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This talk explores a moment when the office design became the subject of radical feminist politics in post-war Britain.

Event details of Surviving the Office: Workplace Design, Activism and the Health of Women Workers in Twentieth-Century Britain
Date
14 December 2023
Time
15:30 -16:30
Room
E1.02

Despite their longstanding presence in the white-collar workplace as clerks and typists, women's bodies were considered anomalies in the modern office building. Since their entry into the industrialised workplace in the nineteenth century, women's health in relation to their physical environment had been a cause for concern for reformists and labour unions. But it was only the milieu of radical labour politics and the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s, that office space was both pathologized by feminists as the site of women's inequality, and radicalised through their consciousness raising activities. The secretary, typist, cleaner and caterer became the target of the feminist hazards movement, which sought to draw attention to the physical and psychological dangers of the office, and in turn to mobilise women office workers to reimagine the office as a safer environment, and claim agency within these patriarchal spaces.

Specifically the talk will argue that, through the influence of Scandinavian and British work-stress theories, a new notion of the workplace ‘environment’ emerged, which considered office workers' expanded socio-spatial experience. In office design, this intertwining of environment, health and design was encapsulated in the rise of the so-called 'Sick Building Syndrome' epidemic, which I argue was an attempt to understand the relentless labour demands of late capitalism through deficiencies in architectural and urban design.