Office

Project Overview:

This book, which is forthcoming through Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series, mounts a claim for the cultural significance of the office – as an icon, as a space, and as a vanishing species in the twenty-first century.

The office has been, arguably, the primary site of labor in the postmodern economy. But while its primacy might be obvious, its definition is not. The meaning of the office – along with its material, spatial and social characteristics – has shifted radically over the decades, reflecting changing attitudes about work throughout the industrialized world. During its mid-century American heyday, for instance, the office functioned like an ecosystem, fostering specific sets of relationships, attitudes, and activities that laid a blueprint for social life in the so-called “American century.” Indeed, when the newspaper mogul Henry Luce coined that phrase in 1941, he did so during an era that saw the rise of the office’s status as a cultural icon. Consider, for instance, the popularity of office-based narratives and genres of entertainment during that same period: screwball comedies, much like noir novels and films from the 40s and 50s, often take place exclusively in offices, with their narratives centering on tacit understandings of office culture. This book sketches a cultural history of the office, tracking its rise in the late nineteenth century to its peak in the mid-twentieth century and its likelihood for extinction in the twenty-first.