Unravelling craft, technology and practical knowledge
Location M212
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 2


  • Anna Harris (Maastricht University) email
  • Ruth Benschop (Zuyd University of Applied Sciences) email

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Discussant Heather Paxson (MIT)

Short Abstract

This hands-on session addresses the re-conceptualisation of craft practices in contemporary life. Through creative contributions bringing together craftspeople/practitioners/artists and academics it will explore intersections of craft and thought, making and knowing, tradition and innovation.

Long Abstract

Craftwork has long been synonymous with handmade, bodily engagements with tools and materials. New technologies are currently reconfiguring craftwork in unexpected ways, and these emerging craft-technology practices are opening up domains for generative material thinking and sensory practical knowledge. This intersection of craft and thought, making and knowing, tradition and innovation is the focus of this session.

This panel invites creative contributions that engage with the re-conceptualisation, re-invention and re-enactment of craft practices in contemporary life, using a broad definition of craft. We specifically call for reflexive collaborative work that brings craftspeople/practitioners/artists and academics/theorists together in dialogue, not necessarily only verbally.

Topics addressed might include:

• Alternative sites of craft and knowledge production such as the maker movement, fablabs and artistic research

• Intersections between craft and knowledge economy, in particular cases such as the textile industry

• Cases of sensory knowledge as shaped by/through technologies

• Changing notions of skilled work and craftsmanship in professional and artistic fields such as architecture, design, medicine and engineering

There are increasingly more hybrid, wild research practices reimagining ways of making, thinking and researching. We encourage contributions that utilise innovative methodologies - ethnographic experiments, re-enactments, artistic research or multimodal/multisensory design for example - to address shifts from method to craft. In keeping with this approach, the panel invites contributions that not only reflect on craft practices but also illustrate them with and for participants in a "hands-on" style. To the audience we encourage thinking along, and yes, bring along your knitting!


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Counting stitches: alternative practices of measurement to build with a changing world

Author: Ester Gisbert Alemany (Universidad de Alicante)  email

Short Abstract

How can the architect, the engineer or the surveyor understand and work within a world in movement if his practices keep fixing the world? Alternative practices of measurement, templates, practical geometry and patterns will be explored.

Long Abstract

This paper is part of an ongoing research that problematizes modern practices of urbanizing land that try to fix the flows of materials of ground, water and weather. Looking at the beach in South East Spain and the practices of its inhabitants (humans and non humans) and aided by the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold, I've seen how, although the efforts made to fix them, flows of materials never stop. I've come across new understandings of infrastructure and our bodily relations to materials. Nevertheless it's still difficult to imagine how actual professionals, heirs of modern idea of design, can change their practical ways of working in correspondence with this world in movement. How can the architect, the engineer or the surveyor understand and work within this flow if his practices keep fixing the world? What is what makes it for us so difficult to work with the movement of the world and not against it?

I will try to contribute to these questions looking at some key practices of the art of "making things stick" (Barber 2007): measurement, templates, practical geometry and patterns with concrete ethnographic and historical examples and reflections from anthropologists and philosophers that show how it is possible to do it in alternative ways. But also, I will show how I'm trying to bring forth these reflections to alternative practices of measuring. Because as an architect, not unlikely Renaissance painters, merchants and sailors or medieval masons and peasants, or lace making apprentices, we also have "to learn to count out the stitches" (Mackovicky 2010).

Co-therapeutic and co-diagnostic objects within psychiatric occupational therapy

Author: Julie Sascia Mewes (Humboldt University Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

Psychiatric occupational therapy aims to support patients regaining their ability to function in everyday life through the use of objects. Crafting turns into a therapeutic practice, the produced objects develop co-therapeutic and co-diagnostic agencies within the process.

Long Abstract

Objects shape our everyday life in many ways. Objects, artefacts or materiality are central and defining topics in Science and Technology Studies.

Patients in mental health treatment are often considered to not be able to deal with their everyday life. During Occupational Therapy objects such as pencils, rattan, brushes or soapstone are intended to treat these patients. Crafting is transformed into a therapeutic process. What do patients learn and how do they and their therapists discuss how to reach therapy goals? How is the making of objects included in the process? Can objects have impact in therapy?

