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To be ‘skilled’ or not to be ‘skilled’? A case study exploring the interaction of two crafts in anthropological fieldwork in Madagascar

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This article reflects on the use of, and interactions between, embroidery and reed weaving as methods in anthropological fieldwork with Malagasy craftswomen. The research explores changes in craft methodologies as weavers faced with declining natural resources have shifted to practising embroidery instead. Engagement with the making process was central to the research design, through an apprenticeship in reed weaving and participant observation using both crafts. Reflection on this approach suggests that the researcher’s pre-existing skills affected the role that each craft took in the research, shaping distinct modes of interaction and generating different types of knowledge. Research activities using weaving, in which the researcher was seen as ‘unskilled’, tended to generate technical, practical and logistical knowledge. Activities using embroidery, in which the researcher was already experienced and seen as a ‘skilled’ practitioner, shaped more exploratory research spaces in which more personal conversations emerged. This article discusses ways that the two processes were used to complement each other and suggests that combining both ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ positions could help to overcome some of the challenges of cross-cultural craft research.

Keywords: Madagascar; anthropology; craft; embroidery; making; weaving

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121621699University of Bath

Publication date: March 1, 2020

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  • The Journal of Arts and Communities seeks to provide a critical examination of the practices known as community or participatory arts, encompassing a field of work defined for this purpose as incorporating active creative ollaboration between artists and people in a range of communities.The journal will take a cross-artform and interdisciplinary approach,including work happening in performance, visual arts and media,writing, multimedia and collaboration involving digital technology and associated forms. In part this will create an archive that will document work which can otherwise be ephemeral
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