Hotshop: An Ethnography of Embodied Knowledge in Glassblowing

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New School University, 2009 - 281 pages
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This dissertation theorizes the acquisition of practical knowledge in glassblowing and the constitution of culture through practice. In addition to interviews, my research was conducted through an apprentice-based ethnography, in which I became a glassblower. Through this method, I accessed the tacit understandings of glassblowing and analyzed a topic commonly marginalized in sociological theories of culture, work, and knowledge: embodied knowledge. The first five chapters of my dissertation analyze the relations of human practice, knowledge, and the material world. Sociologists of culture rarely problematize the role of a given material in shaping knowledge and production. Yet, by becoming a glassblower, I found that the properties of the medium shape practice and influence how the broader social world is organized. At a micro-level, proficient practice is achieved not through technical repetition, but rather through intimacy with the formative properties of the material, while at a macro-level, I have found that corporeal understandings of these formative properties substantiate language, forge empathetic social relations, and additionally, structure the division of labor. This approach is novel to the sociology of culture, which often scripts material as deployable capital and consequently fails to account for its structuring force. Additionally, I provide a socio-historical account of the transmission of Venetian glassblowing skills from Italy to America in the late twentieth-century.

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