Dismantling Mantelpieces: bringing culture home

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Planning and Geography


The principal tasks will be preparing journal articles and a book developed from a doctoral study. Drawing upon research participants’ interviews, photographs and drawings, the Mass Observation Archive and architectural/social histories, it explores the focal point of the British living room, the mantelpiece. The study shows how ideas of home, family, memory and identity are made visible through domestic displays of photographs, ornaments, cards and flowers. At a time of centrally-heated, double-glazed houses, mantelpieces often sit above an empty fireplace or a gas fire - even in many newly-built homes – and are highly desirable ‘period features’.  But why does this iconic ‘shelf above the fire’ survive, competing with televisions and computers for space and attention?  And why do so many mantelpiece displays contain candles, clocks and mirrors, as they did in the 1800s?  Close scrutiny of this taken-for-granted space and its often highly conventional display opens up the mythological dimensions of everyday life, and questions assumptions regarding identity, the meaning of home and the place of culture in interpretations of modern societies.

Also, development of a grant proposal, ‘The Power of Corridors’, aims to study unnoticed spaces at work, contributing to a research agenda opening up everyday places, cultures and practices.


10 25 50