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  • Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization by Kjetil Fallan
  • Deborah Breen (bio)
Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization. By Kjetil Fallan and Grace Lees-Maffei. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016. Pp. 296 $130.

Designing Worlds is a collection of essays collated by Kjetil Fallan and Grace Lees-Maffei, leaders in the field of design history. The editors focus on the global turn and the chapters indicate this, drawn as they are from Africa, Europe, Asia, and South and North America, with additional chapters from New Zealand, Lebanon, and Jamaica. The coverage is not fully representative of five continents, as the editors claim, but the broad regional range nonetheless illuminates the intersections between the global, national, regional, and local.

For historians of technology, there are several important themes. Key amongst these is how to define design history; although many authors challenge the tradition of linking design with industrialization and modernization, Dipti Bhagat's overview of Africa as concept and continent and Livia Rezende's discussion of Brazil make critical contributions to this debate by highlighting the work of indigenous crafts and individual designers. The definition of design is extended in other ways: Jacques Lange and Jeanne van Eeden focus on evolving visual representations of nationhood in South Africa, and Zeina Maasri traces Lebanon's multiple identities through 1960s tourist promotions. Finally, an important provocation to the definition of design is provided by Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan, who examines political practices and their representation in India. Design, thus, is more than material culture produced through industrial manufacturing; these chapters illustrate how it can be reimagined.

A second interesting theme emerges from investigating how globalization impacts authenticity and the local (or regional), especially through the mobility of ideas, goods, and people. Claudia Bell examines the assimilation of Maori designs into Pakeha objects, even as New Zealand designers struggle for a national identity in a global marketplace. Stina Teilmann-Lock illuminates how contemporary intellectual property laws complicate the notion of national design: her case study of Danish labels demonstrates that the ideation of a design is now more significant than its place of production, a point that has implications for many fields of history. Another strand of authenticity is teased out by Nicolas P. Maffei in his engaging discussion of interaction and change in Mexican-American borderland cultures. Davinia Gregory also questions authenticity in her examination of architecture in Jamaica, pointing both to the integration and disavowal of British colonial styles. National identity is embedded in these and other discussions throughout the book: Who is included? Who is excluded? [End Page 999] Design histories, as Fallan and Christina Setterlund demonstrate in their chapter on Norwegian and Swedish material culture, provide a useful lens on that unfolding story.

Finally, what do we make of the "nation" as a construct within this era of globalization? The authors generally agree that national histories are inadequate and variously endorse frameworks of comparative, post-colonial, and transnational histories. Grace Lees-Maffei's chapter on comparative UK-U.S. domestic advice manuals underscores the importance of transnational histories, for example. Nonetheless, there is recognition that the "nation" still constitutes an important organizational tool for history, and various authors are intrigued by government policy that promotes design as a vehicle for consolidating national culture, albeit for economic ends. Ariyuki Kondo's marvelous discussion of design, including architecture, in Japan illuminates the complex give-and-take of national and international relations. Several authors also explore the spectacle of world fairs, past and present, as a way of highlighting the intersection between national identity, design, and government policy. Government intervention, of different political persuasions, is also explored in Marta Filipová's study of Czech/Bohemian glass. The perspective of the "nation" is useful, the authors argue, but needs to be considered within a larger, multi-local perspective.

Historians of technology may find the breadth of this book challenging, but the chapters, taken collectively, open up important questions about the circulation of goods, practices, and personnel—all of which connect to the transfer of technology throughout history. Designing Worlds is an ambitious undertaking, with both historiography and history; the former, especially the editors' introduction and chapters...


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pp. 999-1000
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