Makers, Manufacturers & Designers was featured in the Oral History Journal‘s survey of international projects. Read the project summary here.
Research Assistant required
To assist with Jesse Adams Stein’s DECRA project, Makers, Manufacturers & Designers – Connecting Histories
Applications are now closed.
This is flexible but ideally 7 to 14 hours per week, September 2022 – September 2023, with potential for further extension.
UTS Professional Casual HEW 5 Step 1055 (approx. $55 p/h)
- Writing oral history interview summaries (careful listening & summarising with appropriate language and keywords … these are not full transcripts but concise summaries of content);
- Support identifying potential new interviewees;
- Symposium administrative support;
- Other research support as required (archival / bibliographic).
- Familiarity with design, history, humanities and/or social sciences research;
- Experience with events organisation;
- Familiarity with oral history interviews (helpful but not essential);
- Familiarity with UTS systems (helpful but not essential);
- Some graphic design experience (helpful but not essential).
UTS – this role is Sydney-based. That said, most work could be done remotely, but the RA would need to be in Sydney in June-July 2023 for the All Hands on Deck Symposium.
Please send a CV to email@example.com
Do we still need to make things?
I was recently interviewed by Garland Magazine about my book Industrial Craft in Australia, see the article here, and the podcast here.
Rethinking ‘Made in Australia’
I was recently interviewed by UTS’ Jaki Middleton about my research and the Makers, Manufacturers & Designers project. The interview is reproduced below, original at this link.
What are your areas of expertise?
I’m a design researcher and oral historian and I specialise in the less recognised, or less fashionable areas of material practice and design. So, things like craft skills, trades, and workplace experiences, engagements with technology and the consequences of deindustrialisation. I look at those experiences partly through the lens of material culture, but also via detailed human stories. That is, through oral history, by uncovering personal experiences of deindustrialisation and technological change.
Can you tell me about your current research?
My Australian Research Council DECRA project ‘Makers, Manufacturers & Designers: Connecting Histories’ looks at the relationship between the design industry, local manufacturing and technical trades. Reflecting on the second half of the 20th century, I look at how that relationship changed with the process of deindustrialisation in Australia. Offshoring of manufacturing and the digitisation of design processes, for example.
One of the most interesting things is how it was not so long ago that we had generative connections between vocational education, design and local manufacturing, and you can trace this through people’s career pathways. For example, people who might have trained in technical colleges, they may have initially worked in manufacturing, but now they are contributing to Australia’s creative industries, or to design or education. So, there are these fascinating creative cross-fertilisations of practice, knowledge and skill that happen when you have a viable and dynamic onshore manufacturing sector, combined with a well-funded vocational education sector.
There are these fascinating creative cross-fertilisations of practice, knowledge and skill that happen when you have a viable and dynamic onshore manufacturing sector, combined with a well-funded vocational education sector.
Dr Jesse Adams Stein
In discussing the future of Australian manufacturing, why is it important to reflect on the past?
I think it’s important to understand at least the last 50 years in Australia in order to understand where we are now. I’m quite interested in the changes that happened in the 1980s in terms of ‘economic rationalism’ (or the rise of neoliberalism), the opening up of Australian trade internationally, and what that meant for what happened to Australia.
Now of course, we have different technologies, different power relationships, different ways of doing business, different ways of working. So, it’s not about trying to return Australia to a kind of mythical state where everything is ‘made in Australia’. But it’s about thinking about when we did have a larger manufacturing sector and a better funded vocational education sector – what was possible, what was working, and what can we learn from those past experiences that we can build into how we transform the present?
When I think about the future for Australia, if we were to coordinate industry policy, so that design, manufacturing, and skills training are really built together coherently, and these policies align with energy policy, both in terms of development of technologies and jobs, and changing over to a renewable energy grid, then there is real potential for positive developments.
What excites you about the research you do?
It is a great privilege to undertake oral history interviews, I get to hear people’s life stories. And that’s incredibly interesting, no matter who you are. And there are always these wonderful connections between broader historical patterns and an individual’s life story. I’ve learned so much from just talking to ordinary Australians about what they do. People are a lot more creative than we often give them credit for.
