Craft in Modernity - Critical Perspectives on Producers and Consumers

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.

For example, in the 'Aims & Themes' text (above) we assert the “...transformative potential of a life associated with practice”. But how and where, exactly, should we locate this? Can the inner lives of makers and designers (pace Walker, Designing Sustainability) really offer sufficient resources for change when these subjects have themselves been forged in the blast furnace of post-war consumer individualism? In this context a revived debate about the exceptionalism of art and craft production in relation to commodification (pace Dave Beech’s “Art & Value” and John Roberts “Labor, Emancipation, and the Critique of Craft Skill”) is also relevant. Roberts locates any emancipatory potential in the relative control of the maker over her productive time - the politics of time and tendency to negate the past for an ever-present moment being viewed as a fundamental characteristic of, especially capitalist, Modernity. However, is control over one's productive time the essential feature of craft integrity, or is there also the element of (often hard won) agency at play in the intimate dialogic relationship with materials, as well as the consolidated oversight of the making process small-scale production affords? And to what extent can these aestheticized views of craft labour be diffused into the wider economy through mutually supportive maker ecologies?

On the consumption side, can consumer patterns realistically be reconfigured around a new (following Soper) ‘hedonistic consumer’ desire for socially equitable and environmentally responsible modes of being? Or does the idea of a sustainable Modernity necessarily imply a turn to new interpretation of collectivity – perhaps (given current trends) in correspondence with a rising regional and nationalist sentiment that, in the face of austerity and an accelerated capitalism that includes the increasing monetisation of areas of ‘private life’ (i.e., the ‘gig’ economy and emergence of so called ‘Platform Capitalism’) calls to patriotically support economically beneficial neighbourhood alternatives to globalised production and consumption? Seen in the UK context of Brexit, if there is a significant deepening of austerity, are we facing a situation in which make-and mend, re-cycling, up-cycling (etc) become necessary economic obligations for many rather than aesthetically based lifestyle choices?

We welcome contributions that might explore these and related themes, and although we are not seeking historiographical debate on Modernity’s periodisations per se, we are of course open to critiques of our use of the term ‘late Modernity’ where it might be argued that this does not adequately capture the present context in which craft and maker cultures must operate.