‘Selling Gleam: Making Steel Modern in Post-war America,' Journal of Design History 26:3 (2013), pp. 304-20.

Maffei, Nicolas ‘Selling Gleam: Making Steel Modern in Post-war America,' Journal of Design History 26:3 (2013), pp. 304-20.


The article ‘Selling Gleam’ investigates how the images and rhetoric of shininess were used in the post-war period in America to associate the steel industry with consumer modernity. It contributes to established discourses exploring the cultural meaning of materials (e.g. M. Pointon, 2009; A. Forty, 2012), while extending the cultural history method into design history. The 5,000-word introduction to the issue, co-authored by Maffei and Fisher, provides the context for specific examinations of shininess as a historical and theoretical concept. Applying the notion of modernity as unstable – following Baudelaire and Habermas – to design historical study, both ‘Selling Gleam’ and the introduction argue that shininess should be designated as key category of design historical analysis. This Special Issue is the first design historical Special Issue devoted to the cultural significance of reflection and materiality in design. The papers selected by Maffei and Fisher deal with a range of specific examples of these radiant qualities – considered through the media of hair, sunglasses, steel, plastics, the daguerreotype, and the Moscow Metro - emphasizing the dynamic relationships between the cultural and theoretical discourses that surround them and the material properties in which they are based. ’Selling Gleam’ was developed from a paper that Maffei was invited to present at Entanglements: Materials, Practices, Design (NTU, 05.04.2011), organized by Fisher in association with OPENSiG (Objects, Practices, Experiences, Networks Special Interest Group) of the Design Research Society. While Maffei and Fisher developed the concept of the Special Issue and proposed contributors, following the practices of the JDH, each of the articles in the Special Issue was also independently peer-reviewed, with Dr Kjetil Fallon, University of Oslo acting as liaison editor.

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