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Craft capitalism: Labour and the narratives of artisanal production

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
In the last decade, considerable attention has been paid to the category of craft. Within the disciplines, particularly in sociology and art theory, scholars like Richard Sennett, Susan Luckman, and Glenn Adamson have attempted to define, theorize and delineate the history of craft and its influence in contemporary capitalist culture. Popularly, books and television shows feature the work of makers and craftspeople, their popularity compounded by online crafting communities like Etsy. For all of this attention, considerably less has been paid to the labour that creates the craft products to begin with. This dissertation interrogates the category of craft from a critical labour studies perspective, first by analyzing its labour process, and, second, by amplifying the voices of workers in these industries in order to reflect the conditions they face, their attitudes about craft, and their reflections on class and organizing. In order to accomplish both, the dissertation reports on participant interviews and critically examines cultural artifacts concerning so-called making (typically understood as amateur or semi-professional small-scale production) and craft industrialism (used to define scalable industries that use craft branding and terminology). Its key case studies are making/makerspaces and craft brewing in the Cascadia region of North America, although it also visits the roasteries, bike shops, and bakeries that make up some of the other primary sites of the artisanal economy. This dissertation makes four primary contributions to the critical study of craft. First, it reorients the common approaches to craft, which either prioritize craft objects or individual maker activity. By redirecting attention to the social process of production, it avoids the object-orientation of many approaches as well as the maker-as-virtuoso narratives of popular accounts. By focusing on the social dynamics of craft, the dissertation transcends the singular craftsperson to make its second contribution: the reconceptualization of skill as social category rather than individual attribute. This social approach to skill paves the way toward the dissertation's third contribution: a dialectical consideration of the craftworker as distinct from but intrinsically related to the craftsperson. Analysis of cultural artifacts and discussions with workers highlighted the dependency of craftsmanship and support work. Finally, the dissertation distills maker and worker attitudes into a set of observations regarding the maker movement's narratives of emancipation through self-directed work as well as the potential of solidarity in craft industries.
231 pages.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Brophy, Enda
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