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Call for articles for a special issue of the journal Entreprises & Histoire : “The craft industry and its companies: crossed views”

03-09-2022 16:37

In the early 2020s, the craft industry can commemorate its centenary in France. This seems to be an appropriate moment toddle into its history and its place in Western economies. Although artisans and their companies date back from olden days, it was not until the aftermath of the First World War that the term appeared to refer to the socio-professional group that was then being formed. Before the First World War, there was no legal definition of craftsmen and craft industry in France, nor in most European countries (except Germany). In 1922, the General Confederation of French Artisanat (CGAF in french) was created. Then, the government took a series of measures specifically aimed at the craft industry during the 1920s-1930s: a tax status for the craftsman and the creation of the Crédit Artisanal in 1923, the Chambers of Trades in 1925, the opening of a trades directory in 1936, the supervision of craft apprenticeship in 1937. This institutionalization is not unique to France. Other European countries (Italy, Spain, Scandinavian countries, etc.) also adopted a legal status for craftsmen during the inter-war period. The reforms undertaken during the second half of the 20th century modified the scope of the craft industry to some extent only, since more than 90% of craft enterprises are still composed of no more than a staff of 5. These reforms having, however, contributed to the convergence of different national legislations against in the background of the European construction.

Since the industrialization of European economies in the 19th century, many authors have prophesied the disappearance of craft industry. However, it is clear that this has not been the case. During the 20th century, the craft industry showed remarkable stability in France and in Europe (Perrin, 2007, 2020). Since the beginning of the 21st century, it has even undergone a new phase of expansion in France. It currently has 1.5 million companies and employs more than 3 million workers. In 2018, it represented more than a quarter of all business creations (INSEE Références, 2020 edition). The economic press regularly reports not only on the dynamism of the craft industry, but also on its strong attractiveness on young graduates who no longer find their executive positions in a large companies satisfactory enough. Craft work as well as the expertise in the work process are thus favoured to the detriment of routine and often meaningless work (Sennett, 2010; Crawford, 2010). More recently, many articles have also been published in the economic press on the adaptability of craftsmen who master, for example, 3D printing or, more generally, advanced digital technologies. The organization of work is also evolving with the creation of coworking spaces equipped with fab.lab, partly intended for craft companies and, more generally, inspired by craft work. Craft companies are shaping into networks to cooperate and develop their know-how. The craft industry is not standing still oblivious of the movement of history and modernity. It evolves, a direct reflection of society and economy as a whole.

In short, contrary to the expectations of many an economist and economic historian, craft enterprises have not only continued to be but they are literally enjoying a certain drive (Boutillier, 2011). The craft industry does not turn the wheel of history backwards (Jaeger, 1982).

This revival of the craft industry has attracted the attention of researchers in sociology, economics and management sciences. From the 1980s onwards, historians also began to take an interest in the worlds of the workshop and the store, which they had hitherto neglected in favor of the large-scale Fordist business (Crossick, Haupt, 1984). They initially addressed approached the 19th century "industrial revolution" from a political and social history of the 19th century, then work on the 20th century developed on France (Zdatny, 1999; Perrin, 2007, 2020; Boutillier et al., 2015; Zarca, 1986) and more recently on Germany (McKitrick, 2016; Domurad, 2019). However, these different approaches have too often developed in silos, ignoring each other's respective contributions. 

After having devoted a few issues to SMEs and a few articles on craft industry, Entreprises & Histoire is now preparing a special issue on the craft industry, its companies and entrepreneurs, whose ambition will be to cross and bring together different disciplines (history, economics, management sciences, sociology, anthropology, law...) to shed light on the adaptation capacities of craft companies in the face of economic transformations and dynamism over the long term, but also to study the evolution of the researchers' view of craft industry, as a world of innovation. In order to shed light on the capacities of craft enterprises to adapt economic transformations and on the dynamism of the craft industry over the long term, but also to study the evolution of the researchers' view of the craft industry, as an endangered world to be protected or, on the contrary, as a new form of modernity.

The articles proposed for this issue can be related to the following themes (this list is not exhaustive).

In order to clear up misunderstandings, it seems necessary to specify what and who we are talking about. Indeed, the word craftsman does not have the same meaning in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries; in France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom or Spain. Industrialization has led to growing clarification and accuracy of the status of the craftsman. While it was not very different from that of the worker, it is distinguished by its qualification and independence. The craftsman has become a worker who practises a trade considered manual for their own account. He also differentiates himself from merchants and industrials to form a social group that has been known as the artisans since the beginning of the 20th century. However, this process comes about at different rates and conditions according to the countries. In addition, hybrid situations may have persisted for a long time, such as that of the manufacturers who own their production tools, but work for a client paying them by the piece. There is therefore no single definition of a craftsman, but rather a variety of statuses that vary according to time and place. Faced with this variety, international institutions such as the International Labour Office (ILO) and the European Union have successively given up the idea of establishing their own definition, submitting this question to different states. The construction of Europe nevertheless seems to be leading to a gradual convergence of national standards and definitions. The features of the craft industry keep evolving with the introduction of new legislative measures and new statuses such as those of self-employed workers in France, which nevertheless raise questions about their precariousness. As a result, the craft industry is very heterogeneous, both in terms of the legal status of the enterprise (from companies to the status of microentrepreneur) and in terms of the activity (the official list of craft activities includes about 250 in France, and more than 150 in Germany).

