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The Makers’ Tongue: Small stories of positioning and performance in the situated discourses of contemporary crafts practitioners

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis examines the situated language practices of a group of professional craftspeople. I proceed from a crafts literature whose orthodoxy is that craft practices and language are antithetical. My contribution to knowledge is to show that in contradistinction to the orthodoxy language is shown in this thesis to be a primary tool of meaning-making in the participants’ working lives.
Data, as audio recordings and subsequent transcripts were drawn from a case study; a series of talks that ran concurrently with an exhibition of the key participants’ work at a London gallery. The analysis pays close attention to the local, situated, talk-in-interaction of the exhibiting craftspeople and the other participants as they orient to a range of professional concerns.
I show how, as a particular field of the visual arts, craft has been shaped by its discourses, but argue that the local situated talk of the people that practise those crafts have rarely been attended to. Grounded in narrative methods and performance, the analysis reveals how talk as social practice enables the participants to position and categorise themselves and others in the local context as part of a wider landscape of professional roles and positions. The participants make available and work with locally-resonant concepts and meanings, mobilise reflective analysis and critique, negotiate membership, and exhibit affiliation to material resources, often by symbolic means. The participants’ use of narrative in the data tends toward unrehearsed, fragmentary speech that emerges in the here-and-now as part of ongoing accounts of working lives, thus prompting an orientation to small story research. As both a method and critical position, a small stories perspective enables the revealing of under-reported and non-canonical spoken contributions. Such an approach supports an understanding of the concerns of craft practices. Meaning-making is thus seen as an emergent social practice distinct from the distant descriptions often offered by much of the canonical literature.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2017


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