Design, National Imaginaries, and the Home Furnishings Commodity Chain


  • The authors would like to acknowledge research support from the Economic and Social Research Council (Award No. R000237580) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Award No. 410-97-0335). Many thanks to the anonymous referees for their comments on an earlier draft. The final responsibility for the paper remains ours.


ABSTRACT  This paper introduces the concept of national imaginaries as a means of foregrounding the continuing influence of ideas about the nation on understandings of commodity production and circulation. National imaginaries are of crucial importance to the home furnishings commodity network, flowing across sites of consumption, retailing, design, and production. Drawing upon the findings of a larger cross-national research project, the paper discusses three cases in which the characterisation of distinctive national design identities was particularly prominent. These include the representation of designers in the UK and Canada as “national heroes,” and the tendency to measure British and Canadian design against a third national imaginary: that of Italy. A final case considers discursive constructions of national economic trajectories—of “success” or “failure”—within accounts of the British and Canadian furniture industries. It is argued that future work on the differentiating advantages, which may accrue to creative or cultural industries in particular localities, also should be attentive to the ways in which the place of the nation is used to construct imaginative geographies.