Publication Details

Gibson, C. (2016). Material inheritances: how place, materiality, and labor process underpin the path-dependent evolution of contemporary craft production. Economic Geography, 92 (1), 61-86.


This article explores the historic-geographic evolution of contemporary craft production, with sensitivity to materiality of labor process, product design, and accompanying place mythologies. Craft production-increasingly interpolated as a form of creative work-is shaped by concerns about retrieving archaic tools and ways of making things, celebrating provenance and the haptic skills of makers, and delivering (and marketing) manual labor process. In contrast to evolutionary economic geography's seeming immateriality and abstraction, attention is drawn to material aspects of place and path dependence that undergird geographies of new craft industries: how labor process evolves, in iteration with technical lock-ins that stem from production method, product design, and capacities of component materials, but also how legacies of mass manufacturing linger in putatively authentic places-shaping new geographic concentrations. An especially vivid case is explored: a cluster of cowboy bootmaking workshops in El Paso, Texas. Bootmaking has metamorphosed from artisanal to factory to a craft-based creative mode of production. Crucial were continuity in product design and evolution of labor process. So, too, was geography: an iconic borderland city location with historic legacies of labor intensive mass manufacturing; migrant workers with requisite embodied skills; antique tools; and significant stocks of leather, the core input material that must be seen, felt, and smelt by makers before fabrication. I argue for a grounded, critical evolutionary economic geography that requires stronger intersection with labor process, with the cultural logics infusing capitalism, and with greater recognition of material inheritances that are reconfigured in place over successive generations.



Link to publisher version (DOI)