The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work: Craftwork in Twenty-First Century England | BERGHAHN BOOKS
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The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work: Craftwork in Twenty-First Century England

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The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work

Craftwork in Twenty-First Century England

Trevor H. J. Marchand

482 pages, 21 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-80073-274-2 $179.00/£132.00 / Hb / Published (November 2021)

ISBN  978-1-80539-313-9 $45.00/£36.00 / Pb / Published (April 2024)

eISBN 978-1-80539-426-6 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“An exemplary illustration of how the evocative power of a rich ethnography, sympathetic to interlocutors and resulting from long-term, deep personal involvement of the researcher, can bring the reader to connect individual life-paths to crucial societal issues, and ultimately shape discourse about what counts as intelligence, the purpose of education, and the meanings we attribute to work. I can imagine the book becoming required reading as part of curricula on the anthropology of education, the anthropology of work, and…in the education sciences.” • Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI)

“In addition to being one of the leading proponents of the emergent field of sensory anthropology, Marchand is a resolutely social anthropologist [...] With its mix of realpolitik and unbridled utopianism (in the tradition of the prolific Victorian designer, maker, and social activist William Morris), this book is sure to excite readers, inspiring them to be more crafty and less consumerist in more aspects of their life. The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work is a profoundly timely contribution to the anthropology of education, the anthropology of the senses, and the crafting of anthropology.” • Cultural Anthropology

“This book is a beautifully assembled labour of love and all the better for being written by someone who has experienced for himself the sweat and toil involved in manual work. This sets it apart from other treatises on craftmanship as it is written from the perspective of the joiner’s bench in the workshop, combined with insights and analysis gained from a distinguished academic career… Moreover, and invoking the spirit and ideas of Morris and Dewey, it is a plea for recognition of the plurality of intelligences, for raising the profile of skill-based knowledge, and for the reinstatement of practical skills training into a modern education system.” • British Journal of Educational Studies

“In this way, he makes a significant contribution to sharpening the understanding of human knowledge and, especially in his reflections on ethnographic methods and positioning in the field, emphasizes the competencies of culturally analytical-dense description in the interdisciplinary field of knowledge research.” • Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde

"Marchand's 'proximity [to his work] renders this an impassioned book, that alongside its anthropological rigour (with an impressive bibliography to mine), has elements of biography, philosophy, slices of design and craft history, and running throughout, a polemic advancing craft’s position in the world." • Journal of Modern Craft

"Searching for ‘pleasurable work’ may not lead everyone to the practice of fine woodworking. But in searching – and this is what Marchand encourages fervently – one will ideally accumulate experiences that lead to self-confidence, both with regard to the kinds of holistic learning and knowing that best suit oneself and to the kinds of creation that offer a good measure of satisfaction." • H-Soz-Kult

“The detailed ethnographic account of learning a craft will undoubtedly resonate with social anthropologists and ethnographers of work. In addition, the history of the liveries and the development of craft guilds in England will be of interest to historians. And finally, the book’s critiques of current educational policies in the light of the author’s personal experience and insights will be relevant for those who study and make educational policy.” • Exertions

“The narrative is historically informative, provides a thorough overview for anyone interested in a woodwork career and is suitable for a general audience.” • Garland Magazine

“This book stands at the pinnacle of the body of work produced over the course of a career by a distinguished academic; it is the masterpiece of a craftsman who has sought ceaselessly for greater nuances of skillful expression both in his chosen crafts and in his writings about them.” • Roy Dilley, University of St Andrews

The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work is an outstanding contribution to the anthropology of craft and education. Marchand’s ethnographic inquiry into British woodworking is intellectually versatile, bringing the fields of economics and work, education and ideology, as well as neuroscience and philosophy to bear on the everyday concern of crafting a meaningful identity and pleasurable life.” • Erin O’Connor, Marymount Manhattan College


Against the backdrop of an alienating, technologizing and ever-accelerating world of material production, this book tells an intimate story: one about a community of woodworkers training at an historic institution in London’s East End during the present ‘renaissance of craftsmanship’. The animated and scholarly accounts of learning, achievement and challenges reveal the deep human desire to create with our hands, the persistent longing to find meaningful work, and the struggle to realise dreams. In its penetrating explorations of the nature of embodied skill, the book champions greater appreciation for the dexterity, ingenuity and intelligence that lie at the heart of craftwork.

Trevor H. J. Marchand is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at SOAS, University of London, and recipient of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Rivers Memorial Medal. He is also a trained architect (McGill University) and qualified as a fine woodworker at London’s Building Crafts College. Marchand has conducted fieldwork with craftspeople around the world and published extensively, including the monographs Minaret Building and Apprenticeship in Yemen (Routledge, 2001) and The Masons of Djenné (Indiana, 2009).

A Blog post written by Trevor H. J. Marchand:

Subject: Anthropology (General)Sociology
Area: Northern Europe

Film Intelligent Hand directed by the author:


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