Swedish Design: An Ethnography

Swedish Design: An Ethnography

Expertise Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge

by Keith M. Murphy

Swedish designers are noted for producing distinctive and elegant forms; their furniture and household goods have a loyal following worldwide. Design in Sweden has more than just an aesthetic component, however. Since the late nineteenth century, Swedish politicians and social planners have viewed design as a means for advocating and enacting social change and pushing for a more egalitarian social organisation. In this book, Keith M. Murphy examines the special relationship between politics and design in Sweden, revealing the cultural meanings this relationship holds for Swedish society.

Over fourteen months of research in Stockholm and other sites, Murphy conducted in-depth interviews with various players involved in the Swedish design industry―designers, design instructors, government officials, artists, and curators―and observed several different design collectives in action. He found that for Swedes, design is never socially or politically neutral. Even for everyday objects like furniture and other household goods, design can be labelled “responsible,” “democratic,” or “ethical”― descriptors that all neatly resonate with the traditional moral tones of Swedish social democracy. Murphy also considers the example of Ikea and its power to politicise perceptions of the everyday world. More broadly, his book serves as a model for an anthropological approach to the study of design practise, one that accounts for the various ways in which designers purposefully and meaningfully impose order on the domains of human life and the consequences those impositions have on the social worlds in which they are embedded.



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