Dr Victoria Kelley

Profile image of Lecturer in Cultural Studies

Lecturer in Cultural Studies

Central Saint Martins


Victoria Kelley's interest in understanding the past through its material culture dates back to early passions for both history and design. She studied Modern History at Trinity College, Oxford (1986-1989), and Design History at the Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum (1993-1995). She returned to the RCA to study for her doctorate (2005). 

She has taught in British art and design education since 1996, at institutions including the Royal College of Art, the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), and Central Saint Martins, where she is lecturer in Cultural Studies for Fashion, Fashion Communication, Textiles and Jewellery. This half-time post sits alongside Victoria’s post as Reader in the History of Design and Material Culture at University for the Creative Arts, where she teaches MA students in Fashion, Textiles and Photography. 

Victoria is an experienced PhD supervisor and is interested in hearing from potential applicants with an interest in any of the subjects within her research expertise, whether their interest is in history/theory or creative practice. 

Research interests

Design history and material culture; the relationships of people and things; cleanliness, dirt, surface and maintenance; the material culture of historical retailing; the informal economy in London’s working-class history; the street in urban history; working-class material cultures.

Research statement

My research encompasses a range of subjects grouped under the heading ‘relationships between people and things’. My 2010 book, Soap and Water: cleanliness, dirt and the working classes in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, is a study of how material culture is formed in practice by ideologies and values: it examines the complex meanings of clean and dirty bodies, clothes, and homes. My recent work on this subject includes a chapter titled ‘Home and Work’ for the Bloomsbury Cultural History of the Home series (forthcoming).

In 2013 I published Surface Tensions: surface, finish and the meaning of objects (co-edited with Dr Glenn Adamson, V&A) an investigation of the surfaces of objects as the site of material interactions and processes. Other work on surfaces includes ‘The Interpretation of Surface: boundaries, systems and their transgression in clothing and domestic textiles, c.1880-1939’ (Textile: cloth and culture, 2009).

My current research is on London’s street markets, 1850-1939. Street markets are neglected in historical analysis, yet they were an important site of material culture and exchange, shaped by a vigorous informal economy and shaping London’s cultural identity. I am working on a book on this subject, to be published by Manchester University Press.


Completed students and thesis titles

Andrew Jackson, Understanding the experience of the amateur maker: what are the intrinsic rewards associated with non-professional designing and making? (University of the Creative Arts)

Michelle Jones, Less Than Art – Greater Than Trade: English couture and the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers in the 1930s and 1940s (Royal College of Art)

Carol Quarini, The Domestic Veil: exploring the net curtain through the uncanny and the gothic (University of the Creative Arts)

Selected research outputs