I am interested in how craft and making things is written about, where that language comes from, and what kind of language is used to write about craft. As a practitioner I have often found that written representations of contemporary craft feel distant, or inappropriate. I think this is partly because one of the tenets that has been maintained through much of that writing is that craft practice has very little to do with language, or what language is used for. But, at the same time, craft skills are often acknowledged to be socially distributed, and craft objects are often represented as being amongst the most humanistic, or socially connected of the plastic arts. None of us are isolated, separable individuals. Like almost everything else we do as people, craft practice relies on interaction and communication and language can be seen as the prime nexus of many of these interactions. My project then is to try to reveal an understanding of what language does, for and amongst, craft practitioners. Not the distant, abstract writings of academic literature, but the ordinary, unplanned spoken interactions of professional peers in the immediate sphere of being a craft practitioner.
Somewhat paradoxically I am doing this within the framework of a recognised academic structure – the thesis-based PhD. My principle reason in adopting a genre that appears so different to what I am studying – everyday talk, is to bring rigour and analysis to the framing of a subject that might be described as unplanned, contingent, and ephemeral – qualities that also lend talk its beauty and peculiarity.
I am not advocating that academic writing is necessarily the proper genre for all practitioners to communicate the concerns and orientations of crafts practice, but rather, I am employing it to properly validate the role of language in craft practice. I would argue though, that craft practice should have a more equitable relationship with the language around it.
The intention then is to reveal possible ways of framing theoretical understandings of craft practice that are closer to the sites and experiences of the doing of those practices by attending to the local discourses of those people. And to demonstrate that far from being silent, craft practice relies on talk as one of its most powerful tools.
I am currently five years into a programme of part-time study at King’s College London. My research can be broadly described as a linguistic ethnography, I make field recordings of extended episodes of naturally-occurring situated professional talk and make transcriptions. I then approach the data from the perspective of recognised apparatus from sociolinguistics and discourse analysis with the aim of revealing how spoken language is used amongst the participants and what it does for them.
The following are links to pieces of writing that have been published in that time.
History in the Making: The Use of Talk in Interdisciplinary Collaborative Craft Practice. in: Sandino, L. & Partington, M. (2013) Oral History in the Visual Arts. Bloomsbury. See the book here.
The Trouble With Verbs. Tools and Language. This was commissioned for the catalogue of the Tool at Hand exhibition and project. The online version can be seen in essays section of the website.
Triangulation: Working Towards a Practice of Collaboration: Co-authored with Alice Kettle and Jane Webb. In Revetz, A. Kettle, A. Felcey, H. Eds. Collaboration Through Craft, Bloomsbury 2013.