Industrial Crafts Research Network

The Industrial Crafts Research Network is an international, interdisciplinary research network of academics, museum professionals, designers and practitioners dedicated to the study of and communication of materially engaged embodied knowledge related to the cognitive ecologies of mechanised production environments.


0 new

0 new

0 new

0 new

Project log

Simon Penny
added an update
Industrial Crafts Research Network
Mission Statement and Prospectus
Draft4.1 SP for ICRN. 24Feb21.
The Industrial Crafts Research Network is an international, interdisciplinary research network of academics, museum professionals, designers and practitioners dedicated to the study of and communication of skill and knowledge within Industrial Crafts. ICRN focuses on skilled practices specific to industrial contexts. It deploys ethnography and leverages the theoretical perspectives of embodied, enactive and distributed cognition to understand these practices in the context of tools, materials, procedures and working environments. ICRN publishes research about these understandings and applies them in developing exhibits and displays that communicate ‘know-how’ in museum and pedagogical environments, using sensor, robotic and interactive technologies.
What are ‘industrial crafts’?
By ‘industrial crafts’, we mean a wide variety of skilled and artisanal practices from the early modern period to the present day that have emerged in association with the development of industrial technologies and thus may be contrasted with both pre-indistrial crafts and ‘studio’ crafts. Industrial crafts are defined by scenarios of distributed cognition among externally powered machine systems that combine varieties of information ’storage’ with varying degrees of process automation. They involve new materials, especially cast iron, and new power sources (e.g. coal fired steam) related to new processes of extraction, refinement and synthesis – mining, metallurgy, chemical engineering. Examples of environments of industrial crafts includes printing, industrial ceramics and musical instrument making, as well as all manner of skilled practices in the textile industry, to metal trades (precision machining and manufacturing) to heavy industry (boiler-making, shipbuilding and foundry-work).
Why study industrial crafts?
In the UK and Europe, and in parts of the USA, the notion of Industrial Heritage has a key place in cultural and social history, and the teaching of such. Much of this work, for obvious reasons, has focused on the history of invention, and the history of economic development, and has drawn on textual historical records, the built environment, and archeological remains. This has tended to fall into the conventional ‘history of great men’ mode that has been roundly critiqued from feminist, postcolonialist and labor perspectives. What is less well examined and less celebrated is the of experience of workers, and their special skills (the exception being in ‘working museums’). Such skills, owned by workers, were seldom documented (seen as unimportant) and are inherently difficult to document (cf: Tacit knowledge, Polanyi). But without these skills, usually passed on on-the-job (sit by Nellie) the entirety of industrial production could not occur. Embodied cognition is therefore an evanescent but key component of industrial history. As deindustrialization transforms workplaces and the last surviving practitioners of many of these skills are passing, there is an urgency in capturing this knowledge, in order to create a more complete representation of the history of the period and in order to communicate the embodied qualities of such skills. ICRN proposes interdisciplinary study of skilled practices in this domain. We see this as adding a new dimension to the study of and of history of the industrial period its presentation. In doing so, it also provides understanding these matters as they have unfolded during the 20th century, which is important to understanding the present, but also will help generate insight and raise questions about more distant pasts.
Theoretical Topics and Approaches
ICRN focuses on the human experience of industrial crafts, with particularly their cognitive dimensions. ICRN leverages paradigms of embodied, enactive, situated and distributed cognition in its analysis of these practices. Where experts survive, ethnography is central. In other cases, we rely on literature and other ephemera (surviving objects, designs, floorplans, managerial records) and have to interpolate bodily practices. New methodologies may need to be developed. Aside from its radical interdisciplinarity, ICRN’s emphasis on embodied experience informs a range of novel theoretical, methodological and design questions.
Emergent historical process, not revolution: Avoiding totalizing and technologically determinist historical models. Artisanal crafts were not replaced, wholesale, by automation and mass production. The transition from artisan to factory-fodder was neither instantaneous nor uniform, with significant discrepancies between industries and between geographical locations. The process evolved over 150 years of technological and social development (emergence of urban proletariat, anarchism and socialism, unions, child labor laws, planned communities and colonialism, etc.) where crafts people became skilled machine operators and new cognitive ecologies slowly formed. Artisans developed or adopted new technologies (as they do today) or were drawn into larger industrial complexes that needed their skills. In the process their skills underwent slow transformation (as was the case, for instance, with digital technologies in clerical work in the last C20th).
