Modernity and domestic temporalities

Friday 9th Sept, 14.30-16.00, Room CG06

Chair: Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, University of Hertfordshire

This session explores ideas around the temporally layered nature of the domestic, particularly in relation to public policy and official advice. The ideals of modern living, rationality and standardisation (linear time) are seen in tension with the continuities and repetitions (cyclical time) frequently experienced in domestic space.


Make to Remember, Make to Forget
Eliza Kraatari, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
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The history of cottage industry policy in Finland creates a unique chapter in the country’s cultural political and design histories, a topic about which my recent doctoral dissertation offers the first profound analysis. An essential outcome is that cottage industry policy was supposed to offer instruments for handling both material and cultural losses. This policy line was put in action on the level of central administration by the Cottage Industry Department at the Board of Agriculture and by the Central Organization of Cottage Industry Associations.

As a form of production, cottage industry resembles proto-industry (Kriedte, Medick and Schlumbohm, 1981), and in Finland cottage industry policy can be traced back to the late eighteenth- and the nineteenth-century economic history. However, as a part of Finland’s independence project, cottage industry gained a special role in the early twentieth century. Folk art and vernacular design then created essential parts in the imagining of Finland’s national, ancient originality.

Cottage industry policy embraced the aspects of both the past and the future. It sustained cultural continuation through craft traditions, but it nevertheless was future-oriented. The practice of cottage industries was considered important in spreading entrepreneurial spirit and increasing the new nation’s wealth. Moreover, it was considered an instrument of disseminating a sense of form and quality, educating people to value proper design aesthetics. A multi-faceted cultural and political compose, cottage industry can be recognised as a cultural political line that on the one hand strengthened cultural continuity while on the other sought to adjust traditional crafts to the requirements of a modern society with the help of modern design professionalism.

I focus on this temporally layered, ambiguous nature of cottage industry and demonstrate how these activities developed into managing the major cultural and temporal turn in Finland after World War II. I base my analysis on the theory of sublime historical experience by F R Ankersmit (2005). Reading primary sources of the post-WWII era, such as official committee reports and articles published in the popular magazine Kotiteollisuus (Cottage Industry), I analyse the need to organise being in time through craft and design activities.

In the immediate post-war years (1944‒1949) craft skills were highly necessary in the everyday struggle to create new homes and start life anew, but the action of creating objects according to both vernacular and modernised designs also served in the complex mental processes of overcoming traumatic historical experiences, not only those caused by the war and the massive population evacuations, but also those caused by the cultural turn from an under-developed agrestic country to a rapidly industrialising welfare state. The idea of cottage industry promoted craft and design practices as pragmatic tools for working on cultural and historical trauma – creating objects in order to forget and to remember.

‘Live in your time’: Home culture advice in 1960s-1970s Flanders
Professor Dr Els de Vos, Associate Professor, Faculty of Design Sciences, University of Antwerp
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“Our work […] in our ‘American kitchen’, our leisure on holiday or in front of the telly, is from our time, but our house, our interior […] is gothic or renaissance or something like that by far or by close.” (Domi, 1970). “Live in your time”, was commonly given advice to (future) inhabitants in 1960s-1970s Flanders. But what did (interior) architects, home consultants and home culture educators mean with it? Did they all share the same vision of contemporary design? Was it to do with the use of certain (domestic) technologies, the application of new materials or the introduction of a certain design? Are the terms contemporary and modern interchangeable? How did inhabitants deal with it? Did they want a contemporary interior and a modern house? Why was it for the majority of the Flemish home occupants easier to arrange their kitchen in a modern way instead of their living room or bedroom?

Based on archival material, journals on home decoration and interior design and empirical fieldwork, in-depth interviews with inhabitants and home visits, this paper discusses the place and meaning of time in advice about housing and interior design, as well as in real dwelling practices. I argue that there exists a cyclic as well as a linear time view. A paradox will be revealed between the concept of eternal design versus timeless design.

42134488_goransdotter_hi_resKitchen choreographies: Homes, things and modern movements
Maria Goransdotter and Professor Johan Redstrom, Vice Rector and Rector and Professor, Umeå Institute of Design (UID), Umeå University, Sweden
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Thinking of things in relation to users and use, there is always some kind of action involved in the usage of things (or interaction, as contemporary design would have it): an action that happens in time and over time, and that more often than not involves movement. This paper investigates how time – seen in relation to the physical dwelling, the objects in it and the people living there, using things – have been the basis for proposing new designs for things and homes, literally new practices of ‘modern movements’, in the homes of 1940s Sweden.

The home and its everyday things and practices has over the years emerged as a research theme within Design History as well as in other disciplines. Relationships between dwelling, architecture and the ideals of modern living manifest in floorplans and city plans have been explored, as have the styles and aesthetics of things and buildings. Relationships between people and everyday things and environments have opened up for research into how things and people reciprocally build both meanings and practices, as well as how design scripts actions and behaviours. Many studies focus on the kitchen: its physical design, the objects related to it and – not least – the (mainly women’s) work and values associated with it. The Frankfurt kitchen in the late 1920s, for example, has become almost a standard example of how ideas of rationality and modernity were brought into the equation of solving problems of low (or non-existent) standards of housing to address issues of economy in planning and building. Such examples also illustrate interests in scripting new behaviour specifically in the kitchen; behaviours that extended also to the home, and on a larger scale to life and society in general within the modern movement.

In the process of forming the Swedish welfare state, ‘the home’ was central both as a metaphor and as an area of reform and rethinking. In parallel to the planning and building of rational housing to address the appalling housing situation in Sweden, there were similar concerns for planning, education and reform of how homes were actually used and inhabited. A focal point came to be the kitchen, where the movements and actions of women were investigated systematically and scientifically with the threefold aim of improving the building standards, finding the best design of kitchen utensils and equipment, and determining the best ways of working, acting and moving around in the kitchen.

In this paper, studies of housework and household objects made by the Hemmens Forskningsinstitut (HFI or Home Research Institute) in the late 1940s forms the basis of an analysis of the relationship between things in use and users in action, and how notions of rationality and repetition, optimisation of motions and methods, brought from industrial contexts, came to define also what makes sense in a home.

Further Reading

Ankersmit, A (2005) Sublime Historical Experience. California: Stanford University Press.

Goransdotter, M (2012) ‘A Home for Modern Life: Educating Taste in 1940s Sweden’, Conference Proceedings: Volume 2. Design Research Society 2012: Bangkok: Research: Uncertainty Contradiction Value, Israesena, P, Tangsantikul, J, Durling, D (eds), Bangkok: Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University.

Kraatari, E (2016) ‘Domestic Dexterity and Cultural Policy: The Idea of Cottage Industry and Historical Experience in Finland from the Great Famine to the Reconstruction Period’ Jyväskylä Studies in Education, Psychology and Social Research 544. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä.

Kriedte, P, Medick, H and Schlumbohm, J (1981) Industrialization before Industrialization. Rural Industry in the Genesis of Capitalism, English translation by Schempp B, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lim, Y-K, Niedderer, K, Redström, J, Stolterman, E and Valtonen, A (eds) (2014), Proceedings of DRS 2014: Design’s Big Debates, Sweden: Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University.