Following the tweed van: movement, labour, and workers' subjectivities in the Harris Tweed industry
Joana Nascimento (University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
Harris Tweed can only be produced in the Outer Hebrides. It is hand-woven at home - but exported to over 50 countries, trademark protected in over 30. This paper explores how parallels between various kinds of 'movement' can illuminate experiences of work uncertainty and ideas of a 'good life'.
Paper long abstract:
Harris Tweed is the only cloth in the world protected by an Act of Parliament (1993). This legislation establishes that, in order to be certified and stamped with the 'Orb' trademark, a cloth needs to be 'handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides'. Harris Tweed is exported to over 50 countries, trademark protected in over 30. In a region threatened by depopulation, where limited work opportunities have, for decades, led to substantial migration 'away' from the islands, the tweed industry has long played a crucial role in local socio-economic dynamics. Fluctuations in global demand for the cloth have had profound implications at a local level. These transnational movements have also importantly shaped the imaginations, expectations and aspirations of different manufacturing workers. The industry's legal protection entails an unusual production model where social relationships and mutual interdependence are vital. Workers in woolen mills, self-employed handweavers working from home, and Harris Tweed Authority employees - each perform a set of duties that, brought together, contribute to making the cloth. I propose considering the relationships between these processes, workers' personal narratives, and diverse aspirations for a 'good life'. Tracing some of the moments, settings, and people involved in the production of Harris Tweed, in this paper I explore how ideas of 'stability' and 'movement' can improve our understanding of different manufacturing workers' lived experiences in contexts of relative uncertainty and 'flexibility'.
Rearticulating labour: staying, moving, and mobilizing along global commodity chains