Doing and talking : the value of video interviewing for researching and theorizing craft

Harper, Paul W. H. (2013) Doing and talking : the value of video interviewing for researching and theorizing craft. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis delineates a problem with researching and theorizing about craft. It argues that traditional epistemologies and academic conventions have not given sufficient recognition or value to the epistemologies and lived experiences of craft practitioners, and that they have served to obscure the centrality of practice to meaning. Consequently, there is a need to make craft practice and practitioners accounts more accessible to researchers. It proposes and tests a method using video recordings of practitioners working and interviews with practitioners in the loci of their practice as a tool, which, it is contended, provides a rich source of data about practice so that theory can be generated in a grounded way from practice.

It is argued that the idea of 'the crafts' is a late twentieth-century construct, but it has its roots in an ideological and intellectual tradition, expressed in the writing of the nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement. That writing was primarily concerned with the organisation and ownership of labour, with the moral and social purpose of art, and with creativity, given expression through the making process.

Since the 1970s, we have seen the emergence of a legitimizing infrastructure for 'the crafts' as a category, separate from but relating to art and design. The institutional craft world attempted to distance itself from Arts and Crafts ideology and from associations with the rural and the traditional. A key feature of the institutional discourse has been attempts to establish a definition of 'craft' as a singular thing within the sphere of its influence.

The thesis argues that the problematic relationship between theory and practice stems partly from this disjunction between the institutional craft world and the ideological and intellectual heritage of William Morris and his followers. It demonstrates that data gathered using the method proposed could make a positive contribution to emergent discourses on craft as experience.

Within the complexity of the data gathered using the proposed method, concepts and patterns are consistently observed. The subjects are seen to be engaged in self-determined activities which are nevertheless socially situated. They are using knowledge that is embodied and enacted, and which evolves through the practice. The data shifts the focus of critical attention from the objects that are being produced and onto the practice itself. This research method makes craft practices available to the researcher and opens up a critical focus on crafting as intrinsically rewarding activities that are facilitated by learned, embodied competence, based in shared values and standards.

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