Also, we’re now in a moment in Australian political history where it feels like real change might be possible, finally. This moment, right now in 2022 after a change in federal government – it’s a super exciting time to be contributing to discussions about reforms to national industry policy.
Who stands to benefit from your research?
Well, I hope that workers can benefit from us all having more nuanced ways of thinking about work and skill, and I hope we can become thoughtful about the role of industrial tradespeople and the knowledge that they hold. I’d like to see more respect and remuneration given to people who have technical and trade skills – from weavers to engineering patternmakers (and everything in between).
What experiences explain how you came to be a design researcher?
I’ve always been interested in design and architecture through my parents. Not that either are designers or architects, but my father originally wanted to be an architect (at high school they told him he wasn’t good at maths so ‘he’d have to do law’). When I was growing up we spent a lot of time going to museums, talking about objects and talking about the built environment. There’s a certain sense of rigour and intellectualism that both my parents have, which aligns with an academic pathway, even though that wasn’t their careers. My mother nearly did a PhD in the psychology of architecture, but she met my dad and had me instead. So maybe I’m fulfilling her aims in that regard.
How has your research evolved?
I’m very cross-disciplinary. I’m not strictly a design historian, I’ve delved into labour history, certain parts of sociology, human geography. Right now I’m very involved in contemporary questions about industry policy that puts me in another disciplinary framework. It’s always changing as the issues change, and as my interests evolve. Rather than trying to pull the material into a discipline, I follow the material.
This moment, right now in 2022 after a change in federal government – it’s a super exciting time to be contributing to discussions about reforms to national industry policy.
Dr Jesse Adams Stein
How does your research intersect with the topic of sustainability?
I co-lead an ongoing project called Repair Design (with Assoc Prof Alexandra Crosby), which looks at different ways of understanding problems of repair in an Australian context. We’re interested in questions of e-waste, mass-production and over consumption of material objects, particularly technologies, and the challenges of product repair. I’ve been involved in discussions about what kinds of legislative change or regulatory change we need to make repair a more possible thing to do, for example with appliances and small technologies, in order to slow down the disposal of materials (such as rare minerals and plastics) to the waste stream.
As part of my DECRA I’m also running an oral history project in association with the National Library of Australia called ‘Makers, Manufacturers and Designers’. I’m interviewing people from a range of trade, creative and technical backgrounds including textile patternmakers, mould makers, former wallpaper colourists, industrial draftspeople, arts technicians, former manufacturing workers. I have a co-interviewer Nikki Henningham, who is interviewing people in South Australia, the ACT and Victoria, and I’m interviewing people in NSW. The interviews will go into the National Library’s collection and will inform my research. Together, these people’s stories point to much larger dynamics related to that late 20th century connection between Australian design, vocational trades, manufacturing and the creative industries.
I’m also collaborating with Dr Chantel Carr, a human geographer at the University of Wollongong, to produce a cross-disciplinary symposium that will take place at UTS in July 2023. Chantel and I have similar research interests in terms of trade skills, craft and industrial work. Titled ‘All Hands on Deck’, the symposium will look at the relationship between work, skill and material production in the context of the coming social and environmental crises. It asks the question: how can we reimagine work and skills to preparing for the disasters that are potentially to come? This might mean mitigation, resilience and capacity building. The skills could be everything from practical making skills, to repairing skills, to the care economy (etc). We’re very excited to be bringing Professor Alice Twemlow to Australia for it, and will also have online keynote from Emeritus Professor Tim Ingold. The good news is that the Call for Papers is still open! It closes on 25 July 2022.
Dr Jesse Adams Stein is a Senior Lecturer in the UTS School of Design. She was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship (DECRA) which commenced in July 2021.
All Hands on Deck 2023
As part of this DECRA project, I am collaborating with Dr Chantel Carr to produce a new cross-disciplinary symposium (and edited book):
All Hands on Deck:
Work, skill and material production at a time of human and environmental calamity
It will be held on 19-21 July 2023 at the Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Sydney, Australia
A cross-disciplinary collaboration
Dr Jesse Adams Stein, a design researcher, and Dr Chantel Carr, a human geographer, have worked on similar issues and topics for many years, and finally have the opportunity to collaborate. All Hands on Deck originally emerged from Stein’s Australian Research Council DECRA research project, Makers, Manufacturers & Designers, but it is enriched by Carr’s social science background and her current Australian Research Council DECRA project – Locating the Household in Post-carbon Regional Economies – on workers and families in energy-intensive sectors.
