Crafting in Industry

Plymouth College of Art in association with the School of Arts and Humanities, Royal College of Art. Convened by Dr Peter Oakley, Senior Tutor (Research) RCA and Rod Bamford, Head of Programme for Ceramics and Glass, RCA.

Crafting in Industry (selling out or buying in?):

The modern notion of craft that developed during the nineteenth century, and held sway throughout the twentieth, relied heavily on an opposition to industrial mass production1. We now live in a new and more complex set of circumstances, where the dominance of mass production, and mass consumption, of limited ranges of identical goods has been usurped by ever more diversity in the types of objects both available and desired. The realisation of this materially-based social differentiation has been facilitated by cumulative changes in the manufacturing sector. One obvious aspect is the adoption of new technologies. Over recent decades, novel digital production processes have made more extreme objects not only possible, but also much less expensive, to produce2. This expansion of manufacturing possibilities has occurred alongside fundamental changes in the way commercial manufacturing is structured: the monolithic assembly line, static product range, and conventional fixed 'bricks and mortar' points of sale are no longer ubiquitous; flexibility in production, distribution and retailing strategies are now the order of the day3. Over the same period, the process by which new product lines come into existence has also been disrupted. The idea that the professional designer is the undisputed lynchpin of innovation is under attack by the material scientist on one hand4 and co-design on the other5. These changes on the supply side are intertwined with the democratisation of luxury as a social force. Goods once assumed to be restricted to a limited wealthy clientele are now aspired to by a much larger segment of the population6. Today, limited run and bespoke, customised goods are being eagerly sought after by many customers as marks of social distinction.

So where in this brave new world does crafting reside? As Adamson noted, the ideals and expectations of the craft movement never lined up with reality. In many cases, practices we would now class as crafting activities were more frequently found in the industrial factory than outside it, and many craft skills reached a pitch of excellence within industry well beyond that evidenced outside of it. Today, as mass-production in the classic sense becomes obsolescent, craft skills are once again being publicly celebrated, but only in limited contexts. Sennett’s definition7 is not yet the widespread public perspective, nor the one commercial manufacturers are keen to promote. Rather than intelligent manual making that is engaged with real world issues, it is the romantic ‘Arts and Crafts’ notion of crafting as timeless expertise, far removed from economically sustainable production, that is typically being referenced in mainstream advertising campaigns8.

This Making Futures workshop will explore the current condition of crafting in industry. We are seeking participants who want to critically examine any or all of the issues described above. This may be done through: case studies (both contemporary and historic); critical descriptions of personal experiences of working as professional craft practitioners in or with industry; comparative studies of related industrial practices, expectations and aspirations. Without aiming to reach a settled consensus, the intention is to consider how far the new theoretical approaches to crafting are borne out by craft practitioners' and academic researchers' actual experiences, observations and analysis of specific situations, as well as identifying some of the emerging new roles of crafting in industry. 

Crafting in Industry Panel Session.

This workshop panel, chaired by Dr Peter Oakley, will consider the different ways crafting, as ‘intelligent making’, interacts with industrial manufacturing in the contemporary world. The session will start with a short introduction by Dr Oakley, which will highlight some of the key aspects relating to the topic in order to frame the session. Then the panelists will each give a presentation focusing on a particular issue or aspect of crafting in industry in the UK or overseas. This will be followed by a panel comment-and-response conservation. The format is intended to be more inclusive than the more traditional academic paper sessions that form the rest of the workshop. In line with this approach, part of the time will be devoted to an open discussion where we will encourage audience participation.

The session is, in part, an opportunity to unpack the content and implications of the conference’s first keynote presentation in greater depth. So space will be given to reflecting on how past and recent theoretical positioning of craft has affected specific types of crafting practice and influenced specialist craft practitioners working in contexts beyond the stereotypical craft studio. Alongside this, the consequences of wider ‘real world’ influences and pressures (including culture, economics and politics) on the identity of craft practices and craft practitioners will also be on the agenda.

As part of this topic, the session will consider the growing impact of formal academic research projects, knowledge exchange activities, economic and social development interventions and current political agendas on craft practices as they relate to manufacturing. This will include considering what roles grant funded research and advocacy and policy reports currently, or could, fulfil in the current political and cultural landscape.


  1. Adamson, G., 2013. The Invention of Craft. London: Bloomsbury.
  2. MaDE (2007) ‘Rapid Manufacturing: new possibilities for materials and design’, Essays to accompany the MaDE workshop presented by the Royal College of Art at the Materials KTN Annual Meeting, 24 April 2007. London: Royal College of Art.
  3. Chryssolouris, G., et al 2009. ‘Digital manufacturing: history, perspectives, and outlook’. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Part B Journal of Engineering Manufacture Vol.223 No.5: pp451-462
  4. Küchler, S. and Oakley, P., 2014. ‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material world’. In: Penny Harvey et al eds., Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion. London and New York: Routledge.
  5. Prahalad, C.K. & Venkat Ramaswamy, V., 2004. The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers. Harvard Business Review Press.
  6. Featherstone, M. 2014. Luxury, consumer culture and Sumptuary Dynamics. Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption. Vol.1 No.1. pp47-69.
  7. Sennett, R. 2008. The Craftsman. London: Allen Lane.
  8. Passariello, c., 2010. ‘U.K. Bans Two Vuitton Ads’. Wall Street Journal. May 27 2010. . Accessed 21/12/16.