Making ‘Foreign Orders’: Australian Print-workers and Clandestine Creative Production in the 1980s

Publisher:
Oxford University Press (OUP)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Journal of Design History, 2015, 28 (3), pp. 275 - 292
Issue Date:
2015-04-15
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A ‘foreign order’ is an Australian industrial colloquialism referring to a practice whereby workers produce objects at work—using factory materials and work time—without authorization. This is an under-explored but global phenomenon with many names, including ‘homers’, ‘side productions’, ‘government jobs’ and la perruque. This article examines the unofficial creative activities of Australian print-workers through a case study of a Sydney printing factory in the 1980s, when the printing industry was rapidly computerizing and manual skills were increasingly seen as redundant. Using oral and archival sources, the article explores how the making of foreign orders became more overt and politicized, as workers sensed their insecurity. The practice of making ‘on the side’ gave print-workers a degree of agency and the ability to narrativize their own plight. Design history tends to examine ‘officially’ produced items, potentially leaving out whole swathes of design practice taking place on the factory floor. This study operates within what has been defined as the ‘expanded field’ of Australian design history, including considerations of the material culture of labour and manufacturing history within the design historian’s reach. It also engages with recent calls for an increased awareness of amateur practices and ‘unsanctioned knowledge’ in design history.
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