Craft, labour, and anthropology
Natalja Laurey writing on Anthropologue, a substack newsletter about anthropology, ethnography, and their intersection with social sciences, society, and design, has this 10 March 2022 post: Crafting: an approach to doing meaningful work.
The essay looks at craftsmanship as meaningful work, contrasts it with labour, or wage-slave drudgery, and asks whether an anthropological approach to craftsmanship could help us understand the relationship of work and society.
Both Sennett and Arendt are quoted which can only be good! Not that surprising a combination as Sennett quotes Arendt early in his book The Craftsman.
Laurey defines craft as a love of work combined with a willingness to experiment and think deeply about it.
What Sennett shows us in his book entitled “The Craftsmen” is that crafting is about showing up in your work with a certain commitment. An openness to give yourself to the job you do. Displaying a willingness to learn, to train new skills. To experiment, make mistakes, and moreover, falling in love with your job again and again.
This helps us enjoy life and work:
Once we know the bigger purpose of doing something, it gets easier to cope with adversity, change and periods of downfall. But once we lost this connection, work can become energy-draining and at worst frustrating.
In contrast to the ennui of labour — defined as work that is routine, boring, designed to be efficient for those in power; work that treats humans as machines, grinding our spirit down to the grey dust of balance sheets and profit margins.
Naturally, we rebel against this, seeking ways to turn labour back into craft. We want to tinker, play, to get our hands dirty, and develop our understanding through the practical doing of work that interests us — merging thinking and physical activity
For example, the process of generating an invoice bores me. It really does. But I enjoyed “wasting time” writing a standard operating procedure (SOP) that would help me, and others, do it quicker, and with less pain. Ironically, craftsmanship, playing with your work, can be efficient in the long term even if it is not seen as such.
An anthropological approach can help us understand our individual relationship with work and the relationship of work and society.
In the realm of organizational change and innovation we often think of ‘what is possible’ instead of what is socially desirable. The crafting approach - a deep investigation in what drives people at work - can offer an opportunity to craft organizational realities to which people want to belong and commit. Social research, especially anthropological fieldwork which pays attention to conscious and more unconscious behaviors, is relevant in gaining knowledge about people’s relationship with work, technology and each other.
1. We prefer craft to labour. One engrosses, elevates and enriches; the other demands, demeans, diminishes.
2. We have a desire to make, to tinker. We rebel against the mindless by marrying thought and practice.
3. We can improve society by understanding the difference between craft and labour.
4. An anthropological approach using listening, close attention, observation can help us understand ourselves and our society.
Link to “Crafting: an approach to doing meaningful work”:
Natalja Laurey profile on substack: https://substack.com/profile/43097956-natalja-laurey