Some quick thoughts on the sociology of craft

Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake. Craftsmanship cuts a far wider swath than skilled manual labour; it serves the computer programmer, the doctor, and the artist; parenting improves when it is practiced as a skilled craft, as does citizenship. In all these domains, craftsmanship focuses on objective standards, on the thing in itself. Social and economic conditions, however, often stand in the way of the craftsman’s discipline and commitment; schools may fail to provide the tools to do good work, and workplaces may not truly value the aspiration for quality. And though craftsmanship can reward an individual with a sense of pride in work, this reward is not simple. The craftsman often faces conflicting objective standards of excellence; the desire to do something well for its own sake can be impaired by competitive pressures, by frustration, or by obsession. (Sennett, 2008, pp. 9)

In craftsmanship there is no ulterior motive for work other than the product being made and the processes of its creation … the details of the craftsman’s daily work are meaningful because they are not detached in his mind from the product of the work. The satisfaction he has in the results infuses the means of achieving it. (Mills, 2008, p.181)

  1. Craft presupposes a connection between an individual’s concerns, projects and practices. The meaningfulness of craft emerges from the relation between everyday activity and broader projects which matter to us. Craft necessitates a sense of ‘ownership’ of the overarching project. The project to which daily practice contributes must be one which matters to each given individual, regardless of how it was initially formulated.
  2. Craft can be constrained by the ossification of practice, as habitual orientations towards the same old tools narrow the possible relations between projects and practices. Similarly new tools are amenable to craft because of the practical opportunities they entail for novel forms of activity.
  3. Hierarchy is inevitably corrosive of this sense of ownership because of the fragility which characterises the relations between concerns, projects and practices.
  4. Craft is usually suspended uneasily between internal and external goods. Standards internal to the activity at hand often co-exist with external motivations of requirement, recognition and renumeration. This is why the sociology of craft must take reflexivity as its starting point: craft cannot be reliably ‘read back’ from objective conditions or assumed to be an inevitable corollary to a particular sort of activity.
  5. Taking the reflexive individual as a unit of analysis allows us to explore the tension between craft and labour (whether paid or unpaid) in terms of the interplay over time between structure and agency.
  6. The concept of ‘craft’ provides a normative vantage point in terms of which we can critique actually existing organisations and the working conditions which they tend to foster.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.