Aims & Themes

Crafting a sustainable modernity - towards a maker aesthetics of production and consumption       

             "For a long time, the intellectual consensus has been that we can no longer ask Great Questions. Increasingly, it looks like we have no other choice."                                                                                                                              David Graeber, 'Debt: The First 5000 years', p.19


Common experience tells us that we are living through a period of profound change; that the 2008 global economic crash represented a watershed but that the crisis persists - with authoritarian populism now joining widespread inequality and precariousness, while global mass production and consumption continue to cause widespread environmental devastation. In the face of these facts we now have little option but to conduct a fundamental reassessment of contemporary life on multiple fronts: the environment, the economy, technology, work, education, post-work, and possibly even post-capitalism. Within this context, contemporary craft and creative making find themselves implicated in a global calling that implies their reassessment too - as to their possible contributions to issues of industry and manufacture, to work, gender and leadership, to sustainability, health and pedagogy. In this way Making Futures can be thought of as a modest contribution to attempts to identify paths out of the wider predicament, towards new viable futures through a renewed sense of the possibilities surrounding making now.

Fab workshop, Institut d’ Architectura Avancada de Catalunya, Barcelona, and partner on the 'Made@EU' project with Plymouth College of Art exploring the relationship between analogue and digital maker skills

Crafting a sustainable Modernity:

Our response to the quote by David Graeber, above, is summarized in the idea (or perhaps ‘provocation’ might better capture our intent) of reclaiming a craft future within a contemporary moment that - contested definitions of the present notwithstanding (i.e., 'late', 'post', 'secondary', 'liquid') - still takes place essentially within the "arc of Modernity’’, (pace Srnicek and Williams in ‘Inventing the Future’). Thus, rather than seeing maker cultures as necessarily antithetical to contemporary society, we want to see if we can frame creative regimes of neo-artisanal production as part of a forward-looking attempt to re-imagine a viable late Modernity, one in which small-scale makers and micro-manufacturers are attempting to innovate around technology, form, function, aesthetic meaning and social relevance – engaging in responsible (often place-based) market economics but striving to step outside the exploitative forms of commodification associated with the ‘disembedded’ global markets resonant of neo-liberalism to create new expressive possibilities and new creative relationships between individuals and communities.

Thus in some respects this 2017 conference continues facets of the 2015 edition that investigated contemporary craft and maker movements in relation to a potential post-recession (re)turn to forms of localized micro-production. In 2015 we talked about reaching an inflection point - of peak Globalisation perhaps, and of witnessing the early phases of a slow but significant shift to more autonomous and locally rooted ways of meeting needs. Translated to our 2017 theme of 'crafting a sustainable Modernity', it suggests that we must look at craft and small-scale making not as part of some escapist refusal of modern life, but rather, that we should adopt a more constructive view that explores how craft and small-scale making might usefully be seen as integral components of a future-orientated sustainable late Modernity. This is not to deny the ways in which many craft métiers retain strong connections to tradition - and can positively mediate relations between past, present and future. But nor does this prevent us from asking how our late Modernity might beneficially be figured to include the political economies of small scale localized regimes of making and consumption as fundamental elements within it, rather than as constitutive of some imagined space 'outside' that all too easily relapses into nostalgia. However, this thought obliges us to recognise that we are not looking at a reading that posits craft on one side and industry on the other, but a spectrum of behaviours in which post-Fordist neo-artisanal regimes of production (and/or customized finishing) run from (or blend with) unique one-offs, to small batch-production through to, on occasion, mass-production systems.


Towards a maker aesthetics of production and consumption:

Reflecting the concerns of its constituency, Making Futures places a high value on the individual practitioner and the positive, transformative potential of a life associated with practice. These qualities can give us the inspitation and resolve to challenge the status quo and to make radical material change. This is not to ignore the realities of contemporary craft work and the labour process within creative micro-entrepreneurial enterprises, it is clear that not all aspects of this life are unambiguously positive: high stress and precarious low wage project-based work is a reality for many. Nonetheless, many practitioners consistently report that they can and do experience authentically rewarding roles for themselves and others, in and through making. Fundamentally, this might also be characterized as an aesthetic stance because it is a part of how many conceive the 'good life' - i.e., that which is desirable and attractive as a mode of living.

On the other side is the issue of consumption. In the face of a growing disenchantment with global mass consumption regimes and their environmentally destructive procedures, there is a growing consumer desire to support re-cycling, up-cycling and to buy ethically produced and/or locally sourced food and goods that support community resilience (admittedly, mainly from those who have the ability to pay higher premiums on goods). Nonetheless, to the extent that this trend can be seen to support emancipative conceptions of a future ‘good life’ around emergent micro-economies we also view this as an aesthetic stance.

