Artisan production is improvisational and inventive, but officials try to conserve craft by codifying techniques. This panel explores the appropriation of artisan knowledge and investigates struggles between craft communities and institutions over ownership, authenticity and the right to innovate.
Artisans worldwide acquire trade skills via apprenticeships and through long-term, direct engagement in communities of practice. Training and knowledge in these milieus typically exceeds language and is seldom recorded or prescriptively delineated. Professional identities, social status and expertise are therefore negotiated and staked through an articulation of know-how that far exceeds technical ability, and often includes distinctive comportment, moral agency, acute awareness of environmental variables, and the possession of trade secrets. This complexity of knowing enables improvisational response and licenses creative innovation, often framed within a discourse of 'tradition and continuity'. In contrast to the seeming fluidity and dynamic nature of artisan knowledge, the crafted object in circulation is readily amenable to empirical classification and evaluation. Artefacts deemed to possess economic or symbolic worth, or to be 'endangered', have increasingly become the target of Government bodies, special interest groups, museums and vocational institutes who seek to conserve and perpetuate the associated craft by codifying its technique and locating its reproduction within legal, typological and pedagogical frameworks. As a result, the nature of artisan knowledge and its expressions of ownership are transformed. The papers in this panel explore these distinct ways of appropriating and articulating artisan knowledge and investigate the tensions that arise between craft communities and institutional apparatuses over struggles for ownership, claims of 'authenticity', and the right to reproduce and innovate. Equally, participants are encouraged to consider the bearing of the ethnographic enterprise on the dynamics of artisan knowledge and the sense of ownership within the communities we study.