Thursday, 18 August 2011

production and consumtion, London riots and craft

As the London riots were kicking off last week most commentators were going on about lack of respect, broken Britain and the breakdown of moral values, the proposed solution is normally increased discipline by home and state. I was blogging about my take on it, that being that these folk were just doing what we had trained them to do.

In the last week there have been some interesting articles one of my favourites titled The Politics of Desire and Looting and even a facebook group formed to explore how craft can be a stronger and more focussed force for positive social change. They aim to develop a "Makers' Manifesto" to draw attention to positive practical examples and set out the case for craft as a force for empowerment and hope." Grayson Perry's blog was as good as ever on the subject.

Clearly crimes have been committed and justice needs to be served but I feel we also need to do some soul searching as a society. Today the news says youth unemployment reached record levels in the UK with over 20% of 16-24 yr olds out of work, I don't have figures for the chances of a black man in South London getting a job before the age of 24 but suspect his chances in life are rather less than I was privileged to expect.
How do we turn this around? How do we motivate and incentivise folk? This entertaining youtube discusses what motivates us to work and comes up with surprising answers.

Of those looters we saw how many I wonder have ever been offered any opportunity that offered them the chance to achieve Challenge, Mastery and the sense of Making a Contribution? What a waste that we did not offer them that.

Does craft have anything to say about these issues? I believe the root cause of the problem is not lack of discipline but the avarice and lust for goods that we want, rather than need. This is coupled with the lack of meaningful work to achieve those desires.
This gives craftspeople a dilema, as a county we consume way too much stuff and send it to landfill, how do we convince people that happiness is not a new pair of trainers, plasma screen or BMW? What is craft going to contribute to that debate? As folk who market work as luxury products to aspiring consumers are we part of the solution or the problem?

Having worked alongside craftspeople for 20 years I find many, particularly traditional craftspeople, are also committed environmentalists. We mostly get into craft for lifestyle reasons and it goes along with the whole "Good Life" thing of growing your own veg, shopping at the wholefood co-op, buying locally sourced bread and organic meat etc. I suspect that on average craftspeople earn less and consume less of the earths limited resources than the average Westerner. I think perhaps the best we can do is set an example, to show that it is possible to live a really enjoyable, enviable life on less than £20,000 a year, we need to get that message across in the media and in my own little way I try to do my bit, with the blog etc and I'll be filming today for a BBC programme which hopefully may inspire more folk to choose fulfilling work over chasing money and stuff, to be proud of what they do instead of what they earn, of how they help others instead of how many holidays they have.

I suspect my work will not inspire our rioters as much as one of my heros Danny Macaskill, I have no doubt this young man suffered much prejudice as he hung out on street corners in his hoody with his bike, a friend of mine taught him to ride the unicycle and his teachers thought he was wasting his time playing on bikes, if you appreciate hard earned skill enjoy this.

What do we want these kids to do then? It's no use saying we just don't want them rioting. Most of our industrial creative jobs have gone, I think it is sad that there are not wholesome creative jobs that are valued within society but it could change, being a chef or a prep cook 15 years ago would appear menial, today it is sexy. We need to rediscover those values of the things in life that really make our lives happy and worthwhile, forget the expensive stuff, value freedom, achieve challenge, mastery and the sense of making a contribution.


  1. Spot on comments, Rob. I suspect there was a degree of opportunism with the rioting (strangely enough, there were reports here in Dublin that some people were trying to 'organise' rioting and looting after tonight's Leaving Cert (A Levels) celebrations in Dublin). Without doubt social media networks played their part. And I think you could argue that with the type of society we have designed, it was only a matter of 'when' and not 'if'. But many of these are peripheral issues: the key is to grab young lads (it's mostly lads, but obviously that's not to preclude girls) at the right age and give them something practical to do. In my Dad's day, it was further education (unusual) or a trade. The whole concept of trades has been devalued here in Ireland with our own state training body coming under scrutiny. It was rife with corruption and croneyism. The end-product was irrelevant to many in charge. So how to get these young folk into training programmes, not least with a craft element? Therein lies the trick, but without doubt your organisation is going the right way about it. Create the outlets for these traditional skills, create the need for craftspeople, and then hopefully normal supply and demand will kick in. I think I know enough about your aims to know you don't have any misty-eyed notions about craft. Craft should be alive and well, and be able to survive outside the cloistered surroundings of a heritage centre. But it can't be done without some form of government intervention. There is no one-size solution to our problems, but I agree a 'back-to-basics' approach in terms of skills would give lads a creative output. Listening to the radio at the moment, you would be forgiven for thinking that anyone NOT going to third level is a failure. Not a great message to send out.

  2. Superb blog - purpose and creativity is under-rated, consumption over-rated.