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Title: Packaging radio technology during the interwar period (1925-1939) How did the rise in popularity of the wireless receiver introduce the Modernist Aesthetic to the British domestic environment?
Authors: Chesters, Robert
Keywords: Modernism
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: © Chesters, Robert
Abstract: This thesis aims to identify and explain how, through the consumption of the wireless as a modern consumer durable, modernism was brought to society. To understand this process, the study will map how social change during the period responded to wider intellectual and aesthetic currents and trends but was driven by emergent commercial, cultural and political economies of a newly mediated society. Furthermore, it seeks to establish that this happened not as a result of social engineering through model housing schemes but as a result of consumer-led demand. This investigation considers how, as part of that newly mediated social environment, the wireless developed following its arrival on the domestic market without having adopted a single stylistic form. It addresses how that form, both stylistically and technically, evolved over a relatively short period to address the economic and cultural requirements and expectations of a new electrically powered domestic entertainment technology. In so doing, a discourse will be established considering these expectations and requirements related to how the wireless in Britain adopted and adapted the Modernist design idiom. It will further consider how the language of Modernism was propagated as the accepted version of what a radio could or should look like, so developing the modernist paradigm in a broader sense. To gain an appreciation of this it is necessary to understand the contemporary public conception of what the modern was in a more general sense. To decipher this public perception of modernity the project aims to extrapolate that public conception through examining other popular forms and products. Although this suggests that Radio was not alone in adopting the language of the moderne, as a product it is notable for its widespread commercial success and as such can be identified as a significant carrier of the coded message of what was modern. Design historians such as Yagou and Forty have attempted to incorporate radio into various strands of historical perception but the typologies they have devised to describe and understand wireless fall short in addressing the relationship between modernity and the wireless and instead see the wireless in terms of being an independent consumer product, a quasi-scientific instrument or else a furnishing form, rather than creating categories which accommodate the wireless and its position as a design type in its own right. To overcome this shortcoming a strand of this thesis seeks to argue that the wireless was itself a proto-modernist device during the early years of market expansion. That device then developed along a natural stylistic course embracing contemporary decorative ideas. By assessing the response of radio manufacturers to the socio-economic conditions of their market, this study has highlighted how through producing a product which addressed contemporary ideas of glamour, ease of use and functionality, the wireless entered a wide range of homes during the 1920s and 1930s. For the public, the immediate appeal of the wireless was that it provided access to the international experience of listening in while simultaneously it provided a template for the consumer to base their understanding of the modern World, both in its mediated form and stylistic appearance. This thesis seeks to demonstrate that during the period 1925 to 1939, the wireless established itself as an unashamedly modern device which appealed to a broad socio economic cross section of the public. By consuming the wireless, the British public accepted a significant technological and stylistic aspect of modernity into their homes. This was achieved despite the privations of the era because of the perceived desirability of wireless broadcasts and the perception of listening in as a popular leisure activity. As a result of that consumer demand, the British public was given access to a range of stylistic versions of modernity through the design of radio cabinetry. These modern styles were readily consumed throughout the social spectrum in preference to historicist alternatives. This demonstrates that the wireless was instrumental in introducing the modernist aesthetic to the British domestic environment.
Description: A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.
Sponsor: none
URI: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/14781
Appears in Collections:PhD Theses (Arts)

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