Apprenticeship: Illuminating Persons and Places through Shared Practice and Performance
Location SOAS Main Building - G51
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3


  • Michele Feder-Nadoff (El Colegio de Michoacán) email
  • Elishka Stirton (University of Aberdeen) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

Mentor-apprenticeships with skilled craftspeople illuminate the somatic ethos of their social-aesthetic environments. The bonds of mentor-apprentice also can transform anthropological inquiry into collaborative ecological engagement. We invite participants to explore this close inter-folding. Please drop by during our third session and in this lab contribute a story of apprenticeship, whether through drawing, writing, poetry or threads. Help us make a tapestry of shared stories to illuminate the experience of apprenticeship and explore its contingencies.

Long abstract

Apprenticeship has formed the basis of recent forays into embodied practices—such as, arts and crafts— , deeply informing ways of working anthropologically. Although apprenticeship has been addressed before in anthropology, it is often thought of as a type of social contract or methodological prescription in exchange for codified knowledge.

Newer decolonizing approaches towards apprenticeship-ethnography challenge objectivist imperatives by proposing integrative anthropologies that mesh theory with practice, and persons with/in places. In this topological field researchers and subjects interact horizontally in real-time rhythms of tension and discourse. We invite panelists to explore apprenticeship histories with/in the correspondences of shared making. What stories can be heard? What debates can be had? What powers can be revealed?

How are theory and practice meshed by makers and their apprentices?

How can the intimacy and empathy of apprenticeship— of learning with people side-by-side— become a collaborative form of research? What may it mean to receive rather than to take; to offer rather than to give?

How do we converse collectively with materials? What can flows and their ruptures, diversions and disjunctures illuminate? What can judgements about finishing and not-finishing teach us about making in a certain place and how to be a person precisely there?

How can apprenticeship make anthropologists and anthropology more somatically attentive and engaged, able to listen to the stories of makers, materials, and environments? This panel addresses these themes organized into three consecutive sessions as follows:

1. Making or Making Lives?

2. Contingencies of Making

3. Making Empathy

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


THE LIFE THEY ARE LIVING From the making of craft to the making a life worth living

Author: Christine Moderbacher (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

Based on a single event that occurred during my apprenticeship in a carpentry training centre in Brussels, the presentation traces my epistemological shift of attention from a focus on craftwork towards an anthropological practice that is open and attuned to what the world has to tell.

Long abstract

Drawing on the argument that the history of western education has narrowly focused on conceptual thinking that led to a marginalization of the body (Marchand 2008), research about craft and apprenticeship within Anthropology is often focused on a mere sensorial, bodily act of craftwork. In 'THE LIFE THEY ARE LIVING', I argue that with this focus on a mere physical act of making, a division between conscious thought and manual execution is reinforced. Bodily and material aspects of experience are emphasized over intellectual capabilities and often lead to the fact that the 'Craft world' seems like a 'Ghetto of technique' (Adamson 2007: 2). As a consequence, however, the 'Maker' himself stays silent.

Although the fascination with and longing for romantic imaginations of bodily craftwork seems to echo a sentiment many Anthropologists can identify with, the question of how craftwork is actually lived in daily life often remains unanswered. Based on long term field research in a carpentry training workshop in Brussels, my presentation aims to explore the possibilities of answering to this gap by moving away from the making of craft towards merging making with the maker's life trajectories. Through the stories of Hamuda Djerbi, Cise Ibrahima and other training participants, I will discuss the necessity to expand the notion of apprenticeship and craftwork beyond romantic images and the manipulation of physical materials and forms to a larger sense of the 'worker as seeking to shape the world in particular ways that render him central than marginal' (Venkatasan 2015: 305).

Ancient Feminine Knowledge, Practice and Artful Resistance in an Indigenous Community of the Huasteca Potosina of Eastern Mexico

Author: Claudia Rocha Valverde (El Colegio de San Luis) email

Short abstract

This paper reflects on how the indigenous women of Tamaletom, in the Huastecan region of Eastern Mexico, transmit and transform their pre-Hispanic ancestral knowledge via traditional artistic practices when their spiritual-natural environment is threatened.

Long abstract

This paper reflects on the stories told by indigenous women of the community of Tamaletom in the Huastecan region of San Luis Potosí in Eastern Mexico discussing how their ancestral pre-Hispanic knowledge is transmitted through their artful practices of embroidery, traditional medicine and ancient "flying" rituals. These practices embody and transmit the concept of "Madre Tierra" Mother Earth, but must also respond to the radical transformation of their ecological and spiritual environment. The women discuss their apprenticeship-training and teaching of the arts of traditional medicine and midwifery, practices developed only when a woman knows she has received this "gift" and makes a dedicated commitment to heal people in her community. One woman shares her apprenticeship experience of embroidering traditional garments used in sacred ceremonies; Two other young women share their recent involvement in the dance of "El Volador." (the flying ritual) and the significance of participating in a practice that has always been designated only to men. The study and instruction of these diverse arts are passed from one generation to another via oral and visual tradition. These two generations of women discuss how to continue to transmit this ancient wisdom while confronting social and ecological factors rupturing and modifying their material practices and their very conceptions of Mother Earth.