A key ambition of Making Futures is to connect these individual affectivities to wider spaces of social thinking and doing where progressive futures might be considered and encouraged. A decisive factor here are the networks (physical and digital) that help bring constellations of small maker groups together in mutually supportive sub-systems. For example, in the last edition we looked closely at the north Californian ‘Fibreshed’ movement. In this edition we will turn to explore a European model based on the Berlin ‘alternative culture’ of auteur makers. Flourishing across the last decade, and represented through a proliferation of designer owned boutiques (often with goods displayed in front and atelier production space in view of customers at the back), and supplemented by educational outreach initiatives, this maker ecology couples a neo-artisanal sense of material (knitting, sewing, tailoring and pattern cutting) and concern for environmental factors, re-cycling and up-cycling, with a strong commitment to neighbourhood and city and a maker skepticism towards the business regimes of fast fashion and big brands.

Craft has, of course, historically been seen as a strong place-holder for identity at individual, regional and national levels, and given the convulsive period we are living through, we are aware of the dangers of our 2017 theme appearing to flirt with the zeitgeist of an increasing inward-looking populist nationalist sentiment (‘The March of the Makers’, Brexit Britain, and Trumps 'America First’). Nonetheless, in the context of the complex spectrum of possibilities alluded to above, the idea of a sustainable late Modernity that can embrace small-scale producers capable of contributing to community cohesion, resilience and regeneration, seems an urgent and progressive project worth exploring at the very least.

Note: A more detailed outline of the ideas expressed here can be found in the Editors Introduction to Volume 4 of the Making Futures on-line journal. 


Thematic Research Workshops: 

To help locate our ‘crafting a sustainable modernity…’ refrain, we are calling for abstract submissions to three concurrent Research Workshops that address the theme by coordinating overlapping approaches to industry, care and community, and the broader social leadership contributions that contemporary makers are addressing:

  • Workshop1: Crafting in Industry: in collaboration with the Royal College of Art.
  • Workshop 2: The Well Maker Space: in collaboration with Community21, University of Brighton and University of Wolverhampton.
  • Workshop 3: Making Leaders - Curating Maker Cultures: in collaboration with CraftNet, the independent leadership and strategic development network for contemporary craft.

While the workshops are viewed as component features of our ‘crafting a sustainable Modernity…’ theme, this does not mean that authors must explicitly address the topic in their workshop submissions. Rather, responses should primarily be made to the call texts found on the dedicated workshop pages in the left-hand navigation menu - the ‘crafting a sustainable Modernity…’ narrative will inevitably remain inherent to the workshop topic.


Indicative Thematic Sessions:

In addition to the three workshops, we are calling for abstract submissions to six Indicative Themes that more generally underpin the entire Making Futures series. (See the six panel entries at the end of this text section). Again, authors need not feel that they must explicitly address the ‘crafting a sustainable Modernity…’ rubric through these.


Submitting a Proposal:

To submit a proposal to one of the workshops or thematic sessions, use the on-line form on the 'Submit Abstract' page, identifying the title of the workshop or indicative theme you are submitting to in the space provided.

There inevitably exists a degree of overlap across the six Indicative Themes, and between aspects of these and the four Workshops, meaning an abstract submission might potentially be linked to more than one area. Moreover, we are, in principle, open to submissions that might not fit easily within any of the suggested lines of investigation. That said, it is important that authors select just one Indicative Theme or Workshop that they feel their submission predominately addresses. We will of course endeavour to honour these choices, subject to the fact that we must necessarily reserve the right to curate the final Programme according to the quantity and quality of submissions received and in ways that may not mirror exactly how the topics are presented here. See the six panel entries below this text section for details.


Conference Programme and Presenter Formats:

Making Futures will be designed as a series of plenary Keynotes, interspersed by simultaneous parallel sessions consisting of the Workshops and Thematic Sessions.

The conference invites proposals that include the following formats:

  • Practice-led presentations and case studies: related to past or present projects that exhibit substantial engagement with the conference programme, and which might typically connect to practitioners, processes, products, projects, enterprises, collectives, institutions, ideas and allied movements, campaigns, initiatives, curatorial practices and strategies.
  • Historical and theoretical papers: rooted in examinations of the broader contextual formations and critical discourses connected to the conference programme. This can include perspectives derived from historical, technological, social-cultural, philosophical aesthetic, sociological, and/or political and economic models of enquiry.
  • Unconventional formats: as well as the above two conventional modes of presentation, we welcome proposals for innovative presentation formats that might include performance, objects, AV, and other media and materials, albeit that the presentation must fit within a 20-30 minutes (max) slot.

Note: Authors who pass the double-blind peer review process must attend the conference to present their projects. We will not present or publish the work of those who, for whatever reason, cannot answer for their projects in person and participate and contribute more widely across the conference format. Furthermore, we cannot accept multiple presentations to different streams from single authors. In cases where collaborative projects with several facets connecting to seperate streams pass peer review, we would expect more than one author to attend the conference to represent and present.


