomore & M. Rubel,

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Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociol- of Ethics in the Practice of Design, Man- 24 Ian Hodder (ed.), The Meaning of
ogy and Social Philosophy, Penguin, chester University Press, 1999. Things: Material Culture and Symbolic
1979 (1963), p. 67. 13 Richard Buchanan (review of) Expression, Unwin Hyman, London,
5 Daniel Miller & Christopher Tilley, Jonathan M. Woodham, Twentieth- 1989.
Editorial, Journal of Material Culture, Century Design, op. cit. in Journal of 25 Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Mean-
vol. 1, no. 1, 1996, pp. 5-14. Design History, vol 11, no. 3, 1998, ing of Style, Methuen, London, 1979.
6 Daniel Miller, 'Groans from a book- p. 262. 26 Carson, op. cit., p. 402.
shelf: new books in material culture 14 Ibid., p. 259. 27 Christopher Tilley (ed.), Reading Ma-
and consumption', Journal of Material 15 Ibid., p. 262. terial Culture, Blackwell, Oxford,
Culture, vol. 3, no. 3, 1998, pp. 379- i6 Cases are far too numerous to men- 1990.
88. tion, and doing so would only serve 28 Daniel Miller, Material Culture and
7 Cary Carson, 'Material culture his- to suggest that they were 'excep- Mass Consumption, Blackwell,
tory: the scholarship nobody knows, tional'. Therefore the following two Oxford, 1987.
in Ann Smart Martin & J. Ritchie titles are given merely as random 29 'Border Fetishisms' was a conference
Garrison (eds.), American Material illustrative examples: see e.g. British held in December 1995 at the
Culture: The Shape of the Field, Win- design historian and ethnographer Research Centre of Religion and So-
terthur Museum, Delaware and Uni- Alison Clarke's essay, 'Tupperware: ciety at the University of Amster-
versity of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, product as social relation', in Smart dam.
1997. Martin & Garrison, op. cit. and 30 William Pietz, 'The problem of the
8 Victor Margolin, 'Design history or Sparke, op. cit., who both emphasize fetish I', Res, vol. 9, 1985, pp. 5-17;
design studies: subject matter and the role of women in the creation of 'The problem of the fetish II', Res,
methods', Design Studies, vol. 13, no. material culture. vol. 13, 1987, pp. 23-45; 'The problem
2, 1992; Jonathan Woodham, 'Resist- 17 Toby Miller & Alec McHoul, Popular of the fetish III', Res, vol. i6, 1988,
ing colonisation: design history has Culture and Everyday Life, Sage, PP. 105-23.
its own identity', Design Issues, London, 1998, p. 15. 31 Peter Pels, 'The spirit of the matter in
vol. 11, no. 1, Summer 1995, pp. 22- i8 Paul Du Gay (ed.), Production of Smart Martin & Garrison, op. cit.,
37; Adrian Forty, 'Debate: a reply to Culture/Cultures of Production, Sage, p. 94.
Victor Margolin', Journal of Design London, 1997, p.174, Figure 3.9. 32 This type of approach is increasingly
History, vol. 6, no. 2, 1993. 19 E. Paul Denker, 'Evaluating exhibi- evident in design historians using
9 John Heskett, 'Industrial design', in tions: history museums and material anthropological perspectives. E.g.
Hazel Conway (ed). ,Design History: culture', in Smart Martin & Garrison, Tanya Harrod discusses the
A Students' Handbook, Routledge, op. cit., p. 389. 'unstable' identity of the craft object
London, 1987, pp. 110-33. 20 E.g. R. Belk, Collecting in a Consumer that resists commoditization, hover-
10 Not all art and design historians Culture, Routledge, 1995; James Clif- ing between the gift and the com-
would necessarily agree that design ford, The Predicament of Culture: modity, the necessity and the luxury
history is a 'discipline'. The editorial Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Liter- in The Crafts in the Twentieth Century,
of the first issue of the Journal of ature and Art, Harvard University Yale University Press, 1999.
Design History published in 1988 Press, 1988; Ivan Karp & S. D. 33 Robert J. Foster, 'Your money, our
could have been read as tentative, if Levine (eds.), Exhibiting Cultures: money, the government's money:
not equivocal, in declaring its aim as The Poetics and Politics of Museum Dis- finance and fetishism in Melanesia',
not 'to trumpet the claims of a new play, Washingtonian Institution in Patricia Spyer (ed) Border Fetish-
discipline, [nor] to make a bid for Press, 1991; Susan Pearce, Museums, isms: Material Objects in Unstable
academic territory' while at the Objects and Collections, Leicester Uni- Spaces, Routledge, London, 1998,
same time expressing the ambition versity Press, 19921; Susan Stewart, pp. 6o-go.
of moving in from the 'margins' to On Longing: Narratives of the Minia- 34 Patricia Spyer, 'The tooth of time, or
'a space for debate' at the 'centre'. ture, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the taking a look at the "look"', in Spyer,
While Marcia Pointon in her History Collection, Johns Hopkins University op. cit., p. 154.
of Art Students Handbook, first pub- Press, Baltimore, 1984. 35 Adela Pinch, 'Stealing happiness:
lished in 1980 (Unwin Hyman, 21 'The Architecture of Reassurance: shoplifting in early nineteenth-
London), wrote: 'Design History is a Designing the Disney Theme Parks' century England', in Spyer, op. cit.,
discipline in its own right' over- exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt p. 122.
optimistically predicting that 'a spe- National Design Museum, Smith- 36 Peter Stallybrass, 'Marx's Coat' in
cialised literature in connection with sonian Institution, 6 October 1998 to Spyer, op. cit., p. 187.
the subject is growing fast' (p. 15). 10 January 1999. 37 Ibid., p. 196.
11 There are obvious exceptions such as 22 Henry Glassie, Folk Housing in Middle 38 For an excellent introductory essay
Design Issues and the Journal of Design Virginia: A Structural Analysis of His- on the historical development of cri-
History but such specialist academic toric Artefacts, University of Tennes- tical theory studies and the Frankfurt
journals with limited circulation only see Press, Knoxville, 1975. School, see Chapter 2 of Dominic
go to prove the point. 23 James Deetz, In Small Things Forgot- Strinati, An Introduction to Theories of
12 For an alternative view, see Judy ten: The Archaeology of Early American Popular Culture, Routledge, London,
Attfield, Utility Reassessed: The Role Life, Doubleday, New York, 1977. 1995.

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39 Paul Du Gay, Stuart Hall et al., Doing process', in Arjun Appadurai (ed.), Linen: Couples and Their Laundry, Mid-
Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony The Social Life of Things: Commodities dlesex University Press, 1998.
Walkman. Sage, London, 1997. in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge 44 Du Gay, Hall et al., op. cit.
40 John A. Walker, Design History and University Press, 1986, pp. 64-91. 45 Angela McRobbie (ed.), Back to Real-
the History of Design, Pluto, London, 42 Paul Du Gay (ed.), Production of Cul- ity: Social Experience and Cultural
1990, Ch. 5, pp. 68-73. ture/Cultures of Production, Sage, Studies, Manchester University
41 Igor Kopytoff, 'The cultural biogra- London, 1997, p. 121. Press, 1997.
phy of things: commoditization as 43 See e.g. Jean-Claude Kaufman, Dirty

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