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  • Bolor Amgalan

Reflection Prompt 9/10

What is one piece of research that has challenged your thinking related to your thesis topic? This could be an opinion you encountered in a reading that you disagreed with, someone making assumptions about your prototype that you hadn’t thought of, data that expands your understanding of your research topic, etc.

This last weekend I had been reading a book called Critical Craft edited by Clare M. Wilkinson-Weber and Alicia Ory DeNicola. It has a collection of essays by anthropologists, designers and research psychologists. One of the essays called "Forging Source: Considering the Craft of Computer Programming" presented some interesting ideas that I should not ignore, and presented a challenge in defining "craft".

If "craft" was what human manufacture became when not reconfigured by industrialization, in the context of programming "craft" is neither a romantic metaphor nor a nebulous reference to a "hand-made aesthetic", but the only discursive field that makes sense given the "manifold sensory experience" of programming: its materiality, aesthetics, and embodied practice.

In the above quote from page 55, three things are highlighted that are common to all craft: materiality, aesthetics and embodied practice. Considering these three things, we can classify programming as a type of craft

Spinners or weavers seated for hours at their wheels or looms are well within the conventional framework of "handicraft" despite the sedentary quality of such activities and the predominance of eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. Their activity is patently "embodied", knowledge and skill produced via repeated experience through posture, physiology, and sensual apprehension of materials and the environment. Yet similarly docile and manually dexterous computer programmers are not typically perceived that way.

The essay makes the argument that programming is so similar to crafting that it does not make sense to not think of it as craft. Yet, if we assume that all embodied activities that produce knowledge and skills and that enable sensual apprehension of materials are craft, then we will have to admit that what belongs in the craft category is way more varied and extensive than we normally believe them to be. The above quote also highlights this contradiction.

How has this information posed a challenge and how do you think you will tackle it at this stage in your process?

In trying to understand my own definition of craft - because the above definition feels too broad and fails to address the specific qualities that, although I am struggling to define, I know will be the key to distinguishing programming from, say, weaving - I had to think long and hard about what specifically I feel and take pleasure from when I am experiencing a well-crafted object/artifact. In the end, the qualities of craftsmanship that I think makes all the difference here - and that I use to define something that I personally think has been well-crafted - is definitely the tactile appreciation of the crafted object/artifact that is a separate notion from the embodied crafting experience. The process of crafting something could have been an embodied, tactile experience, but the appreciation of this crafted outcome should perhaps also be an embodied and tactile experience. This additional criteria seems to differentiate code from a woven cloth, but it would not be successful at differentiating a coded installation that uses, say, thousands of physical computing components that visitors can touch and feel from an installation of a large woven cloth piece.

But this seems fair.


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