Through convening All Hands on Deck, Stein and Carr seek to connect scholars, thinkers and makers across disciplines and geographical boundaries, to address urgent questions related to the interrelationship between labour, skill and technical knowledge, within the shifting landscape of work and climate change.
Another short piece by Jesse Adams Stein – joining historical manufacturing research with present issues in the lead-up to the 2022 federal election in Australia
Here’s a recent article (loosely based on Jesse Adams Stein’s book Industrial Craft in Australia) about how we need to rethink Australian manufacturing policy, and why it still matters:
8 interviews complete …
Jesse and Nikki are continuing our oral history interviewing blitz. It is absorbing and rewarding work. At this stage, we think we will end up doing more than the original planned 12 interviews (maybe 16?), because there are so many diverse, fascinating stories out there.
Oral history is an inherently slow process: the interviews are long-form, whole-of-life style, and then the processing of the audio at the National Library of Australia also takes a while. After that, the interviews are sent back to us, and Enya Moore (the project’s Research Assistant) writes a “timed summary”, and the interview is also professionally transcribed. Finally, once we have the summary, transcript and the audio MP3s, the “analysis” can really start.
Typically, Jesse listens to the interviews in-full again, at least once, often twice… as well as thoroughly scrutinising the summaries and transcripts.
Once the material has really “soaked in” it is possible to pull out some strong connecting themes and start drawing conclusions. Right now we don’t use software like NVivo or Dedoose, but that is certainly a possibility if the number of interviews were to increase from 12. 12 is manageable “in your head” – the stories linger, and it is possible to know them well. Beyond that, software helps to keep things sorted.
So far we have interviewed:
2 industrial modelmakers (1 employee, 1 business-owner)
A furniture manufacturer & designer, with a background in fabric screen-printing and stone-masonry
A fashion designer & creative director determined to keep things local and made-to-order
An artist and arts-technician with a background in boat-building, photography and engineering draughting for petrol-pump manufacturing
A textiles-patternmaker, patternmaking educator and fashion designer
An engineering patternmaker with a specialisation in making patterns for railway and heritage castings
A textiles craftsperson and artist with experience working in an industrial textile mill
Still to come – we have an interview with a design educator who worked on reforming NSW design education in the 1980s, a blacksmith and TAFE educator, a mould-making specialist who works across manufacturing and the art world, and more…
Interviews have begun!
Jesse Adams Stein and Nikki Henningham have (respectively) begun to undertake oral history interviews for the Makers, Manufacturers & Designers Oral History Project, to be collected with the National Library of Australia.
At the time of writing (18/3/22), we have completed four interviews, with several more scheduled for the coming months.
Already, we can see clear connections emerging between manufacturing, creative industries and technical education. The current group of interviewees have such diverse life experiences, but to give you some idea, we’ve been talking about: textiles patternmaking, industrial model-making, boat-building, manufacturing business management, surf-brand textiles production, art-making, industrial draughting, screen-printing, bespoke and by-demand production, industrial design education, sustainable furniture-making, readymade assemblages, offshored 3D printed prototypes and textile mills.
The importance of the local – and of face-to-face contact – is emerging as a key theme. Geographically specific zones of expertise and shared practices are core to how many small manufacturing businesses operate, and the digitised and globalised culture of free-market capitalism has brutally fractured (but not entirely destroyed) tight-knit communities of makers and technicians.
We have our fingers crossed in relation to future Covid variants and climate-change-related weather disasters – but so far so good. Who knows what could be around the corner … but we hope to continue the interviews throughout autumn and winter 2022.
Geographically, the planned interviews cover Melbourne and regional Victoria, Sydney, regional NSW, and South Australia. We hope to include other states and territories as the project grows – although given Victoria and NSW’s history as manufacturing centres, those states tend to feature more. And WA remains a goal – if you’re a maker, manufacturer or technical educator from WA and you’d like to be involved, let us know!