An Interesting Podcast on Making

podcast_IMG_4365-(1)Woodworker, photographer and writer Andrew Sleigh kicked of his second series of podcasts on making last weekend for Resonance FM, a London radio station. The episodes are available for a free listen through the program’s website lookingsideways.net. You can subscribe to the podcast or simply listen to select episodes.

In the first episode, Sleigh interviews Deb Chachra, an associate professor of materials science at the Olin College of Engineering. It’s an interesting talk with someone who studies, teaches and classifies makers. (Be sure to read her thoughtful article in The Atlantic before listening; it will add an extra dimension to the conversation between Sleigh and Chachra.)

Sleigh has interviewed a list of interesting people for this second season of his podcast (he hasn’t posted the list, so I’ll let him do that). He also interviewed me about the Lost Art Press approach to creating books for makers – why we look backwards in time for our information. And why I think making simple, well-made furniture is a radical act.

From what I know about the other guests on Looking Sideways, I suspect my interview will represent the oddball, somewhat anti-intellectual view. We’ll see!

So if you need something to listen to on your commute to wage-slavery, Looking Sideways will make you think.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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28 Responses to An Interesting Podcast on Making

  1. bedrock608 says:

    Reading the article by Deb Chachra I detect an insecurity in how she perceives herself and her gender.
    Since I was a little boy I have always admired those who teach as well as those who do! This is regardless of gender, ethnicity, creed, or race! We all bring different skills into this life and acquire more along the way. What we do with those abilities, as well as our lives, is very important! Allowing others to define our worth, as Ms Chachra appears to do through her comments, seems very sad and misguided!
    I am a doer and a teacher! I learned to do from others and from my own efforts! I am happy to pass on my knowledge to others so that they too can be doers and teachers!

  2. The article you link to is unfortunately more academic whining, written through the typical lenses of feminism and Marxism.

    I look forward to your oddball, anti-intellectual interview Chris.

    • fitz says:

      Well, I guess I’m going to have to fly my feminist flag here. Speaking as a woman who sometimes cuts up bits of wood and sticks them back together (and as an (albeit failed) academic), I routinely encounter surprise when I tell people that I make things (this reaction is more typical in folks older than 40 or so, but not limited thereto).

      There remains, in my experience, a pervasive societal perception that people who use tools are of the homogametic sex. While Chachra isn’t speaking about woodworking – and is defending not making – I can see, and have seen (through my own eyes rather than a critical-theory lens), the point of view from which she’s arguing.

    • raney says:

      See! I CAN restrain myself! sort of…

  3. I wasn’t impressed with Ms Chachra’s article. Knowing quite a few successful, female makers, I got the impression that she was blaming her own failings as a “maker” on external circumstance.

    • fitz says:

      Where is she arguing that she is a failed maker? She’s not – she’s arguing that “maker” is a gendered construct – and that not making is equally valuable/valid, despite societal perceptions to the contrary.

      • She never explicitly stated as much, but that’s the impression I got from her writing. I’m not making any arguments for or against making/not-making.

        The simple fact that there are so many successful female makers out there right now suggests that the term ‘maker’ is anything but gendered.

        It might be my own personal point of view, but I’ve always seen women as a very important part of the maker community. Maybe, that isn’t the case for society as a whole, but I have yet to encounter an example where someone’s access to the maker community was limited based on their gender. My personal experience within the woodworking community is the general desire to see more diversity.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Interesting article, and can see the point, even if the words are potentially incendiary.
    Perhaps the better distinction is between “creating” & “consuming” rather than “making” & “not making” there are many respected people that don’t make tangible items, but make better people or are improving the world through creative effort (including teaching and care giving). Conversely, there are those that consume and give little back, tangible or otherwise. We are all creators and consumers in various avenues of our lives, yet dominant characteristics shine through.

    I disagree that we aren’t raising our sons to be “daughters”. The expectation of men to be more active husbands, sons & parents has greatly accelerated in one generation. It’s a shame that making and care giving are seen falsely as only masculine or feminine, and not expected of everyone.

  5. ccarse says:

    Great article. Even if I don’t fully agree with some of her feminist ideas, that doesn’t dismiss her point.

  6. As a (maybe stereotypical) bearded mid-40s, male, beer and whisky drinking hockey fan who has spent much of his working life making tangible things, I find that the only comments I agree with are Ms. Fitzpatrick’s. Huh.

  7. I’m a bit taken aback by the tone of the comments, but I suppose I shouldn’t be. I just have a hard time imagining what could be “potentially incendiary” about the article, and it would never occurred to me to take it as anything more than a though-provoking and thoughtfully written article.

    Frankly, I found it refreshing. I have been in arguments with feminists before – but that was because I felt that their attitudes were diminishing toward the work that my spouse chooses to do as a stay-at-home parent. I appreciate (and agree with) Chachra’s sentiments that societal roles such as nurturing and education be considered on par with “making”.