Cognitive history: the ‘sooty stepchild' thesis. While we will not pretend that industrial working environments were some kind of historical Cinderella, we argue that the industrial crafts comprise an under-recognised and important historical stage in the transition from the (romanticized) artisanal crafts to the (valorised) human computer interaction.
Standarisation and Ergonomics. The increasing theorisation of standardisation and industrial labor developed parallel to industrialisation, from Adam Smith’s pin factory to the studies of Babbage’s industrial efficiency studies, Taylorism and Fordism time and motion studies, and ergonomics. When human power is exchanged for external power derived from waterwheel or steam engine, the work of the skilled worker transitions to a new mode of monitoring, adjustment, calibration and maintenance.
Engineering as a scientific and academic discipline. The discipline of engineering came into existence during industrialization, and was slowly professionalized. Brunel senior brought the technique known as technical drawing with him to Britain from France, where it had been a military secret. The professionalisation of the discipline and the use of technical drawing also served to take control of design from the mostly illiterate (working class) artisans, moving design and specification from an artisanal/apprenticeship mode to a mathematized and representational practice. In the USA, the first PhD in engineering (technically, applied science and engineering) was awarded by Yale University in 1863. Union College (Schenectady NY) was the first liberal arts college to offer a civil engineering program (1845).
Analog computing. A text, table or diagram stores abstract information, but a machine can store dynamical processes and procedures. In a simple case, setting a stop for a moving carriage permits repeatable events without constant monitoring. A mechanical drive and simple sensor (limit switch/latch/linkage) automates such a process. In this way, not only positions but temporal procedures are made almost infinitely repeatably - this is the essence of automation. A further refinement is establishing repetition with incremental change – taking up woven fabric on a roll or lowering the cutting tool on a planer. These are algorithms (programs) instantiated entirely in metal mechanisms. Operators were in some sense also programmers. The pre-history of computing is found in industrial machines, and the mechanical calculators that developed in parallel, with many commonalities (cf Babbages’ Difference Engine).
Scope. As of February 2021, ICRN proposes to focus on case studies in four industrial contexts: textiles, precision machining, brass musical instrument manufacture and shipbuilding.
Research Methodologies and Procedures
Distributed cognition and ‘cognitive ecologies’. In cognitive science over the last 30 years, increasing emphasis has been placed on the role of the body in cognition, and the role of structured physical and social contexts. These new approaches are called embodied, enactive, extended, embedded, situated and distributed, and ‘material engagement’. In some cases, they build on material, cognitive and cultural anthropology, and also from phenomenology as we as contemporary neuroscience and neurophysiology. We find the concept of ‘cognitive ecologies’ (Hutchins) particularly useful as a way of understanding the development of working environments in which workers developed sophisticated new sensibilities in sympathy with the machine environments they tended and worked in.
In these new industrial contexts of varying degrees of automation and use of external power, new cognitive skills developed which extended sensing and productive capabilities of workers. The machines often function as proprioceptive cognitive prosthetics. The ‘fine-tuning’ of constant sensory awareness – to certain flappings or clickings or grindings, amid a cacophony of machine noise, is a typical dimension of such cognitive development, as are: the sensorimotor attunement to the force required to pull a lever or turn a crank; attunement to other sensory cues such as odors; and the timing and choreography of complex whole-body operations. We propose to apply these new approaches to cognition as a way of understanding these practices as the expression of whole-body intelligences.
Offloading of cognition and labor. A key concept in distributed cognition is the notion of offloading cognition onto tools and structured environments. This allows for the streamlining of task and workflows and creates a situation in which a worker is dependent upon and immersed in a ‘network’ of non-human actants. Cognitive functions were offloaded onto closed loop mechanical systems and data and instruction storage (ie, Jacquard cards) that together comprise an industrial cognitive ecology. Industrial work environments are case examples of such structured environments, and their refinement was a characteristic of the development of the industrial work environment.
Ethnography and methodology. Such highly attuned awarenesses are often obscure to operators themselves, and untrained observers are usually entirely oblivious to them. In previous work (Twisthands at the deadstop) group members have employed ethnographic techniques. Part of the work of ICRN is to develop methodologies that capture the knowledge we seek with veracity. This may most effectively occur in sequential reflexive knowledge gathering in specific contexts.
