Challenging hierarchies, enhancing capabilities: innovations in design and business education for handloom weavers in India.

Clifford, R., 2018. Challenging hierarchies, enhancing capabilities: innovations in design and business education for handloom weavers in India. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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This research critically analyses the recent development of design education for traditional artisans in rural India. It focuses specifically on handloom weaving, which, across rural India is the second largest source of employment after agriculture. Handloom, however, continues to be afflicted by low wages and viewed as skilled labour rather than as a creative profession. The ‘informal’ embodied knowledge of weavers is widely de-valued against ‘formal’ knowledge gained through school and university education as well as government skill development schemes.

A lively discourse currently exists around the problematic divides between urban-educated designers and the artisans who simply execute the work of designers and are excluded from, or unable to access urban design institutes. In this discourse, weavers continue to be perceived as ‘artisans’ and never as designers, leaving little room to bridge this gap.

In the last decade, two educational institutes have been established that challenge this dualism as well as the hierarchies that have formed between the ‘artisan’ and ‘designer’: Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV) in Kachchh district, Gujarat, and the Handloom School (THS) in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh; each forms a focused case study for this research. Both institutes aim to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship, to enable artisans to connect directly with growing luxury markets for authentic, ethical and high-quality craft.

Using multi-sited, ethnographic case study methodology, I captured the lived experiences of student and graduate weavers, faculty, staff, founder-directors and other stakeholders of the institutes, to measure the successes and challenges of the two institutes against their stated aims, as well as those of the handloom community and the state. By specifically inter-referencing craft development and education, previously treated as distinct areas, I have aimed to understand the relevance, sustainability and value of handloom in India for the weavers and for contemporary markets.

Findings show that design and business education enhances the creative and aspirational capabilities of artisans, as well as their cultural, social and economic capital, as they mobilise within the now globalised spaces of the village and market network. Uncertainties remain over the hierarchies that can develop within the weavers’ communities, as well as a potential decline of embodied skills in younger generations. However, design and business education supports the activation of the artisans’ agency to influence social change in their own craft, creative and village economy and even the education itself. Considering the findings, the thesis proposes an urgent need to change the broadly held perceptions of the handloom industry as skilled labour and realise its full creative potential with a view to the upliftment, desirability and sustainability of craft livelihoods.

Item Type: Thesis
Description: Abridged version
Creators: Clifford, R.
Date: 2018
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed in the owner of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Art and Design
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 07 Aug 2020 16:32
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:18

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