The process of learning craft knowledge in the case of pottery in the UK

Li, Mixue (2023) The process of learning craft knowledge in the case of pottery in the UK. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis explores the nature of craft knowledge and how and where this knowledge can be learnt. Intrigued by the tension between the risk of pottery craft knowledge being lost and yet the persistence of pottery in the UK, I started to explore why and how this craft resilience happened and is still happening today. There are two aspects which affect the teaching and learning of craft knowledge: the contextual conditions, and the nature of craft knowledge. The contextual political, social, cultural, organisational, economic, and spatial factors have affected the teaching and learning of craft knowledge differently throughout history. These systems have both supported and disrupted the sharing and development of craft knowledge across time and space. Besides these contextual conditions, the nature of craft knowledge has also affected this process.

The tacit nature of craft knowledge makes it difficult to teach through formalised language, and, therefore, hard to learn independently from the knowledgeable or share separately from particular communities. There is various literature discussing the teaching and learning of craft through the perspectives of embodiment, master-apprentice relationships, and social communities. However, less attention has been paid to the material perspective when considering craft teaching and learning. Therefore, this thesis explores the materiality involved in embodiment, master-apprentice relationships, and the physical space of a pottery studio. Responding to the resurgence in craft practice in potters’ studios and the theoretical approach to craft learning, this research constructs a theoretical framework of craft learning. Additionally, it explores the micro mechanisms of developing craft knowledge in the studio space in order to support the effective teaching of craft knowledge. Within these contexts, I ask the question: how is craft knowledge learnt in the perspective of relationships between potters and matter, less and more experienced potters, and the learning in studio space?

Within this research, I conducted interviews with 20 studio potters in the UK and observed my own pottery learning experience to explore the various relationships between teacher, learner, materials, tools, equipment, space, and time. New materialism provided the theoretical approach to analyse these relationships.

The research findings show that non-humans played active roles in the production of craft knowledge and process of learning. Potters learnt craft in the moments of touching and feeling non-human actors’ movements. They listened to the clay, embodied themselves into the tools, and kept pace with the movements of potter’s wheels. Their level of expertise increased through the process becoming attuned with the movements of non-humans. Learning craft also emerged from the intra-actions between non-humans, for example in the firing of pots. This materialised sensitivity was key to the sharing of craft knowledge between the master and apprentice, teacher and learners. This craft learning happened, affected, and was affected by the particular material arrangements and layout of the studio space. The meaning of space was affected by spatial activities and it transformed and changed. In this studio space, the various relationalities between human and non-human actors were shifted, transformed, routinised, and destabilised across time and presented in the moments of practice. The social, imaginative, and material aspects of spaces were co-constructed and weaved together in the physical space of studio.

Through the research findings, a conceptual model was developed and constructed to locate craft learning in the aspects of social and material relationships. Previous research has discussed the social relationships and embodiment in the teaching and learning of craft knowledge, however, the aspect of materiality still needs more attention. Therefore, this research contributes to the understanding of craft knowledge, and where and how to learn craft knowledge, through exploring materiality in the micro mechanism of craft learning process. The perspective of materiality, drawing from new materialism, also contributes to the understanding of research methodology through reconsidering the active engagement of non-humans in the research process and recognising the uncertainty, fluidity, and changes present when conducting research. Additionally, this research contributes to the understanding of practical perspectives within the learning of craft knowledge in a small studio space and suggests policies to rebuild the physical and material spaces of studios to revive and reconstruct craft knowledge, craft practice, and craft communities.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Wedekind, Volker
Holstein, Jeannie
Keywords: Pottery craft, craft knowledge, craft learning, new materialism, materiality, intra-actions, space-time
Subjects: T Technology > TT Handicrafts. Arts and crafts
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 76439
Depositing User: Li, Mixue
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2023 04:40
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2023 04:40

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