Reflecting on the relationship between craft and history: perspectives, resources and contemporary implications

Blundel, Richard (2018). Reflecting on the relationship between craft and history: perspectives, resources and contemporary implications. In: Bell, Emma; Mangia, Gianluigi; Taylor, Scott and Toraldo, Maria Laura eds. The Organization of Craft Work: Identities, Meanings and Materiality. Routledge Studies in Management, Organizations and Society. Routledge.



This chapter examines one of the more prominent features of the complex and often highly contested relationship between contemporary forms of craft and their earlier incarnations. It responds to a persistent conceptual challenge that also has significant practical implications:

‘This false choice of modern craft, between present and past, complicity and detachment, is a discursive trap. Only by traversing that dialectic can craft be a powerful agent of change, both morally and economically.’ (Adamson, 2013: 210)

The chapter considers how craft researchers might draw fresh insights from historical studies in order to bridge this temporal divide. I hope that the examples might also prove helpful to practitioners as they seek to incorporate and transcend the legacies of previous generations.

The chapter is divided into three sections. First, I summarise the main themes identified in the existing body of research and illustrate how historically-informed studies have shed new light on craft practice and modes of organisation in the modern era. The second section is concerned with the different ways in which craftsmen and others, such as market intermediaries and connoisseurs, have enrolled historical narratives and associations as a resource, typically with the aim of either promoting or defending particular craft products, practices or values. The third section offers some concluding remarks on the scope and limitations of historical research methods, and how they might contribute to future work in this area.

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