    Bottom line: I don’t want my four-year-old daughter to grow up to be a furniture maker. I don’t want her to be a software engineer. I don’t want her to grow up to be an educator, or a nurse, or a homemaker. What I want is for her to have a choice – and for that choice to be held in equal regard, whether it’s a traditionally male- or female-dominated profession. I don’t see what’s so controversial about that.

  8. I have no doubt that women face a certain cultural perception that “making” certain things is a male pursuit. This is a relic of cultural history that women have to overcome and I heartily support those that do. That being said I disagree with the precepts that Chachra works from. There are many reasons other than sexism why the skills to “make” things are more valued than other contributions to society. To start with, non-makers far outnumber makers. They win on that count. Makers with the skill to actually produce a valuable product outnumber makers generally. Makers compete with each other. The skill of makers, and thus their relative value, is easy to judge qualitatively and quantitatively in real time. Skills like teaching are hard, if not impossible, to measure without examining a lifetime of effort (although we do try). Teachers also resist measurement and competition among themselves, which makes it difficult for the better ones to be rewarded for their superior abilities. The main reason why teachers aren’t paid better as a whole is because the reject inequality based on merit, which is the problem with Marxism in the first place. It is also a fallacy to say that good teachers are not valued, but the reverence and appreciation of a lifetime of students is hard to but a dollar value on. Chachra’s resentment seems personal rather than merely dispassionate criticism.

    • “The main reason why teachers aren’t paid better as a whole is because they reject inequality based on merit”…

      I’d sure love to see you back up that conjecture with evidence.

      • I only brought up teachers because the author used the example. This observation is largely based on experience participating in my local schools. The State teachers union has a monopoly on representing teachers in contract negotiations and fights tooth and nail against any change in compensation that may lead to competition among members. Through the news I find this to be the case in most places. It makes sense: unions are based on solidarity. Unfortunately, a focus on equality tends to normalize remuneration. The best teachers make less than they should and the worst make more. On average, the group is probably better off, which is why the system persists even though I know many teachers don’t particularly like it. No hating on teachers here.

        Sorry that I dragged the conversation this direction. I just see no justification in the argument that “makers” are unfairly valued more than people who do other things. I think that thinking people admire skill of any kind.

      • I grew up in one of the five states (Georgia) that expressly prohibits collective bargaining, so teachers’ unions have little to no political power. Yet the standards regarding compensation are essentially the same, i.e. experience- and qualification-based, rather than “performance” based. I don’t think it’s a union issue, I think it gets back to what you said previously: “Skills like teaching are hard, if not impossible, to measure without examining a lifetime of effort”. I agree with that – but I’ll add that they are STILL difficult to measure even when examining a lifetime of effort.

        Students and fellow teachers tend to know which teachers rise above their peers, but their knowledge is generally informed by subjective qualities, not by rubrics and test scores. Would the administrators who would be in charge of potential merit-based pay consider these subjective qualities? No, they would use objective data so as not to appear biased. If you gave every teacher the same students and the same resources, then it might be possible to measure their performance adequately based on students’ results, but that is hardly the case. It’s a sticky topic and there are no easy answers.

        One final comment on your last paragraph: I tend to agree that society at large doesn’t seem to value “making” more so than other skills. Rather, it is an attitude of makers regarding themselves that tends to have an air of superiority. Honestly, I’m probably guilty of that myself at times. I think this is the attitude that Chachra was addressing in her article.

  9. Gail Middleton says:

    Deb’s article in The Atlantic is very interesting indeed. My reading of it is very different from most of the comments made. I don’t see an expression of insecurity, but a statement of facts based on experience and historical perspective.

    Personal experiences I have had are similar to a comment Fitz made – “There remains, in my experience, a pervasive societal perception that people who use tools are of the homogametic sex.”
    I have lost count of how many times, while shopping for a tool or supplies, I have been asked by store staff (male) “what are you gonna use that for?” as if I had no idea what to do with it.

    Women always HAVE been a very important part of the maker community, but sadly not often celebrated or even recognized as such.

    • tsstahl says:

      “Women always HAVE been a very important part of the maker community…” Truism. No room for argument here.

      “sadly not often celebrated or even recognized as such”
      Respectfully disagree. Women who publicize themselves in the traditionally male makerspace receive gobs of attention. As an example, confined to the universe of woodworking, female youtubers have vastly more subscription numbers than many male craftpersons with much higher skill level. Ignoring the proof of gender bias and the implication that greater skill must imply broader appeal, these folks of the female persuasion are most definitely recognized and celebrated.

      Mosey on over to the popwood’s website and compare the number of comments Megan’s posts receive versus the other bloggers on the site. Maybe a decade ago she was the shop girl who knew all the big words, but now she is a very skilled craftsperson easily on par with the other bloggers. Statistically she should get the same number of comments as the other bloggers. Caveat being that you have to ignore Chris’ numbers due to the cult of personality factor.