Despite the increasing attention given to objects in Science and Technology Studies and the vast amounts of concepts available for studying objects, discussions in STS are mainly of conceptual or methodological nature and rarely engage with the practicalities of applied ethnography with objects. The study is based on twelve months of participatory observations in psychiatric health care units in two hospitals in and around Berlin (Germany). It argues, objects become co-therapeutic and co-diagnostic converting crafting into a therapeutic process in order to be able to "do everyday life" and tries to find out, how objects unfold these material agencies within the process of making.

Key words: Medical Anthropology, STS, Objects, Making things, Making everyday life

Fabricating Empirical Prints

Author: Kasper Ostrowski (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

In this performance lecture I investigate and showcase how a handheld printing technique can be utilized as an interesting way of exploring materialities within STS. Deploying the theatrical notion ‘Verfremdung’, this session unfolds how Empirical Prints might be considered dramatic fabrications.

Long Abstract

"My earphones came out like an erotic picture"

(Denver 2015, EP participant)

In this performance lecture I investigate and showcase how an entirely analogue and handheld printing concept entitled 'Empirical Prints' might be utilized as an interesting way of exploring materialities within a STS setting. Materiality is a central theme in STS and arguably the field stimulates a concern with ways of enacting (often mundane) artifacts and materials in surprising ways, rendering them present and nudging us to include them in our investigations and accounts.

'Empirical Prints' (2014-) is a collaborative endeavor developed as an investigative non-digital concept combining academic STS perspectives with artistic relief prints.

In order to 'think slowly' (Bennett 2010) about and invigorate our attention towards humdrum objects we wanted to investigate an uncommon way of collecting empirical materials and re-enact them in an aesthetically unusual manner. To create a shared process-space and eliminate a problematic distribution-latency a rudimentary, but fully mobile and operational printing press system for making Empirical Prints on-location has been devised.

In this session I intend to fabricate a print, utilizing the handheld printing press, while pondering how the printing process and the reenactment of objects might be contemplated through the notions 'dramatic fabrications', inscriptions and Verfremdung. I claim that the Empirical Press could be considered an ethnographic experiment in which litter is turned into objects of inquiry and the audience is invited to re-consider the 'naturality' of everyday items by making the natural seem exotic.

Dismantling Design's Social Boundaries with Craft and Making

Author: Yana Boeva (York University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates how craft-like practices and participatory making technologies dismantle specific social boundaries between designers and users by drawing upon a description of projects and preliminary practice observation of makers and designers at work.

Long Abstract

Embracing users and their expertise with their craft-like practices and hands-on participation is central to the methods of well-tried participatory design and recent open design. Yet, in reality the position that designer and user are essentially different is still maintained. Acknowledging the expertise of design practitioners, it appears that design is anxious to be conflated with craft, a "pre-modern," non-exclusive activity of everyone. Such an anxiety sits amidst reflections upon the role of design among other human activities. Thus, turning this into a question of social status. However, craft methods expand the set of values of design by adding material truth, appreciation of skill and workmanship (Bean & Rosner, 2012). The recent (re-)emergence of craft-like practices and technologies such as electronic fabrication, additive manufacturing, and DIY culture, as "boundary objects" (Star & Griesemer, 1989) blurs the lines of design's social structures. The boundaries between professional and amateur are being dismantled with the potential to transform design practice and its consumption. Despite these promises, the craft-like practice of users often lacks recognition as design from a professional perspective.

Describing existing projects involving participatory craft technologies and open attributes in design practice, I will present a critical, STS-informed analysis of what it means to remove distinctions between designer and user. In addition, I will draw on preliminary interviews and practice observation of amateur makers, product designers, and researchers to exemplify how users' craft practices reconfigure the work of designers with respect to their authority.

Arts, Crafts, Anachronisms

Authors: Gert Verschraegen (University of Antwerp)  email
Wim Wauman (AP Hogeschool)  email

Short Abstract

This contribution is set up as a reflection on an artistic installation by visual artist Wim Wauman, within a woodworker’s showroom. In the installation, the artisan’s workshop – and the artist’s studio - is conceived as a laboratory for the creation of objects crossing boundaries of crafts and arts

Long Abstract

This contribution is set up as a reflection on artistic research dealing with craftsmanship under the conditions of contemporary global modernity. It primarily focuses and comments on an installation by artist Wim Wauman ( in a woodworker's showroom, which will be presented during the 'Coup de Ville' Triennial in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium (Sep 9th-Oct 9th, 2016). In the installation, the artisan's workshop - and the artist's studio - is conceived as a laboratory for the creation of objects with a highly ambiguous status, mediating the spheres of production and consumption, crafts and arts, making and thinking.

