Reconsidering Craft as Pedagogy from Below
The IIAS Roundtable on Cloth, Culture and Development held at Chiangmai in August 2014 was the stage for the declaration of shared intention in the Preamble to an emerging manifesto on craft in Asia. It brought to centre stage the contemporary upsurge in demand (and patronage) for the handmade and the paradoxical devaluation of manual work and craft education. The various case studies presented illuminated the supplanting, sequestering and labourising of craft practitioners amidst a globalizing fascination and fashion for the handmade. The Roundtable acknowledged the rearticulation of craft within nationalist agendas of cultural preservation and economic development in different parts of Asia. But it also shed light, ironically, on the contemporary renunciation of craft-work as a viable livelihood option among the rising generations.
There has been a silencing of craft as anachronistic (and ‘aristocratic’) knowledge and practice under the dominant factory-based capitalist mode of production (Hobsbawm, 1984). Indeed, its erasure as a legitimate form of embodied learning has been pervasive. It is evident in the systematic inculcation and universalization of ‘disciplined time’ and its inscription on the labouring body, since the industrial revolution (Thompson, 1964). The disavowal of craft in the new millennium has been exacerbated by the ascendancy of what Ursula Franklin (1990) has termed ‘prescriptive technologies’ that promote a ‘production model’ of work-practice and knowledge transmission. Control-oriented education is the norm, itself viewed as an ‘act of depositing’ for the shaping of adaptable minds (Freire, 1970) and training of disciplined bodies (Foucault, 1977), in this all-embracing production mind-set. Eurocentric scholarship has also marginalised artisanship as an ‘Asiatic’ mode whose recovery in modernity via aesthetics, economics and epistemology, has been mainly via a nostalgia that reproduces, rather than rejects, the mind-body distinction. Craft has been a model for arts/design/technical (vocational training) education but not in the theoretical sciences engaged in the pursuit of rarefied knowledge. Craft mediates the separation between the humanities and the sciences and yet it is exoticised and infantalised in the image of the crafting (ethnological) ‘body at work’ (cf. Mathur, 2007).
In a world that values the written word as a reliable medium of knowledge transmission then, how does one imagine and represent craft pedagogy? We know that learning is co-constructed within what Lave and Wenger (1991) have called ‘communities of practice’ and is a social process rather than an abstract transmission of knowledge which, in some cases, is reluctantly passed on (Herzfeld 2004). Is there a way to recover the salience of the tacit and the tactical in pedagogy for “catching the implicit knowing of the [craft] profession” (Gamble, 2001) as it were? Can we think of new, and also highlight existing, ‘subaltern’ forms of mind-body concatenations that surpass and confound the naturalness of bodily ‘skill’ and inform what we are calling ‘pedagogy from below’?
The continuing process of decolonization of knowledge and transnational exchange provides both opportunities and challenges to explore and expand the sites of craft and its modalities of inculcation. There are many formal and non-formal arrangements that can be identified as discursive spaces of craft pedagogy at various levels in Asia. They include workshops, industrial and vocational training institutes, peripatetic masters/designers/teachers, artisan households and communities, alternative spaces for communitarian living, state and non-state centres for local-cultural preservation; ashrams/monasteries/temples; and visionary schools and universities. The binaries of a modern education - teacher vs. student; mind vs. body; public vs. private; work vs. leisure; conformity vs. creativity; credentialism and consumerism vs. human (soul) fulfilment; must be resisted and overcome if one is to consider a pedagogy that is through the body and with other bodies.
Bringing together people who have been engaged in practices of ‘pedagogy from below’, ‘pedagogy through bodily practice and experience’, or ‘vernacular pedagogy’, the Roundtable Reconsidering Craft as Pedagogy from Below seeks to renew the conversation on:
- Craft work as the site of ‘embodied learning’ (Marchand, 2008). Resisting conventional distinctions between mind and body, here ‘imitation’ and ‘repetition' take on meanings far removed from those attributed under Taylorism.
- Sites of innovation and change, not as spurts of individual genius but as a shared practice and collective ideal.
- Gender, class and caste hierarchies in the reproduction of craft work.
- Artisanship as a challenge to the capitalist logic of obsolescence, consumerism and private ownership.
- The on-going dialogue between craft work and newer forms of technologies and changing local ecologies.
- Envisioning an e-University facilitating craft work as a legitimate and viable option in the contemporary world.
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