Industrial Craft in Australia

This project is the result of a UTS Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2016-2021)

Advanced manufacturing technologies and design-led innovation have been heralded as a life-raft for Australian manufacturing. While this offers opportunities in professional fields such as industrial design and engineering, the same cannot be said for manufacturing trades – the formerly secure cornerstone of working class employment. Rather than simply framing manufacturing tradespeople as having redundant skill-sets and in need of retraining, here I ask: what are our existing strengths? To answer this, an understanding of recent history is vital. Through this project I explored the creative and knowledge-based legacies of manufacturing expertise, exploring how such knowledge and practice may be retained and reimagined in future contexts.

The major publication associated with this project is Industrial Craft in Australia: Oral Histories of Creativity & Survival. This book is the first of its kind to investigate the ongoing significance of industrial craft in deindustrialising places such as Australia. Providing an alternative to the nostalgic trope of the redundant factory ‘craftsman’, this book introduces the intriguing and little-known trade of engineering patternmaking, where objects are brought to life through the handmade ‘originals’ required for mass production.

Drawing on oral histories (see further details below), Industrial Craft in Australia highlights the experiences of industrial craftspeople in Australian manufacturing, as they navigate precarious employment, retraining, gendered career pathways, creative expression and technological change. The book argues that digital fabrication technologies may modify or transform industrial craft, but should not obliterate it. Industrial craft is about more than the rudimentary production of everyday objects: it is about human creativity, material knowledge and meaningful work, and it will be key to human survival in the troubled times ahead. Sociologist Professor Tim Strangleman said that Industrial Craft in Australia “should be required reading for any politician serious about the future of manufacturing industry and a national skills base”.

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Oral Histories

12 oral histories with tradespeople, business owners and retired manufacturing workers are now in the National Library of Australia’s oral history collection, as part of the Reshaping Australian Manufacturing Oral History Project. You can listen to some of the interviews via the NLA catalogue here, or read some quotations on my research blog here.

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Podcast

Invisible Hands, Episode 2, Season 2 of the History Lab podcast, 2SER
Produced by Olivia Rosenman, Host: Tamson Pietsch
Executive Producer: Tom Allinson, Contributing Historian: Jesse Adams Stein
History Lab won the Silver Trophy (History category) at the New York Festivals Radio Awards 2019.

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Publications 

Stein, JA 2022, Industrial Craft in Australia: Oral Histories of Creativity & Survival (Palgrave Macmillan / Springer, due out December 2021). (Palgrave Studies in Oral History Series.)

Stein, JA 2021, ‘A dying trade that is still in demand?’, TAFE Teacher Magazine, winter issue, pp. 20-21.

Stein, JA 2020, ‘When Manufacturing Workers Make Sculpture: Creative Pathways in the Context of Australian Deindustrialisation’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 189-212.

Stein JA 2020, ‘The Trade Educators’ Syndicate: Making 10 Retirement Lathes in the Twilight of Australian Manufacturing’, Digital Culture & Society, vol. 6, no. 1 (special issue: Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias).

Stein JA 2020, ‘In the post-Holden era, we can be a nation of clever designers‘, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February.

Stein, JA 2020, The Production of Toolboxes and Hand Tools in Industrial Craft Apprenticeship’, Journal of Modern Craft, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 233-54. DOI: 10.1080/17496772.2019.1678876.

Stein, JA 2019, ‘Hidden between craft and industry: Engineering patternmakers’ design knowledge’, Journal of Design History, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 280-303. DOI: 10.1093/jdh/epz012.

Stein, JA 2018, ‘Don’t be too quick to dismiss “dying trades”, those skills are still in demand’The Conversation, 6 December.

Stein, JA 2018, ‘Conversations in the Shadow of Australian Manufacturing’History Lab, 4 December.

Stein, JA 2017, ‘Is 2017 the year to ditch the term “innovation”?’, The Conversation, 19 January. Republished as ‘Stop using innovation as a meaningless buzzword’, The Age, 20 January 2017.

Stein, JA 2017, ‘Political imaginaries of 3D printing: Prompting mainstream awareness of design and making’Design and Culture, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1–26. DOI: 1080/17547075.2017.1279941.

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Conference papers / public talks

2021, invited panellist at ‘Deindustrialising Australia‘, DePOT’s Fall 2021 Roundtable Series: Rethinking Deindustrialization Studies, Deindustrialisation and the Politics of our Time (DePOT), 16 September, with Tanya Evans, Lucy Taksa, Chantel Carr, Chris Gibson, Eric Eklund, Seamus O’Halloran, (online).

2021, Invited speaker at the launch of the special issue of Digital Culture & Society, vol, 6, no. 1, “Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias”, 29 April (online).

Stein, JA, 2018, ‘The Historian as Document Producer: A Critical Reflection on the Production of Oral History Timed Summaries’, What is a Document? A Workshop on Documentation, Records and Evidence, UTS Law School, 8-9 November.

Stein, JA, 2018, ‘The last generation of Australian hot metal compositors: Are there lessons for engineering patternmakers (and beyond)?’ The Production of Information: Technologies, Media Markets and Labour in the Twentieth Century, Hamburg, 12-14 April. Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation & German Research Foundation (DFG).

2018, ‘The Past and Present of Technological Change’, panellist w/ Dr Frances Flanagan, Work: Past and Present, UTS, 3 May.

Stein, JA, Simpson, AV, Berti, M, and Hermens, A, 2017, ‘Keeping the axe workshop going’: Australian manufacturing and the hidden maintenance of historical practices’The Maintainers II, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, 6–9 April.

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