Our contribution will show how the installation re-imagines the practice of craftsmanship - which applies skill and material-based knowledge to localized, relatively small-scale production - and how this relates to the current context of globalized mass production and consumption. By showing the process of 'making' as an exploration of material contingencies, which is however not separated out or consciously opposed to meaning-making, we will reflect on the artisan's place in a culture which is increasingly mediated by new consumptive environments and digital technologies, as well as by renewed attempts to regain control over sociotechnical systems, aiming to democratize the tools and knowledge of technical production.

Obduracy and taciticity: Embodied knowledge and innovation

Author: Annapurna Mamidipudi (University of Maastricht)  email

Short Abstract

Using the case of handloom weavers in South India, this paper addresses obduracy and taciticity in embodied craft practices to conceptualize innovation that is applicable in contexts where obduracy and negotiation are more valued than change and disruption.

Long Abstract

Handloom weaving is the second most important livelihood in rural India after farming. Yet it is not always clear to policy makers and interventionists how to develop this sector. Standard notions of upgrading, scaling and improving productivity have proven counter-productive to the embodied nature of craft practices, destabilizing already vulnerable craft livelihoods. Craftspeople generally try to resist such change, and this is perceived as obduracy that comes in the way of their development. Instead, by analyzing handloom weaving as a socio-technology, it becomes possible to show how weaving communities are constantly innovating their technologies, designs, markets and social organization—even as their innovation remains tacit.

In this paper, I seek to address two related issues, obduracy and taciticity. While on the one hand we value technological change, on the other hand craft and craft practices are as old as mankind and have persisted right through industrialisation. This obduracy to change can be seen as positive -as stabilising livelihoods, maintaining social cohesion and sustaining the environment. Craftspeople also continuously engage their senses and bodily skills to transform material to standardized products. This engagement with a constantly varying material world makes craftspeople into problem solvers and innovators. Yet, this innovation expertise is tacit. Explicating this expertise requires us to conceptualise innovation that is normally seen as creative mental activity also as an embodied process. To this end, I elaborate on a concept of innovation in craft that is applicable in contexts where obduracy and negotiation are more valued than change and disruption.

Knowing, making, engaging. Insights from the case of tasting

Author: Anna Mann (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

STS scholars have brought out how tasting is a way of knowing and used for making objects. The presentation investigates how food archaeologists cook ancient receipts in front of tourists: tasting in a hybrid space. It, thus, sheds light on the relations between knowing, making and engaging.

Long Abstract

Taste is usually defined as a sense of the human body. Through tasting, so the assumption goes, people know about and make sense of the world they are embedded in.

Rather than taking this as a given, STS scholar such as Genevieve Teil (2001) and Jeremy Brice (2015) have studied ethnographically how tasting is done in practice. Their work brings out how, through tasting, wine experts know the quality of wine and producers make wine. Following their approach, the presentation will add to these cases, the example of tasting in a hybrid space.

It is based on ethnographic fieldwork that happened between 2009 and 2011. During this time, I observed, next to many other sites and situations, also what happened in the kitchens in Hampton Court Palace. This is a historic monument near London in which, once a month, experimental food archaeologists cook meals based on the receipts of Henry VIII in front of an interested public.

Drawing on ethnographic materials, the presentation will bring out how the goings-on in this place do tasting and what tasting does in them. My main argument will be that in this set of goings-on knowing, making and various other ways of engaging not only co-exist. They feed into each other as well.

Through the case of tasting, the presentation, thus, sheds light on the intricate relations between knowing, making and other ways of engaging in the world in hybrids spaces between craft and research, and contributes to our joint discussions about them.

Hands and plans: achieving dialogue between traditional crafts and technological systems at a high-tech building site

Authors: Håkon Fyhn (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)  email
Jøran Solli (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email
Roger Andre Søraa (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates how the practical skills of crafting professionals interact in dialogue with technology and planning in a high-tech building project. Through dialogue, a new relationship between doing and thinking is sought in the building.

