Sub-theme 24: Craft in Modern Society
Call for Papers
The last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary resurgence of interest in craft and craftsmanship. Once thought to
be an obsolete mode of organizing and producing for modern society, now craft movements appear to be reconfiguring entire
sectors, with examples ranging from beer brewing (Kroezen & Heugens, 2019), to watchmaking (Raffaelli, 2019), to barbering
(Ocejo, 2017) and to maker spaces (Browder et al., 2019). In addition to the transformative powers of craft production, there
is also a surprisingly broad range of instances where heritage crafts have managed to survive despite pressures of modernization
and globalization, such as the case in musical instrument making (Cattani et al., 2017) or Japanese family firms (Sasaki et
al., 2019). Increasingly, management and organization scholars are paying attention to these phenomena across various strands
of research and are contributing to a growing understanding of (1) what defines craft as opposed to established theories of
organizing and (2) how empirically craft may be valued and organized differently across time and space. This sub-theme intends
to offer a setting for scholars interested in craft and craftsmanship to advance our collective understanding of the concept
and related phenomena and firmly establish craft as an object of investigation and theorization in its own right.
According to leading dictionaries, craft can be defined as “skill” or “dexterity” that is often applied in combination with “experience” and “careful attention” to the “making” or “manufacturing” of “objects” that typically requires “handwork” (Cambridge Dictionary; Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster). However, it is also evident that craft is not just a technical term but also subject to considerable social construction as it is infused with varying idealized norms and values (cf. Bell et al., 2018; Fox-Miller, 2017). As such, the concept is often stretched well beyond the narrow dictionary definitions. Telling are examples of the recent use of the concept in social science. Sennett (2008), for instance, regards the idea of craftsmanship as a philosophical “template for living” where craft is embodied in both skill and “spirit” which manifests itself in the “desire to do a job well for its own sake”. This is suggestive of a broader trend in society that is revaluing a concept that has long been associated with “low-status” manual work in comparison to “high-status” intellectual work (Snipp, 1985; Wrigley, 1982).
The phenomenon of revival and revaluation of craft in parallel with ongoing processes of modernization raises expectations for more inclusive and diverse ways of organizing. The contemporary appeal of craft seems multifaceted. Research suggests that it may be fueled by a fear of loss of human skill due to continued automation, robotization and technization (cf. Barley, 1996; Beane, 2019), seemingly related to the Marxist concern with “deskilling” (Braverman, 1974; Form, 1987). Simultaneously, it may be driven by a perceived loss of community, authenticity and “enchantment” in production and consumption due to continued globalization and standardization (Endrissat et al., 2015; Suddaby et al., 2017; Weber et al., 2008). The appeal of craft may also lie in its perceived potential to provide a more meaningful form of work (Bell et al., 2018; Hodson, 2001; Ranganathan, 2018), and suggested contribution to socio-economic and environmental sustainability (Kuijpers et al., 2019; Thompson, 2018).
However, craft organizing is not naturally virtuous. History shows that it may also have darker sides. For instance, traditional craft was strongly associated with a lack of innovation (Kieser, 1989), parochialism and patriarchy (e.g., Adler, 2015; Burris, 1989), and some have argued that the contemporary craft movement may have been largely captured by the elite with little benefit for the rest of society (Ocejo, 2017). There is thus a need to advance our critical understanding of processes of craft decline and revival in order to be able to assess if craft can indeed live up to all these promises.
Beyond the role of craft organizing in addressing grand challenges in society, the day-to-day organizational challenges faced by craft firms raise interesting questions as well. Both heritage craft firms with extensive pedigree and craft revival firms appear to face unique tensions they need to solve in order to be successful. They often need to somehow balance the preservation (or pretense of) of traditional skills, techniques and materials, while at the same time innovating and adapting to evolving economic, technological and social conditions (Beverland, 2005; Sasaki et al., 2019). Similarly, they need to grapple with the fact that the contemporary appeal of craft often taps into cultural fantasies of an idealized image of making that may require a certain degree of “staging” (cf. Suddaby et al., 2017; Federici, 2019). Finally, the ultimate viability of craft organizations depends on a careful balancing of artistic and cultural expression (broadly understood) with efficiency and commercial utility (Becker, 1978; Patichol et al., 2014). Though similar tensions may be faced by any type of organization, these tensions seem to be particularly pronounced for craft organizations and appear ripe for dedicated exploration.
In sum, we believe that organization scholars are very well positioned to contribute to a deeper understanding of craft as an alternative mode of working, producing and organizing in modern society. More precisely, we suggest that the phenomenon of craft is deserving of dedicated theory that can be contrasted with and compared to established organizational theories such as scientific management (Taylor, 2003), bureaucracy (Weber, 1978) modern professionalism (Abbott, 1988) or the network organization (Powell, 1990). As such, the goal of this sub-theme is to exchange dialogue and collectively advance research on craft from multiple theoretical dimensions. Possible topics include, but are not limited to the following:
What is unique about craft work and craft forms of organizing compared to established organization and management theories?
Why and how do craft modes of organizing decline and why and how do they resurge?
Why and how do heritage crafts survive?
What is the relationship between craft survival and organizational forms that more readily focus on the longer term, such as family businesses?
How do craft firms manage fundamental tensions such as those related to tradition vs. innovation, mundane vs. imagined practices and artistic vs. commercial utility?
When and how do craft movements lead to desirable societal outcomes and when and how do they merely lead to decoupled “craft-washing”?
How is contemporary craft work different from traditional craft work?
(How) can craft principles be meaningfully reinserted in corporations, whether industrial manufacturers, family businesses, or professional service firms?
(How) do contemporary craft firms organize learning and skill development differently than other types of firms?
What is the role of consumers and other stakeholders in the success and failure of craft movements and craft firms?
How ‘gendered’ is craft work and craft entrepreneurship, and what are the unique challenges faced by female craft entrepreneurs?
When and how are craft firms perceived as legitimate or authentic and when not?
What is the role of craft across different social strata (e.g. upper vs. lower class or advanced vs. emerging economies)?
How can craft alleviate hardships that people experience, such as poverty, displacement, and isolation?
How can craft facilitate meaningful work? What are the dark sides of craft organizing?
How are craft-based occupations different from other types of occupations?
We invite theoretical and empirical papers using qualitative or quantitative research methods that address these and related topics. We encourage submission of papers that describe craft dynamics in both typical and atypical settings.
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