Retro Style, Class and the Home The Making and Unmaking of Value

PhD Thesis

Baker, Sarah 2010. Retro Style, Class and the Home The Making and Unmaking of Value. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Arts and Digital Industries
AuthorsBaker, Sarah
TypePhD Thesis

Retro furniture, decorative objects and interiors have become highly desirable in recent years. This thesis explores the making and unmaking of the value of domestic retro style in an ethnographic study of retail spaces, the media and the home. It considers what retro means and why it is valued; who is involved in its production and consumption; and how it manifests itself in the domestic interior.
In a critical review of the literature I suggest that academic accounts of retro style have tended either to give too much attention to the materiality and production of objects, or have not considered the positions and perspectives that allow the making of the value of the retro style to take place. It is my contention that retro is an ambiguous categorisation that only those with high
levels of cultural capital can identify and display. Thus drawing on theorisations of the symbolic economy, I argue that the production, consumption and representation of retro style constitutes, reflects and adds to the exchangevalue of certain individuals. I find that the consumption of domestic retro style is largely a middle-class pursuit and propose that the valuation of material objects as retro is part of cultural distinction.
This argument is made more complex, however, by the wide dissemination of knowledge about retro objects which can cause a decline in their value. The thesis provides an account of this process by focusing on the retailing of retro on the high street and the appearance of the style in lifestyle media. In this analysis I argue that by emphasising the authenticity, individuality and eclecticism of retro interiors the distinctiveness of the style is continually remade. The thesis traces the growth in importance of these values, as well as the emergence of retro style itself, back to the 1960s when the products,
attitudes and practices associated with bohemians and youth subcultures became central to commercial culture and the symbolic economy.
While acknowledging the exchange-value of retro style and remaining critical of ideas regarding its democratic potential, the thesis also documents practices that go beyond the accumulation of capital. I argue that in certain retail spaces there are possibilities for less exploitative social relations. I observe the cultures of inclusion and sharing of knowledge in retro niche media. I also suggest that some of the practices of retro enthusiasts have anti-consumerist potential.

KeywordsRetro style; Symbolic economy; Lifestyle media
Publication dates
PrintMay 2010
Publication process dates
Deposited12 Sep 2013
Additional information

This thesis supplied via ROAR to UEL-registered users is protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights, and duplication of any part of the material is not permitted, except for your personal use for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study in electronic or print form. You must obtain permission from the copyright-holder for any other use. Electronic or print copies may not be offered, for sale or otherwise, to anyone. No quotation from the thesis may be published without proper acknowledgement.

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