Wild Things

Judy Attfield

Bloomsbury (2020)Buy (...)

It is wonderful to see a reprint of this seminal wide-ranging, thought-provoking book that, almost at every point, challenges us to consider, and then re-consider, how we think about things, and write about them too. I read the book in early draft form and often return to  it; to think through things raised in it, for inspiration, or to remember Judy Attfield’s pioneering contributions to contemporary material culture studies and her enormous impact upon generations of students and scholars across a range of disciplines.

A designer before she turned to design history and discovered a passion for anthropology and critical theory, as well as for “history from below”—manifested here in discussions of everything from reproduction furniture to my mothers’ clothes—Judy’s lively intellect knew no disciplinary boundaries. Inside these covers Judy’s love of ideas, herstories/histories, and grappling with theory, is everywhere apparent. Enjoy the journey you take with her.

—Pat Kirkham, Bard Graduate Center, New York

What do things mean? What does the life of everyday objects after the check-out reveal about people and their material worlds? Has the quest for ‘the real thing’ become so important because the high-tech world of total virtuality threatens to engulf us?

This pioneering book bridges design theory and anthropology to offer a new and challenging way of understanding the changing meanings of contemporary human-object relations. The act of consumption is only the starting point of object’s “lives”. Thereafter they are transformed and invested with new meanings and associations that reflect and assert who we are. Defining designed things as “things with attitude” differentiates the highly visible fashionable object from ordinary artifacts that are too easily taken for granted.

Through case studies ranging from reproduction furniture to fashion and textiles to ‘clutter’, Judy Attfield traces the connection between objects and authenticity, ephemerality and self-identity, showing the materiality of the everyday in terms of space, time and the body and exploring the transition with the passing of time from embodiment to disembodiment.

Judy Attfield was a designer and a teacher and writer in design history and material culture. In addition to Wild Things (2000), she co-edited, with Tag Gronberg, Women Working in Design: a Resource Book (1986); made a seminal feminist contribution to John A Walker’s Design History and the History of Design (1986); co-edited with Pat Kirkham, A View from the Interior: Feminism, Women and Design (1989); co-wrote the introductory essay and contributed to The Gendered Object (1996); edited the anthology Utility Reassessed: The Role of Ethics in the Practice of Design (1999) and edited a collection of her writings and articles, Bringing Modernity Home: Writings on Popular Design and Material Culture (2007). Judy Attfield died in 2006.


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