Searching for the light: mentors, teachers, and an apprenticeship in glassmaking

Author: Elishka Stirton (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

Fieldwork often takes unexpected directions and you end up working in places and with people you could never predict. This talk describes paths taken or curtailed, mentors discovered, and teachers gained, in a search to understand light and how it is used and perceived by glassmakers.

Long abstract

A luthier in learning to create an instrument must learn to shape their material according to its sonorous qualities. A glassmaker, in seeking to make their object must explore and observe its qualities and capacities for light. Apprenticeship in glass is often, in practice, an apprenticeship in attention towards light. During my apprenticeship with glass artists and at a glass school in Czech Republic different teachers and mentors emerged.

In this paper I will explore the role mentors play in apprenticeships and in fieldwork. I will consider the ways in which one comes to work with particular people and places, and to choose certain people to work with (or who choose you). The paths to whom one works with are not always straightforward. In apprenticeship who one chooses as a teacher can be key. Mentors can be catalysts for change, transforming one's understanding of perceptions and questions posed, opening doorways and forging unexpected connections. Mentors are not always one's teachers or who one might expect them to be. In this apprenticeship and anthropological research might share some commonalities. In this paper I trace my own journey in coming to work with particular artists and makers. I ask what happens when one's plans become derailed or who one works with must be changed. Such changes affect the questions one follows and indeed this has changed my own understanding of how perceptions of light play a role in the creation of things of glass.

"It's not wrong, it's just…": Talking about Mistakes in Apprenticeship

Author: Pinqing Wu (Tallinn University ) email

Short abstract

Making mistakes is not only an inevitable facet of learning, but also an informative process in itself, for that it often elicits the communication of embodied experience amongst research participants. I address this unique cognitive value of mistake-making in this essay.

Long abstract

Mistakes, as well as the act of making mistakes, have been addressed in a number of ethnographic research on crafts. Nevertheless, they are seldom discussed in conjunction with the discourses regarding the transmission of intersubjective experience from the teacher to the learner (or the other way around). In the context of an apprenticeship, the learner's "Ah! It is a mistake!", although sometimes individually perceived, is often collectively reflected by the learner and his/her teacher. I suggest, it is precisely when these mistakes are encountered, evaluated and addressed during the process of making, that the respective modes of interaction and self-representation of the individuals involved in the research transform and assume a level of complexity that would otherwise be non-existent: a level of complexity that facilitates the communication between the learner and the teacher, of embodied understanding(s) of engaging with materials.

In this presentation, I share my fieldwork experience of learning traditional Estonian log-building practice with a master carpenter from rural Estonia. I intend to focus on illustrating the part of the experience where I make mistakes on carving out the joints on the logs and discussing how the interactions between me and my teacher proceed from there.

Duodji and the Sámi. Learning, making, and making mistakes

Author: Gyorgy Henyei Neto (University of Aberdeen) email

Short abstract

This is a debate on crafts and art, and in which ways apprenticeship is developed within a craft institute in the Sámi Land in Norway. Duodji and Dáidda, craft and art in the Sami language, are ways of learning a comprehension of one's surroundings through reinvention, making, and making mistakes.

Long abstract

Duodji and Dáidda, craft and art, are ways of learning, living, and developing a comprehension of one's surroundings through making and making mistakes. Duodji is not simply craft, as well as Dáidda is not to be simply understood as art. The aim of this reflection is to notice that artistry is not intrinsically linked to the labels and functions of objects, but are part of the conversation that makes things in the world, and that mistakes are processes of making, of learning, and of inventing a world of significance. This paper wishes to address the concepts and methods of learning, and how it is connected to the intrinsic relationship between humans and their surroundings. Learning by doing is the way the Sámi passes on knowledge. It is the way one should learn Duodji, I have been told. There is no course guide, no master structure on how one should learn given subject, or the time frame certain subject should be transmitted. Duodji, and its processes, provide the sense that, indeed, we as craftspeople, are not simply learning a technique, or making a product, but strolling into a forest, a familiar, but living and moving forest. In doing so, learning is not simply acquired knowledge, but is the plethora of internalised conversations with the materials and movements of the world.

Apprenticeship among Mande Hunters' Musicians

Author: Theodore Konkouris (Queen's University Belfast) email

Short abstract

Based on eighteen months apprenticeship under a master hunters' musician in Mali, this paper considers the implications when ethnographers take a radically participating stance towards the realities they study and use their body as a research tool to access the lifeworlds of others.

