- Summer School
Reading Craft: Itineraries of Culture, Knowledge and Power in the Global Ecumene
The IIAS Summer School at Chiang Mai will focus on the theoretical issue of the knowledge production, transmission and practice of culture against the backdrop of historically contingent case studies featuring transnational circulations of craft. Cartographies, itineraries and biographies of craft are windows into craft-scapes which, much like Barbara Bender’s work on landscapes, are discursively constructed, disputed, worked upon from disparate frames of value and meaning, and used to accomplish goals pertaining to identity, heritage politics, knowledge and power.
The Summer School is an occasion to problematize conceptions of culture articulated through readings of craft across territorial boundaries, temporal episodes and knowledge categories. Alternative readings of craft seek to challenge place-based rootedness of culture in colonial, ‘cryptocolonial’ (Herzfeld) and postcolonial constructions in order to emphasize its circulation in global interactions and trajectories. Focusing on ‘social lives’ (Appadurai) or ‘cultural biographies’ (Kopytoff) through records of journeys undertaken and routes charted by the movement of individuals, materials, techniques, recipes, designs and objects within and across diverse epistemic regimes and contexts would allow us to ‘read’ craft from a global perspective.
There is a need for what Françoise Vergès, calls an ‘alternate cartography’, tracing the material lives and unexpected contributions of ‘the people without history’ in Eric Wolfe’s words - anonymous slaves, refugees, exiles, spies, servants and artisans, in colonial and postcolonial historiographies. Locating craft within global networks of power and knowledge at the Chiang Mai Summer School would not only help to recover subaltern micro-histories but also focus our attention upon counter hegemonic appropriations of materials, techniques, recipes, designs and objects over the long globalization. Engaging with the ‘epistemic travels’ and ‘itineraries’ of such knowledge, according to Pamela H. Smith, would expose those readings of craft which anticipated the construction of new regimes and hierarchies of intellectual authority since the beginning of the modern world. Identifying the shifting agents and sites through which craft as a discourse of culture is formulated and sanctioned in late capitalism would, moreover, spotlight the ways in which practitioners of craft are drawn into what Michael Herzfeld refers to as the ‘global hierarchy of value’.
Conversations at the Chiang Mai Summer School will revolve around critical reflections on craft in Asian contexts around the following sub-themes among others:
- Craft as a knowledge system, and knowledge practices of craft since the early modern era
- Circulation of craft in Eurasian networks of trade, power and cultural exchange
- Craft as postcolonial and crypto-colonial national heritage
- The production and reproduction of hierarchies of gender, class and race through craft – identity contestations
- Interrogating the “what” of craft: disputes over origin, ownership, authenticity, aesthetics, ethics and representation
- Engaging with the Local/Global dichotomy through the lens of craft
The Summer School, which will also include some hands-on experience with local artisans, therefore encourages participants whose work seeks to engage with the history and politics of craft through its reading within the long and global mobilities of science, technology, art and fashion.
Francoise Verges, Pamela Smith and Aarti Kawlra will lead the Summer School with Michael Herzfeld as guest co-convenor and Chayan Vaddhanaphuti as host co-convenor. Together they bring to the School a rich mixture of intellectual perspectives and individual trajectories to facilitate discussions with research students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds in an atmosphere of openness and inquiry. Exposure to various craft discourses and practices (indigo dyeing, hand-weaving and bamboo architecture among others) prevailing in the culturally vibrant context of Chiang Mai will provide an unprecedented learning experience for the participants. The conjunction of field work with classroom exercises at the Summer School will, moreover, help them as they pursue their own research projects, to elicit and develop new theoretical paradigms of craft informed by case studies from various contexts in Asia and elsewhere.