Proceedings

These proceedings (download below) try to capture the jest of the discussions that were held during the five-day Workshop on Craft and Innovation in Chennai, India, 29th Jan to 2nd February 2016. The workshop was co-organised by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) and Maastricht University, with support from the Kalakshetra Foundation and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM).

Two questions formed the starting point of this workshop: What is the role of craft in innovation and what is the role of innovation in craft? We hoped to contribute to a new understanding of technology embedded in society: from craft and τεχνη to technoscience and innovation. We also aimed to address political questions related to the sustainability of handloom and craft livelihoods and the role of crafts for a more sustainable society of the future.

The workshop thus had scholarly aims, and also institution-building goals. The scholarly aims were (1) to develop a new conception of innovation that recognizes the role of craft and skill in addition to knowledge; (2) to develop a new concept of craft to assist the sustainability and resilience of craft communities, by recognizing the role of knowledge and innovation in craft. The institutional aims were (1) to bring SHOT to India, also to stimulate the self-organization of Indian historians of technology; (2) to demonstrate the value of history-of-technology work for addressing pressing societal and political questions, in this case about sustainability of craft communities; (3) to bring India to SHOT, especially as a source of creative thinking about technology and culture and as a strategic site for comparative research.

In the workshop we used a comparative approach. The first comparative perspective is across time: comparing early medieval craft and technics with current crafts and technologies. The second comparative perspective is cross-cultural: comparing artisans/craft practitioners in medieval and early modern Europe with Indian handloom weaving and with Indian Carnatic musicians. These comparisons are challenging and go beyond existing conceptual frameworks. To make this work, we (1) engaged in additional activities, beyond scholarly discussion; (2) invited a broad range of participants—historians of technology, STS scholars, engineers, artisans and craft practitioners, designers, and musicians; (3) used more time (i.e. five days) than in a regular scholarly workshop and thus created more space for joint reflection and interactions.

These proceedings have a hybrid character. On the one hand we try to provide enough details of the conversations so as to convey the engaging atmosphere and the richness of views and examples; on the other hand, we have edited quite heavily the transcripts of the recordings to make the document accessible to a wider readership of non-participants. We thus do not offer a verbatim account of the discussions, and in many instances we do not specify the speaker. This seems to best capture the spirit of the workshop since the conversations developed into a set of views that were broadly shared by the participants; nevertheless, not all participants necessarily agree with every single statement in these proceedings. The editors did circulate the draft proceedings amongst all participants and revised the text according to their suggestions.

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