From Service to Self-Service: Advice Literature as Design Discourse, 1920–1970

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This article examines examples of advice literature published in Britain for what they indicate about changes in the material culture of home entertaining from 1920 to 1970. Advice writing offers ideal models of design consumption attentive to social behaviour and reflective of reader concerns. A theoretical framework for the fusion of the social and material in a domestic setting is forged through reference to the work of Norbert Elias, Erving Goffman and Pierre Bourdieu. Elia's 1939 work The Civilising Process illuminates pre-industrial etiquette, Goffman's 1959 The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life bridges the movement away from such a model, and Bourdieu's 1969 Distinction assists understanding of the reception of modernist design. A pre-industrial courtly model of ornament and luxury apparently jarred with the comparative austerity embodied in 'high' modernism and popular idioms such as modern and contemporary. Modern design was recommended in advice literature, therefore, as contributing new ideals to the comfort of a social setting: flexibility, youth, practicality, thrift, hygiene, economies of space, fashionability and longevity. However, modernist design was also credited with the traditional etiquette ideals of dignity, luxury and comfort, pointing to a new appreciation of the beauty and utility grounded in the aestheticization of everyday life that modified the visual language of status and hospitality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-206
Number of pages20
JournalThe Journal of Design History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2001


  • advice literature
  • domestic space
  • home entertaining
  • household management
  • interior design
  • taste


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