Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


8 March 2017

Craft, Creativity and Cultural Politics

Presented By Tom Thurnell-Read
  • 2-4.30 pm
  • U0.05 Brockington Building

About this event

From fashion designers to musicians, graphic artists to ‘artisan’ bakers and ‘craft’ brewers, occupations involving creativity and self-expression are frequently heralded as offering intrinsic rewards and the possibility of self-fulfilment characteristically lacking in other forms of labour traditionally seen as alienating and impersonal. In recent years, a revived craft ethos has been presented as offering new forms of expression which potentially reconfigures the way we understand work and identity as well as offering new connections between consumers and producers. Yet, as qualities such as passion, imagination and expressiveness are increasingly demanded of workers, the precarious nature of much creative labour raises a number of increasingly pressing questions relating to how creative labour is put to work in the neo-liberal economy. We might ask, who benefits from and who bears the risks of establishing and maintaining a creative career? Likewise, do discourses and practices of craft and creativity challenge or buttress social divisions and inequalities relating to gender, social class, age and privilege?

This event addresses the concepts of craft and creativity from a critical perspective and is open to Loughborough University staff and students from all Schools and Departments. External guests are also welcome, please contact the event organiser Thomas Thurnell-Read to confirm attendance.

Event Schedule:

Refreshments available from 1.30

2.00-2.05 Welcome from Prof John Downey, Director of Centre for Research in Communication and Culture (CRCC)
2.05-2.30 Dr Thomas Thurnell-Read
2.30-3.00 Dr Maud Perrier
3.00-3.30 Dr Lynne Pettinger
3.30-4.20 Prof Mark Banks
4.20-4.30 Closing Comments and Thanks

Event Speakers:

Dr Thomas Thurnell-Read (Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University)

The Cultural Politics of Craft Brewing

Taking as its starting point a series of qualitative interviews exploring the occupational identities of brewers working in small-scale breweries, this talk will consider the cultural politics of craft beer production and consumption. Thus, brewing beer is spoken of as a creative and rewarding enterprise which affords personal self-expression and increased connection between brewers, their equipment and materials and the consumers of their beer. Further, while craft brewers offer accounts of the embodiment of skill and passion in their work and the tangible rewards associated with their labours – from which we can draw notable parallels with work by Richard Sennett (2008) – it is important to analyse the craft brewer identity as gendered, classed and located within wider social and cultural changes. As such, the affective and embodied facets of craft are not accessible without drawing on pre-existing hierarchies of status and privilege both in the workplace and in the fields of leisure and consumption.

Dr Maud Perrier (School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol)

Contemporary Mothers’ Craft Groups as Feminist Spaces? Remembering Craft in the Women’s Liberation Movement

This paper explores the ways in which craft groups for mothers in a city in the south west of England can be (re)constituted as feminist spaces. Scholars have pointed to the growth of classes, services and products associated with pregnancy, birth and parenting as evidence of how contemporary cultures of motherhood are increasingly commodified and commercialized (Hewitson 2014; O’Donohoe et al. 2014; Tyler 2011). However, the feminist literature on women’s home-based self-employment through craft (Luckman, 2013) and craftivism (Bratish and Brush, 2011) have not foregrounded the specificity of maternal experience to craft economies. My analysis documents the ways in which most craft spaces for mothers are constituted through discourses of skills for employment, leisure or therapy. Based on ethnographic material, interviews with community craft practitioners and craft feminist workshops run at a local charity for single parents I ask to what extent do different craft groups provide feminist spaces of sharing and knowing? To what extent does the discourse of wellbeing, therapy or leisure incorporate elements of feminist praxis? I argue that the erosion of community spaces coupled with the increasing marketization of early maternal spaces demands that we seek connections with the history of craft in second wave feminism. I argue a remembering of craft’s relationship with the women’s liberation movement is necessary to inform a revived feminist analysis and praxis for 21st century motherhood better able to build alternative maternal economies.

Dr Lynne Pettinger (Department of Sociology, University of Warwick)

Judgement, Dexterity and Care in Creative Labour

In this talk I’m going to think about the concept of craft as a way to understand what bodies do when they do work. Taking two quite distinct types of creative labour - performing musicians and advertising creatives - I will explore what attending to the craft of doing work can reveal about creative labour. Craft here is understood as a concept for understanding work processes, whether or not the end product would be considered a ‘craft’ product. I see the embodied knowledge of the craft worker as involving judgement, dexterity and care. In contrast to the rather individualising discourses that surround common understandings of craft, I will argue that analysing creative work by thinking about craft forces attention to the routine elements of work, to the collaborative and negotiated elements of work, to the intensity and focus demanded when doing work and to multiple kinds of material objects, including technologies of production and ‘end products’. This kind of analysis can, I think, contribute to a refined understanding of what constitutes ‘creativity’ and self-expression through work, and hence to the politics of work.

Professor Mark Banks (Director, CAMEO Institute for Cultural and Media Economies & School of Media, Communication & Sociology, University of Leicester)

Justice for Cultural Objects

How can we do justice to cultural objects? I suggest partly by treating them with respect, on their own terms, and according to their own objective qualities. But this is not so easy to do, at least from a sociological perspective. Here, what is termed ‘cultural value’ tends to be regarded as subjective and arbitrary, and without objective foundation. Worse, it’s commonly argued that cultural value tends to act mostly as an instrument of social domination or oppression. However, from what we might term a more objectivist (or perhaps ‘aesthetically realist’) point of view the characteristic feature of any entity is that it does possesses objective qualities that render it sensible as a certain kind of thing, and as one distinct from others – a view I’ll explore in this paper. And I’ll also consider why doing justice to cultural objects might actually be necessary if we are to develop better and more holistic critique of the ‘creative economy’ itself.