Submitted By raramihoshi2
How many of us would happily make do without a fully equipped modern kitchen – even if it sometimes beats like a transplanted artificial heart at the centre of an artisan cottage stripped back to its original organic floorboards and fireplace? Some might take this present-day dependence as testament to the irresistible appeal of American domestic technology, an appeal that guaranteed its spread during the second half of the 20th century. If any find this story plausible, they would do well to study this handsomely produced and well-illustrated edited collection on the attempted transfer of the American ‘modern kitchen’ to Europe during the early Cold War period of the 20th century.
At the outset, editors Oldenziel and Zachmann position themselves at the cutting edge of the historiography of technology. Following Langdon Winner’s classic lead (1), they see politics as embodied in the modern kitchen, helping to bolster traditional women’s roles at time of challenge by feminism and other historical forces. Rebutting any presumed unilinear account of the transatlantic diffusion of this particular set of innovations, they define the modern kitchen as a culturally and ideologically laden technological artefact in its own right – one moreover that needs to be set within an array of large technological systems: electrical grids, gas networks, water systems and the integrated food and transport chain. They insist that a ‘host of social actors’ shape all these technological components: ‘kitchens are as deeply social as they are political’ (p. 3). They invite us to view the kitchen as a ‘mediation junction’ between producers and consumers, extending Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s influential call to attend to the ‘consumption junction’ in any analysis of the social relations of a given artefact.(2) In the work as a whole there are frequent citations of the notion of the…...