From focus to fragmentation: commodity spectacle and political agency, 1851-1914

Josh Poklad

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This interdisciplinary thesis explores the relationship between commercial structures, such as advertising and exhibitions, and consumer agency during the period 1851-1914. Its first aim is to develop a new theoretical model that can account for the structure/agency relationship in the context of commercial discipline and consumer perception and agency. This aim arises from the fact that dominant poststructuralist models are unable to adequately consider and explain such relationships. The second aim of this thesis is to apply this model to the analysis of historical case studies to help further our understanding of the structure/agency relationship in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The central argument presented is that commercial modes of representation at the beginning of the period, exemplified by The Great Exhibition of 1851, were coherent, totalising, and narrative-based, and because of this were easier to contest and see-through. As the period progressed, however, commercial representation fragmented into individual visual advertisements. These advertising fragments contested one another, and in doing so, worked to conceal the reality of their unity. This situation meant that consumers found it much more difficult to apprehend the nature of commercial manipulation and the world of production it concealed, and thus to articulate or action critiques of it..
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Leeds
Publication statusUnpublished - 19 Dec 2018


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