Book Recommendations

March 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

The first interview I’ve conducted for this blog is on its way soon to being published here. In the meantime, here are some books you might want to check out if you’re interested in any of the themes I’ll be exploring!

Adamson, Glenn, ed. The Craft Reader. Oxford: Berg, 2010.

This book is a compendium of essays, book excerpts, and other writings about craft. Adamson’s definition thereof extends beyond the traditional categories of handmade objects and to something wider and more fluid: “the application of skill and material-based knowledge to relatively small-scale production… a set of concerns that is implicated across many types of cultural production.” The collected literature is organized into seven thematic and roughly chronological sections, with each reading individually introduced. There is a large emphasis on the political nature of craft and its role in contemporary economic and social environments, as well as the ever-present struggle between handcrafting and technology. Of particular relevance to this blog is the final section, “Contemporary Approaches,” which touches on concepts such as subcultural craft, the rise of digital technology products (such as smartphones) as a way to mediate the material world, and handcrafting as a way to connect us back to ourselves and the physicality of nature.

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

The eponymous concept of this book comes from the retail industry, where it refers to products that aren’t bestsellers – ones that don’t sell much individually, but in aggregate comprise a sizable chunk of total sales. Anderson takes this idea and applies it on a wider economic and cultural scale. He argues that current technology has democratized methods of production, turned the economics of distribution from scarcity to abundance, and helped people search and filter for their obscure interests. Hence, it’s now possible for an infinite variety of specialized artifacts to be created by small-scale producers and made widely available and easy to find. The cultural result: society transitions from monolithic mass culture to a diverse collection of niches. Anderson focuses on digitizable media and communications because it’s where this phenomenon is most apparent (and digital items exist in infinite quantities), but he does mention that the theory can be extended as much to atoms as to bits.

Hodkinson, Paul. Goth: Identity, Style, and Subculture. London: Berg, 2002.

In this book, Hodkinson lays out a revised framework for contemporary subcultures, naming four interconnected criteria that determine the substantiveness thereof: consistent distinctiveness, identity, commitment, and autonomy. He then uses this framework to examine the late-’90s British goth scene’s social infrastructure. Because he is studying the community rather than analyzing the goth taste/aesthetic from a semiotic or other perspective, he could almost be discussing any major music-related subculture of that era. Therefore, although the subjects of his work are not really the same as of mine, his research has wide germaneness to the study of niche cultures in general, as well as the commonalities that do exist providing my research with some useful historical context. The book’s focus on pre-millennial society harkens back to a more analog, material era, but its concept of translocal mediated subcultures is even more applicable now than it was then (and especially relevant to my project is its discussion of independent creative commerce).

Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Sennett uses this book to explore the concept of craftsmanship, which he defines broadly as any practical activity done well for its own sake. Anyone can become a craftsman, he claims, because craftsmanship comes not from any innate creative genius but from the repeated practice inherent in developing technical skill. Not only that, but we should all aspire to become craftsmen, even if society has antipathy to it (not just because physical labor is looked down upon, but because of fears that our creations will destroy us), since developing technique teaches us about ourselves and the world around us – for example, dealing with resistance and ambiguity, identifying and solving problems – as well as helping us learn to express ourselves (in this sense he brings together the ideas of art and craft). Especially of interest is the way he focuses on tactile craftsmanship – making material objects – and the muscle memory and material consciousness it helps us develop.

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