      Women who toil anonymously away in their garage for their own satisfaction deserve no more, nor less recognition than the men doing the same thing.

      This is one of those infinite issues that folks can opine on forever with never a consensus to be found. 🙂

  10. I find it curious that the word “resentment” keeps coming up. Maybe it’s because I’ve had enough contact with gender studies and social theory that most of what she’s saying in that regard seems salient but given to me, but I don’t see her as “resenting” anything really.

    Calling it like it is, sure, I’ll give her that. I couldn’t agree more that in the current “maker” culture/economy/whatever people who make things are considered “better” than those who don’t. I’ve been to enough hack days and maker fairs to witness that prejudice first hand. Furthermore, I agree that “maker” as a construct is a valued category that and a historically gendered and male category, even if there are plenty of things made by women who don’t get their due.

    But again, that’s a red herring I think. the real interest for me was this assertion that:

    “Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.”

    I’m going to have to consider that, even if I think it’s a gross over-generalization. Again, looking around the Maker Fairs, damn, that’s spot on. In the world of hand tool woodworking, basket weaving, traditional arts, etc. I think it’s a little off.

    I think it is rebellious to say you don’t accept the mega-low-mart press board furniture and that you will use your skills, tenacity and resources to make something better. I think it is rebellious to say you will pay a little more for tools and products made in places and conditions that respect the work and the workers. I think it is crazy and rebellious to invest in local economies and the individuals who make them up instead of letting the system shake out the lowest common denominators.

    Hmmm… good food for thought here Chris. I look forward to hearing your rantings and ravings.

  11. ouidavincent says:

    The first idea I thought about as I began reading the article was Ayn Rand and her philosophy. This article is well, if not beautifully, written. As enlightened as many in the woodworking community are…the efforts and contributions of women are simply devalued. I experience it every time a man, who learns that I am in the medical profession asks if I am a nurse. I am a physician and a surgeon. The author goes even further though because she asserts (between the lines of course) that if she could be considered a maker she wouldn’t want to be as the object made can ultimately devalue human endeavor. And the existence of the maker class devalues the service class…I for one am looking forward to the blog post. And I agree that we should develop a different paradigm

    • tsstahl says:

      ” I experience it every time a man, who learns that I am in the medical profession asks if I am a nurse” My observations are that most women make the same assumptions. I am in healthcare, too. Certainly not saying you are wrong, but it is a societal issue, not a gender issue.

      Also, kudos on making it in surgery! The barriers for women surgeons are so much higher than being ‘just’ a doctor. I have never met a lousy female surgeon.

      • On the gender subject, this does go both ways. I used to sew my own shirts (western shirts, I am male and a bit of a hick). I never felt welcome in the fabric store when I went in in the middle of the work day. All of the employees were female and refused to believed that I made clothes.

  12. dnramirez says:

    Thanks for putting this out there.

  13. fitz says:

    I got bogged down in the gender-based premise (which does seem to be the thrust of her argument). But what’s actually most arresting to me is Chachra’s statement that in Silicon Valley, “People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t” and further, that they are financially rewarded for it.

    Among the top paying jobs on Business Insider (http://www.businessinsider.com/top-paying-jobs-in-america-2015-9) not a single one of them involves making something. So overall as a country while we might privilege the romantic ideal of the “maker” (which I’d argue is a recent trend), we do not often compensate accordingly (as always, there are exceptions, including coding, it seems…which wouldn’t to my mind be “making,” but I know nothing about it, so…).

    So while I’ll buy her argument about gendered roles etc., do we really privilege makers as a whole? We all know the joke: “Q: How do you make a small fortune as a furniture maker? A: Start with a large fortune.” And how many of us actually earn a paycheck as “makers?” Do I enjoy doing it? You bet. But that’s not what I get paid for, and it is a special day indeed when I have time on the clock to spend in the shop. While it is an absolute joy and privilege to make things, it is not a role that in my daily life is privileged.

  14. Steering clear of the minefield of feminism and “making” culture…

    For Chris’ radio interview, should we expect measured drawings?

  15. erikhinkston says:

    Nearly everyday you make me think, I so appreciate getting nudged along. I’ve added looking sideways to my podcast rotation as well, thank you for this discovery.

  16. Okay okay okay… no one has said the obvious yet. That plane in the picture. ?! With that beautiful old school handle!? Where has that been hiding? Judging by the single iron and size, it looks as if it could be a scrub or jack, but the angle seems a bit high. On behalf of all others concerned, I request more information on this plane. Looks straight out of the Roubo plates~

    • tsstahl says:

      I just got my April issue of Popwood. The cover has perhaps the _best_ picture of planes I have ever seen. Kudos to Megan for hitting this one out of the park. And of course kudos to the photog. 🙂

      Art is in the eye of the beholder, but I would totally put an 8X10 of that on my shop wall.

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