The Anthropology of Work

From the blog

The Real Artisan Economy

arroyo pottery

Earlier today we visited several working studios in Arroyo Seco, NM, in between the town of Taos and Taos Ski Valley.  Within this smallest of hamlets, there are numerous working potters, weavers, and craft brewers who are making a living working directly with their hands.  Over the past several years I have written about what some people (including myself) are calling the artisanal economy, a particular interpretation of the types of work that today’s independents and freelancers are doing: software development, web design, graphic design, social media strategy, and all the rest.  However, and I hesitate to make such a statement, these latter day artisanal works are not quite the same as their namesakes would suggest.

In a place such as Taos, where life is and has been so intimately connected to the elements of the land, such as clay, wood, metals, and gems, artisanal work is an inherently organic, small scale, one-sale-at-a-time kind of work.  The use of the notion of artisanal work, by writers such as me, is but a way to glamorize what in practice are merely commoditized forms of work aimed at making larger firms more profitable.  Indeed, there is nothing wrong with this work, and creative work is creative work.  However, to compare the work of a week-to-week potter in Taos to the software developer who “develops apps for the Real Estate Industry” is not so much a comparison of apples and oranges as it is to apples and cows.

I am as guilty as anyone in romanticizing the work of today’s freelancers.  Spending a few days in Taos, NM, however, makes me think quite differently about many of the things that I write and say.  That said, I’m afraid that I probably don’t have a whole lot to say on this subject for a while.  Rather than pursuing a career in management consulting and management education, I think I probably should have studied pottery instead.  Maybe I can finally get into that in my second career!



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