Long Abstract

This is a close study of craftsmanship in action at a Norwegian building site, making wooden 9-floor tower blocks. While the building process is highly technologized, with extensive use of automatization and digital planning tools, the use of massive wood as the main material calls for traditional craftsmanship. In this situation the role of traditional building crafts is redefined. We approach this as a new relation between the doing and the thinking of building practice. This new relation is particularly visible in the ambition to engage the hands and heads of crafting in dialogue with technological systems and engineers, in a continuous development of building plans.

The paper analyzes this dialogue with particular attention to the way in which the hands-on world of craftsmanship, characterized by logic of doing, engages with the techno-theoretical world of the building plans, characterized by mathematical logic. In this dialogue, we find that the language of craftspeople is minimalistic. By few words, much of the meaning rests on a large sphere of tacit knowing enfolding the skills of the craft and the ever changing materiality of the building site. The ability to point to the world of doing is essential in for the thinking of the dialogue.

The paper describes a possible path for the traditional crafts in high-tech building, where the relationship between making and thinking is enhanced in formalized dialogue. This study is empirically based on participatory observation among craftspeople in the building process.

Urban soils with a sideway glance

Author: Germain Meulemans (Centre Alexandre Koyré)  email

Short Abstract

Both the soil sciences and anthropology are growingly turning towards open-ended making practices. I interrogate how the two fields can resonate, and present an art-science experiment that explores the intertwinement of human and soil becomings in cities through direct engagement with them.

Long Abstract

The soils of cities are becoming an important subject for the soil sciences, triggering revisions in their usual modes of research and concepts. One implication of this is the resort to the 'ecological engineering' of soils, framed as a research in soil processes through the active making of soils from scratch. In this, several voices from inside the Soil sciences call for a move from descriptive research to open-ended experimentation. A similar move has also been called for in anthropology. Ingold, notably, suggests to revive the 'craft of anthropology' (2008), encouraging anthropologists to participate in the carrying on of life through craft and experimentation, rather than restraining to retrospective accounts of its unfolding dynamics. How, then, can turns towards making resonate between the practices of soil scientists and those of the anthropologists that attempt to study them?

In this paper, I present a collaborative experiment between artists, anthropologists and soil scientists that was carried out in a series of residences near Paris between 2015 and 2016. The residential sessions consisted in a continuation and speculative exploration of the questions raised in both the soil sciences and anthropology in an experimental, creative way - addressing the intertwinement of human and soil becomings from direct engagement with them. The paper addresses how such experiments can be a research process, aimed at exploring the world 'with a sideway glance' (Ingold, 2008). The paper concludes with open questions on where anthropological investigation through art making might play a role in the future of disciplinarities.

The Maker's Chain: recognizing craft in making

Authors: Andreas Lund (Umeå university)  email
Mikael Wiberg (Umeå University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper introduces the Maker's Chain as a conceptual tool to recognize craft in making with digital fabrication combined with traditional techniques. The extent to which something is an object of craft is determined through interpretation of each link in the chain and of the chain as a whole.

Long Abstract

In this paper we explore how the tradition of craft can be re-visited to assist a move beyond 3D-printed objects. While digital technology and 3D printing offer precise tools for the repetitive and precise manufacturing of objects we argue that the closeness to "the materials at hand", and as such a vital aspect of craftsmanship, is lost at moment.

Through practical design cases we illustrate how we have experimented with ways of re-introducing craftsmanship in the making of 3D-printed objects, as an opportunity and as a necessity for moving forward.

Based on our work in this project we suggest a way of theorizing making as "chains of material transformations". Each link in a maker's chain is described in terms of the risk and certainty of the transformation and whether it deals with digital or physical materiality. We argue that the objects of making can be recognized as objects of craft by looking at the individual links and the chain as a whole.

In order to analyze these links and chains we have used David Pye ́s (1968) notions of "workmanship of risk" and "workmanship of certainty".

Based on this analytical work we suggest that the fundamental idea introduced by Donald Schön that design is "a conversation with the material" is fundamentally challenged when digital technologies stand in the way of direct conversation with materials. Also, we challenge this separation between the hand and the object being designed by combining digital and physical tools and materials in the process of making.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.