Radical and Community Printshops London 1974-2000
During the 1970s and early 1980s numerous radical and community printshops emerged across Britain and by 1982 there were about 30 in London alone. Almost all the printshops were registered as worker cooperatives, which were collectively run but later became places of paid employment. The founding objective of the printshop movement was to produce, provide or facilitate cheap and safe printing of ‘radical’ materials. Initially most were informed by the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos. Some presses emerged due to ‘countercultural’ concerns about libel and obscenity laws (Dickinson: 1997: 33) others out of an older tradition of anarchist presses, others by politically-motivated art school graduates (or drop outs). They were economically dependant on either the state (via the local authority) or ‘the market’. State funded projects tended to be defined as ‘community’ printshops; market dependant ones as ‘radical’ or ‘alternative’. By the mid 1990s however most of them had either closed, been incorporated into other organisations or acquired conventional (hierarchical) management structures. At the time of writing only two collectives survive (Calvert’s & Aldgate Press), both London-based offset-litho printing businesses. Speculative explanations for this situation point towards a series of interrelated factors. • Print is no longer the essential media form for radical communications • Increased self-sufficiency of potential clients via new technologies • A lack of necessary ‘business’ acumen • A decreasing pool of individuals that considered radical printing a desirable vocation • An actual decrease in numbers of typical client groupings • Cuts in local government funding and for London organisations the closure of the GLC • Interpersonal and political conflicts within individual presses • Shifting priorities within radical politics in Britain between the early 1970s and mid 1990s. Little has been written about these organisations, yet they printed, facilitated and often designed the majority of radical media in Britain for approximately a 20 year period. They also represented, via their own constitutions and practices, significant developments, debates and formations within British radical politics and social movements. My basic questions so far are: What were the politico-cultural sensibilities and conditions that produced the proliferation of radical printshops in 1970s London? In what ways were the relationships to work, skill, professionalism and careers, machinery and technology within the printshops ideological and conflictual? How were the relationships to state and market and civil society negotiated? How did the constitutions of the printshops change in relationship to the shifting radical formations, allegiances, agendas of the 1980s and 1990s? How can an analytical, historically grounded study of the printshops be useful to contemporary participatory projects?