Epistemological and ontological challenges. We explore and speak of embodied knowledge. As thinkers from Ryle (know-how/know-that) to Polanyi (tacit knowledge) to Pickering (performative and the representational idioms) have observed, there are deep challenges in representing such practices in the culture of the text. This problematic also justifies our project to build exhibits that communicated embodied knowledge more or less directly via kinesthetic/proprioceptive experience.
Industrial archeology and material culture analysis. In the absence of trained practitioners, we must rely on inference from extant material culture, such as surviving objects, machine design, factory floor layout, first and second person reports, drawings and photographs, and business records. Of special interest is damage and wear on machines, and ‘witness marks’ – marks made by users for calibration or as aids to memory. Interpretations of such are usually more informative when conducted by researchers with practical experience in related work or those trained in material analysis. In this work we endorse the reconstructive practices in contemporary archeology.
Progressive museology - the lived experience of the worker. To the conventional culture of exhibition of objects and texts (and the celebration of owners and inventors) we propose to add presentation of the experience of those whose daily work involved machines. This demands the development of a new kind of exhibit that can communicate something of the experience of use.
Simulation learning in exhibit design. On the basis of our research, we propose to develop sensorimotorically complex, embodied, interactive, partially ‘immersive’ or ‘augmented’ experiences that can stimulate the kind of embodied learning we are focusing on. Questions of the qualities of, and assessment of, experiences learned in simulation are central.
Symposia: Industrial Crafts Research Network - Symposium 1. Developing methodologies for documenting, understanding and communicating skilled practices of industrial environments
The goal of the event is to build a discursive environment and participating community. Presentations will be captured on video and made public. Papers and videos might be archived on ICRN website. Key questions:
How do we capture the embodied knowledges of skilled practitioners (the ethnography piece)?
How do we (re)capture embodied knowledges from ephemera when no skilled practitioners survive?
How do we build exhibits that communicate such working knowledges?
How do people learn proprioceptively?
Development Timeline
Draft mission /call - Feb21
List of participating institutions - Mar21
Invite keynotes - Apr21
Open call - May21 (publicise at BICCS and APA)
Event - Fall21.
Twisthands at the deadstop (video)
Twisthands and Shuttlekissers. Penny and Fisher. BICCS, May 2021. Pub: Form Akademisk.
Machine-made lace, the spaces of skilled practices and the paradoxes of contemporary craft production, Fisher and Botticello, 2018.
Consulting and presentations
American Psychological Association. Aug2021. Panel. Tools, cognition and skill in artisanal, industrial and digital contexts. Penny, Whitted, Fisher, Mazalek.
Design Research.
(These are the kinds of things we will do)
ICRN Affiliated Persons
Simon Penny, professor, Art, University of California Irvine, USA (Co-director)
Tom Fisher, professor, Design, Nottingham Trent University, UK. (Co-director)
Tim Ingold, professor emeritus, Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, UK (Advisory Board member)
David Kirsh, professor, Cognitive Science, University of California San Diego, USA. (Advisory Board member)
Emily Whitted - PhD candidate, History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Kirstie Blair – professsor, English, Strathclyde University, UK.
Amy Woodson Boulton, Professor, History, Loyola Marymount University CA, USA,
Chris Baber, Computer Science, Birmingham
Giovanna Urist, Associate Director, Foundation and Government Grants, Winterthur Museum, Delaware USA Matthew Bellhouse Moran, curator, Scottish Maritime Museum
Michael Moore. CEO, MCM Group of Companies.
Marla Miller. Director of the Public History Program and Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Graham Harwood, Goldsmiths College London.
Matsuko Yokokoji, independent artist, YoHa.
ICRN Affiliated organisations, institutions and businesses (?) means to be confirmed
University of California Irvine, USA.
Nottingham Trent University, UK.
Public History Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.
Lowell National Historic Park, Lowell, MA. USA (?)
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Wilmington, DE USA
American Precision Museum, Windsor, VT USA
Framework Knitters Museum, Ruddington UK
STICK – Scottish Transport Industry Collections Knowledge network
Scottish Maritime Museum
John Smedley ltd UK (?)
Nottingham Industrial Museum UK
Science and Industry Museum, Manchester, UK
Simon Penny
added a project goal
The Industrial Crafts Research Network is an international, interdisciplinary research network of academics, museum professionals, designers and practitioners dedicated to the study of and communication of materially engaged embodied knowledge related to the cognitive ecologies of mechanised production environments.