Participants, geographic range and practice-based definitions:

Making Futures seeks to be broad and inclusive, and invites a diverse range of response, from artists, craftspeople, designer-makers, FabLab and maker-movement enthusiasts, curators, historians and theorists, and campaigners and those that might define themselves as being on the activist or hacker wing. Moreover, as our Craft in an Expanded Field theme indicates, we are also interested in practitioners outside art, craft and design that might cast light on ‘crafting a sustainable Modernity…’ through productive associations that challenge or extend understandings of this theme.

The working language of the conference is English, but the conference scope is international and within the language constraint we strongly encourage submissions from non-Western contexts, especially those experiencing rapid modernisation and where the position of craft and maker communities has become a contested issue in relation to identity, industrial and urban development, and newly expanding consumer markets. Our intention is that these exchanges should help develop a unique set of cross-cultural perspectives. In short, that we can increasingly foster a nascent trans-national community of researcher-practitioners exploring the position of contemporary craft, neo-artisinal design-to-make and related micro-maker entrepreneurs across non-Western as well as Western forms of Modernity.

In conclusion, as always our overriding concern is to assemble a diverse community of the engaged who can work together in a critical but supportive spirit to help take these agendas forward. In the context of the issues discussed by Making Futures this diversity becomes part of a relational field where interconnections are generally more compelling and enriching than differences.

Malcolm Ferris, Making Futures curator.


Indicative Conference Themes::

  • 1
    Craft in Modernity - Critical Perspectives on Producers and Consumers
    Offers respondents who feel the ‘Craft in Industry’ workshop might not accommodate their interests, opportunities to address the main conference theme. Our focus here will be on the historically informed social-cultural, aesthetic and economic perspectives that help define practitioners and consumers in relation to the rapidly changing political economies of industrialisation through workshop, early factory, Fordist and post-Fordist phases. Contributions might typically examine the social and cultural fault lines across Modernity (‘early’, ‘classical’, ‘late’, ‘post’, etc.,) through which craft identity has been created and contested – although distant historical approaches will ideally seek to make connections with, or cast light upon, current conditions.
  • 2
    Lifecycles of Material Worlds - Sustainability in Practice
    Will investigate the ways in which practitioners are proactively exploring sustainably engaged projects and practices. These initiatives might involve digital design and production methods, and/or new materials innovation and/or pursue localised sourcing; perhaps incorporating cradle-to-cradle design and make strategies, or associated approaches of make and mend, re-cycling, up-cycling, re-use, and sharing to confront the throw-away culture and planned obsolescence resonant of global capitalist production systems. Finally, these strategies might also include repair and maintenance as schematic elements of a practice built around sustainability agendas.
  • 3
    Procedures of Making - Materials & Processes in Transformation
    Making transforms matter into communicable ideas and emotions – in short, into material culture! What new procedures of making are being developed and experimented with to perform these transformative acts, and where does craft (and maker culture more generally) sit in relation to, on the one hand, the reinvention or repurposing of older technologies, processes and materials; and on the other, to digital fabrication techniques and new emerging materials and media?
  • 4
    Translations Across (Post-Colonial) Local-Global Divides
    Will explore the tensions and flows expressed in craft and design-to-make production and consumption in the ‘post-colonial’ contexts of contemporary global capitalism and its possible futures. For example, in some Asian cultures traditional craft is a stand-in for a politics of identity, and the issue of how to ensure its continuity and relevance through contemporary craft and design-to-make represents a dynamic field where tangential interpretations of past, present and future, of private and public competencies, and their boundaries and their interactions, are contested and negotiated under the impact of relatively new forms of industrial Modernity.
  • 5
    Craft in an Expanded Field
    In the ‘Aims & Themes’ text (above) we suggest that the global calling that contemporary craft and creative making find themselves engaged in demands their reassessment too. Certainly, the way we vacillate (at least in the West) between the terms ‘contemporary craft’, ‘artist’, ‘maker’, ‘design-to-make’, ‘neo-artisanal’, etc. appears rooted in our experience of industrialization (the Arts & Crafts reaction to it) and our unsettled position vis-a-vis the shift to a post-Fordist service economy and technological change – the spectrum of terms indexing not just uncertainties, but awareness of the opportunities (beyond the cynical marketing narratives that give us 'craft coffee', 'craft ales', and the like!) that might be emerging with respect to the as yet undetermined place of small-scale maker economies in the context the wider globalised market economy.
  • 6
    Making Thinking – Crafting Education
    How do we make thinking... A thinking that incorporates (even prioritises) ethical and environmental stewardship, and personal independence and resilience, but in tandem with a clear sense of social responsibility? Purposive engagement with materials through art, craft and making - as forms of concrete problem solving - are championed as learning 'platforms' that can engender these values. But what might a materially based education that promotes making thinking actually consist of? How do we foreground studio and workshops as learning environments and/or modes of learning that encourage independence, personal responsibility and agency? What innovative pedagogies might evolve to support these proposals?