• Veblen's Chicago: The Urban Origins of the Leisure Class
    Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

View of the intersection of State and Madison Streets, including the entrance to the Carson Pirie Scott and Company building, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1905. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, Photo: Barnes-Crosby Company

Although acknowledged as influential, the Chicago economist Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) remains a spectral presence in the historiography of modern architecture. Like his European counterparts Georg Simmel and Max Weber, Veblen theorized modernity through the industrial city, its inhabitants, and the objects produced within it. Although he did not refer to it directly, Chicago was the stage for this theory. Probing this lacuna, this research project explores Veblen’s involvement with sociological research into modern urban life at the University of Chicago, as well as his influence on proposals for architectural and urban reform. One of the earliest theorists to engage critically with Marxism, Veblen’s writing anticipated later analysis of Chicago as the capital of capitalism. This book-length project will situate Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) in the urban and intellectual context in which it was written and investigate its value for architectural history and theory into the twentieth century.

Joanna Merwood-Salisbury is professor of architecture at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Merwood-Salisbury received her doctorate from Princeton University and her MArch from McGill University. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century architecture and urbanism in the United States, with a special emphasis on the Chicago School of Architecture and issues of race and labor. Her publications include: Design for the Crowd: Patriotism and Protest in Union Square (University of Chicago Press, 2019); After Taste: Expanded Practice in Interior Design, co-edited with Kent Kleinman and Lois Weinthal (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012); and Chicago 1890: The Skyscraper and the Modern City (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Her writing has appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, AA Files, Grey Room, Technology and Culture, Design Issues, Lotus International, amongst other venues.