Long abstract

In Mali, West Africa, hunters form secret societies which hold regular ceremonies that can be either public events, or private and sacred. Musical performance is central to all hunters' events. Performances are often recorded and released as cassettes, or otherwise transmitted through specialised hunters' radio shows. In song, a hunters' master musician, accompanied by his apprentices, calls hunters to dance. He challenges powerful hunters to step out of the audience and demands from them his share of the hunt. While doing so, he moves around the performance site, dancing and singing the praises of hunter-heroes.

Based on eighteen months apprenticeship under a master hunters' musician, this paper considers the implications when ethnographers take a radically participating stance towards the realities they study and use their body as a research tool to access the lifeworlds of others. I ask how and what can practice-based apprenticeship teach us about the persons and places we study? How can the bonds of master-apprentice transform anthropological inquiry and lead to more collaborative research? I explore these problematics that arise in direct-apprenticeship experience dynamics. I draw upon the literature on intersubjectivity (Jackson 1998), apprenticeship (Stoller 1989, Wacquant 2004), perception and body movement (Merleau-Ponty 1962) to comment upon the value of knowledge produced through interaction and participation; through discourse but also enskilment (Ingold 2000). Finally, I show how intersubjective encounters and close relationships between researcher and research participants can be useful tools for experiential research, underlining the embodied nature of ethnographic experience.

'Sitting in the loom' - Apprenticeship, social enskilment and the co-production of empathy in a Ghanaian workshop

Author: Niamh Jane Clifford Collard (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) email

Short abstract

Drawing on an ethnography of work and learning in a Ghanaian weaving workshop, this paper explores apprenticeship as a set of relations that, in foregrounding social enskilment within both fieldwork encounters and a community of practice, opens up spaces for the co-production of empathy.

Long abstract

Drawn from a project which explored young Ghanaian craftsmen's livelihood and learning strategies, this paper looks at how apprenticeship and the routine practices of working side-by-side engender specific forms of social enskilment and open up spaces for the co-production of empathy.

Closely engaging with the emergent processes of social and material attunement which together constitute craft learning, the ethnography traces the development of my own fieldwork apprenticeship from a somewhat functional methodological entry-point, to a form of empathic co-production. Looking at the everyday practices of working side-by-side, and the contingent forms of learning which emerged from such routine encounters in the field, attention will be paid to how my interlocutors and craftwork mentors employed apprenticeship as a means of making legible to me both their aspirations, and the challenges they faced. As such, apprenticeship offered a framework within which young craftsmen could direct my attention to that which was most important to them. Working alongside and learning with them compelled me to attend to their hopes, desires and fears in ways which enabled me to reflect upon, reframe, and ultimately broaden, my own understanding of what 'apprenticeship' and 'learning' means.

The paper thus considers apprenticeship as a means of accompanying, sitting with and working alongside others in ways which not only impart craft knowledge, but also, and perhaps most importantly, are enmeshed with empathy and processes of social enskilment. It is hoped that such a relational focus both enriches and broadens our understanding of what apprenticeship can offer anthropology.

Memory-work and Empathy: Apprenticeship as archive, excavation and responsibility

Author: Michele Feder-Nadoff (El Colegio de Michoacán) email

Short abstract

This talk considers how memory within the relationship of artisanal apprenticeship implies not only to receive and remember memories shared; but, more accurately, means to remember empathically and actively with our mentor-teachers. What is the "memory-work" of a caring ethnography-in-practice?

Long abstract

Memory plays a significant role in anthropological research and in the interconnections weaving person with place. In artisan practice and apprenticeship memory is complex, and essential. As Bourdieu pointed out, the power of the gift lies in the potent lapses of time, freedom and tension in between transactions of confidence. Memory's role then becomes exponential within the often intensified empathic relationships of mentor-apprenticeships. Memory is also more than intra-personal, it is also intra-collective. What is remembered and what is forgotten is social, as well as political.

When our subjects are our teachers, not our objects, as Ingold insists, what then is our responsibility as investigators to the memories of the mentors we study with, and their communities? What allegiance can we maintain to all the identities and affects, emotions and feelings disclosed, the oral histories of the people imbricated in these stories? To these persons and our relationships?

This talk explores what memory means to the traditional coppersmiths artisans of the Santa Clara del Cobre community where I have apprenticed since 1997. What is memory to artisans, apprentices, and to resultant texts? How are memories shared between apprentice and mentor during apprenticeship-ethnography? How are these intimate exchanges then re-remembered in anthropological disclosure and analysis? This talk considers how memory within the ethnographic process implies not only receiving and remembering the memories shared with us, but, might more accurately mean to remember care-ingly with people and community. In this way apprenticeship becomes "memory-work".

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.