Interview with Cheryl Buckley

  1. Marinella Ferrara: In your opinion, which was the contribution of Gender Studies to the history, to the criticism and to the practice of design?
    Cheryl Buckley: I think that the contribution of Gender Studies to the study of the history, criticism and practice of design has been profound. Dating from the early 1980s, this influenced historians, practitioners and theorists who developed ideas that had emerged from various academic contexts: art and design history, philosophy particularly post-structuralism, history.
  2. What is today the situation of Design Gender Studies and on which research are you working on?
    It is inconceivable today that those working in design history, theory and practice should not take account of gender. Since the 1980s there has been a plethora of work in numerous fields- of course in design, art, architecture, but also in studies of social identities more widely especially around sexuality, race, and latterly generation. Academics have come from a range of disciplines and I think one of the advantages of design as a field is that its is very permeable. By this I mean that over the last 30 years, it has drawn ideas, methods and approaches from other disciplines such as history, geography, politics, linguistics, pyschology, etc.
    As regards my work, I am currently co-writing a book (with Hazel Clark based at Parsons School of Design in New York) on Fashion and Everyday Lives in 20thC Britain and the USA. It will be published by Berg in 2013-14. This project is the first sustained investigation of fashion and everyday life on two of the world’s major fashion cities: London and New York. Typically fashion has been studied as an ‘exceptional’ rather than mundane aspect of visual and material culture with an emphasis on stylistic innovation, perpetual change, and distinctive youth cultures. Instead this project aims to unsettle the dominant views by understanding fashion as a manifestation of routine daily lives that remains with people over time. The project examines the ways in which the everyday use, appropriation, circulation, re-making and regular re-modelling of fashionable clothes by diverse social groups can be: anti-modern and non-progressive; exemplify continuity and tradition; responsive to regional and national subtleties as well as global ones; and disruptive of fashion’s structures and systems as well as its visual codes and norms of consumption. Whilst there remains a predominant interest in the fashion ‘syntaxes’ of the young, the novelty of the ‘look’, and the currency of the latest style- whether re-cycled, second-hand, revivalist, or new, this research investigates the vast swathe of fashionable dressing outside of these categories. This fashion comprises the ordinary and mundane practices of wearing that draws items from the personal wardrobe in a routine manner over time. This research aims to define a new theoretical and historiographical framework for the subject which moves beyond the dominant thesis regarding fashion’s relationship to modernity.
  3. In Anglo-Saxon Countries the attention to Gender Studies was much greater than it whose in Italy and in the countries of Southern Europe, especially in the design field. Why does it happen, in your opinion?
    I don’t have a clear understanding of why this should be particularly in the case of Italy with its strong engagement with design. The secular nature of Anglo-Saxon countries is probably a factor as too are the specific circumstances of history and politics. Italy, Greece and Spain, for example, had predominantly right-wing post-war political regimes; one could argue that these ideas of social justice – such as are embedded within feminist discourses- did not have the same currency in these contexts?
  4. Do you think that it would be possible and useful today, to launch a debate about relations between national cultures and gender, strictly regarding design, particularly in the Mediterranean countries, which actually are very different one from each other?
    Yes I think that an awareness of and sensitivity to national cultures is very important particularly in the light of the last question. My view is that a close understanding of the specific historical, political and social contexts of national cultures is vital. However articulating and defining ‘national cultures’ is challenging in a post-imperial, post-colonial world in which ‘national identities’ are complex and heterogeneous.
  5. PAD is committed to map the work of women designers and woman design entrepreneurs based in the Mediterranean countries. What would be your advice In this regard?
    I would think that to understand what has been done by others in different parts of the world is a very useful first step, and then to consider firstly how this can inform PAD’s objectives, secondly to identify how this is different or similar to the experiences of those in Mediterranean countries, thirdly to develop an action plan from this. I would consider extending your remit to include women consumers and users of design.

Cheryl Buckley is a design historian with an interest in the history of everyday things (fashion, architecture, domestic interiors and ceramics).
Since 2006 she has been Visiting Professor in Design History at Parsons, The New School for Design/Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. In 2007 she was awarded a Chair in Design History at Northumbria University, Newcastle (UK)
and became Editorial Chair of the Journal of Design History in 2011.
Her research has dealt with the history of 20thC design. Her major books are: Designing Modern Britain, (Reaktion, 2007), Fashioning the Feminine, Representation and Women’s Fashion from the fin de siècle to the present day (I.B.Tauris, 2002) and Potters and Paintresses. Women Designers in the British Pottery Industry 1870-1959 (The Women’s Press,1991).
Cheryl Buckley has a particular interest in design history and gender with two essays that contributed to this particular debate: ‘Made in Patriarchy: Theories of Women and Design, A Re-Working’, in Design and Feminism: Re-Visioning Spaces, Places, and Everyday Things, ed. Joan Rothschild, USA: Rutgers University Press, 1999 and ‘Made in Patriarchy: Towards a feminist analysis of women and design, in Design Issues, Vol. III, No. 2, Fall 1986, pp.1-31.
She also has a long-standing research interest in the history of ceramics and the role of émigré designers in Britain and the USA (see forthcoming introduction and co-edited special issue (with Tobias Hochscherf),‘Transnationalism and Visual Culture in Britain: Émigrés and Migrants 1933 to 1956’, Visual Culture in Britain, vol.13, no.3, 2012, and book chapter ‘Authenticity, tradition and modernity: Marguerite Wildenhain and Ruth Duckworth, women émigré studio potters, 1936-1964’, in Entfernt: Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil, Women in Exile, volume 5, eds. Adriane Feustel, Inge Hansen-Schaberg, Wolfgang Thöner, text+kritik, Richard Boorberg +Verlag GmbH & Co KG, Munich, 2012). This research began with postgraduate research for a Master of Letters thesis that focused on the British furniture company and architectural practice, Isokon  (Isokon, exhibition catalogue, 1980), and it continued with research for a Doctorate on women in the British pottery industry. This led to various publications, notably the book Potters and Paintresses, and various articles and book chapters such as ‘Women and Modernism: A Case Study of Grete Marks (1899-1990)’ in Women Designing. Redefining Design in Britain between the Wars, eds. Jill Seddon and Suzette Worden, Brighton, 1994 and ‘Quietly Fine, Quietly Subversive: Women Ceramics Designers in Twentieth-century America’, Women Designers in the USA 1900-2000 Diversity and Difference, ed. Pat Kirkham, USA: Yale University Press, 2000).

About the author(s):

Architect MsD and PhD in Industrial Design, Marinella Ferrara is a senior researcher of Politecnico di Milano (Design Department) and an assistant professor at the Design School of the same institution. Her research are directed to the relationship between design and technological innovation. She is the author of several books and essays that link micro‐stories to the macrostructures for rethinking of the relationship between design and materials as a dynamics of the socio-technical innovation process.She is investigating in order to define the strategic role of design as driver for innovation trought interdisciplinary process. She has opened a personal focus on Mediterranean Design considered as emblematic expression of the contemporary geo‐political complessity. Other topics are: self-production design, relationship between design and crafts, the women’s Design in the mediterranean countries.

marinellaferrara@gmail.com

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