On the other hand, the practice of offshoring can be critiqued as exploiting the labour of the global South, which in the sense of this analysis takes on the factory routine work necessary to maintain urban lifestyles. Offshoring is sometimes the source of scandal casting a shadow over leading brands. For example, in the 1970s Nike sports shoes suffered a blow to their brand identity when it was revealed they were produced in sweatshops. More recently, it was discovered that the Foxconn factory in southern China producing Apple iPhones had systematically violated worker rights, leading to employee suicides (Branigan 2011). Given the more traditional context for craft production, it would seem that the same concerns would not be as relevant to the handmade. But as the handmade begins to be outsourced, and artisan workshops depend increasingly on foreign commissions, there is potential for craft production to follow the race to the bottom’ of mass manufacture. 2 This would include not only lower wages but also lower health and safety standards, such as exposure to dangerous chemicals in ceramic glazes. Can an outsourced craft avoid these disadvantages and dangers?
Discourse about this dimension of globalization often focuses on the flows of capital and labour (Sassen 1998). This chapter considers the creative dimension of this issue in the social relations that are at play in the interaction of craft and design. The handmade contains a symbolic meaning, particularly in the form of objects with artistic value found in galleries or craft boutiques. Here the means of production can be more relevant than it is, for example, with industrially-produced goods sold in supermarkets. The design process for handmade goods may entail not only the form and function of the product but also its back-story’ in how it was made. Craft represents a village lifestyle that draws on resources at hand and is characterized by rhythmical activities such as weaving that involves repetition. On the other hand, design is a more urban phenomenon that draws on external resources and involves a greater proportion of singular actions such as drawing. The creative difference within North-South relations provides a stage for examining alternative models of how design and production, thinking and making, city and village, interrelate. In recognizing the value of skill, for example, one promotes a more even North-South relationship. While there is the potential to reproduce global inequity in the offshoring of craft, there is the possibility of a more transparent relationship in which it is possible to recognize mutual interests. In this way, the occlusion of inequality behind brand identity is less likely than when this relationship is taken for granted. This offers incentive to ensure fair conditions of production as an ethical practice in global consumerism. Outsourcing the handmade has the promise of re-imagining the city as an agent in partnership with the village on which it depends.
London: J. Johnson, 1806, 46366. Gottlieb China Map Mittelberger on Immigration to the Colonies c. 1750 In the mid-18th century, the German China Map pastor Gottlieb Mittelberger investigated the immigration of his countrymen to Pennsylvania. His report gave a vivid account of the hardships of travel, the unsanitary conditions, and the large numbers of deaths. In addition, the burden of payment for the trip bound many into work indentures.
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