The evolution of the regulatory framework brings into play the role of governments and also calls for questions about the development of public policies aimed at supporting craft businesses. Some political parties, such as the French Radical Socialist Party in France of  the 3rd Republic, were known to be close to the independent middle classes and were concerned to protect them during their serving terms. However, one may wonder about the scope and effectiveness of these protections, of these supportive policies. Beyond their statement, the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century actually did very little to protect the craftsmen, for example. One can thus ask oneself which States regulated and supported the craft industry and, conversely, which States did not, in winch context, for what reasons... More generally, to what extent were their economic policies favorable or unfavorable to craft enterprises? The history of the craft industry also overlaps with the history of vocational training, the establishment of technical education and its regulation by the public authorities. An article on apprenticeship would also be welcome.

Beyond these institutional and political aspects, the sustainability of the craft industry must also be explored in its economic dynamics. The decline of craftsmen seemed inevitable, particularly because of competition from industrial capitalism. However, in the wake of a historiography that has re-evaluated the place of small enterprises in the history of industrialization, it would be appropriate to take a closer look at this supposed competition. Does industry really compete with crafts or do industry and crafts have their own markets? Shouldn't the model of juxtaposition be preferred to that of a progressive and inevitable substitution of one by the other? Doesn't competition in some fields, trades or sectors of activity also go hand in hand with complementarities, cooperation and even hybridization? Some large companies, particularly in the luxury sector, like to claim a tradition of craftsmanship. Entrepreneurs such as Pierre Hermé, in the pastry industry, or Lionel Poilâne, in the bakery industry, have developed their "houses" at the international level by relying on artisanal know-how, which they continue to emphasize in their communication. Moreover, aren't craft companies, encouraged and sometimes supported by the Chambers of Trade, trying to appropriate modern business processes: R&D, innovative design, rationalization of manufacturing processes, etc.?

The craft industry is a very heterogeneous group, both from the point of view of the status of the company and the trade practiced, and it definitely is the place of the trade that builds the identity of the craft industry. While claiming to be rooted in tradition, craft companies innovate and adapt to modernity: electrical companies use home automation, construction companies design and build houses that meet the new environmental standards, not to mention food companies developing their offer of local products based on short circuits, helping to bring the producer and the consumer closer together, farmers who become bakers, etc. The world of crafts is undercooking deep changes, including the art and heritage professions. Not to mention the use of the Internet to communicate and promote their products. And this while craft companies work as subcontractors for the aeronautical industry in advanced technologies... Craft companies are not a world apart, cut off from the rest of the economy and industry.

For several years, craft work, which is not very divided and repetitive, essentially manual, more qualified and fulfilling, has appeared to some as an attractive alternative to industrial work... Over the long term, the sociological and cultural forces behind the renewal of artisanal entrepreneurship must be investigated. Who are the craftsmen? Who becomes an artisan? What walks of life do they come from? What credit should be given, for example, to the image of the craftsman from father to son? What are the new artisans’ motivations when they set up business ? What is their business project ? An ethno-anthropological study of the craft industry could also be considered. The particular question of the connections between small entreprises and migration has already been well studied by historians, but a long-term perspective on periods prior to contemporary history could be proposed.

The contributions could question craftsmen and craftswomen from a gender perspective. Indeed, it is a socio-professional group very clearly dominated by men and in which women occupy a marginal position. They are confined to a few trades, notably those in textiles and clothing - the so-called needle trades - and personal services such as hairdressing. But things are changing here too, as shown by the CMA's "Madame Artisanat" prize, with women who have turned to car mechanics, carpentry or even baking. We can also wonder about the gender assignment processes that are at work in this distribution: how is it constructed? What role can be attributed to social representations, to professional training, etc.? The focus can be widened beyond the sole craftswoman to examine more globally the place of women in craft enterprises. Indeed, among the definitions of the craftsman, some of them include the possible use of family labor, making craft enterprises family businesses that rely on the couple, the association of the craftsman and his wife at work. But how many craftsmen actually work with their wives? What positions do they assume in the company? Does this association concern any specific trades rather than others? What is the status of these artisans' wives?

If artisans are defined by their trade, they are also entrepreneurs. But, which entrepreneurs are they? How do they manage their enterprises? What are their strategies? What are their business models? Do they favor small series, tailor-made work in favor of quality? In fact, situations vary significantly depending on the companies and their history, their trajectory, but also the territory in which they are located, because the craft rhymes with territory and local development, for example in the context of innovation poles of the artisanat created in 2006 in France in order to develop cooperative relationships between large companies, craft businesses and research centers. There are currently about 20 such clusters in a wide variety of trades: food processing, printing, metals, bakery, electronics, etc.

The proposed articles could be based on a company, a sector of activity or a specific craft. They could focus on the emergence of new trades, at different times, or on the particular case of the art and/or luxury trades. They can also approach a chamber of trades or an organization representing the craft industry. The study can be carried out on the scale of a country, a region, a city or a particular territory (industrial district, cluster, competitiveness pole, for example).

The expected articles should include a historical dimension. This perspective can be taken over a long period of time, going back to the 18th century (or even earlier), by studying a particular period or more precisely the last twenty or thirty years. Furthermore, given the importance that crafts have taken on since the 1980s, articles that present a review of the systemic literature on the subject are also expected, in order to highlight the evolution of the number of academic publications on the subject, the different themes treated and the conclusions reached by their authors. 

While the situation of artisanat in France in the 20th century is beginning to be better known, comparable studies on neighboring countries are still lacking. Proposals on crafts and craft enterprises in other European countries, and even beyond, would therefore be particularly expected.

Provisional calendar 
November 15th, 2022: submission of article proposals (with a title, a presentation of the proposed article of +/- 2500 typographical characters, and a brief presentation of the author)
December 1st, 2022: response to the authors of the proposals
June 15th, 2023: submission of the first version of the article (30 to 45000 characters in length. Authors should refer to the instructions on the journal website:
June 2024: publication of the special issue of Entreprises et Histoire

Boutillier S., 2011, La persistance des petites entreprises. Essai d’analyse à partir des théories de la firme et de l’entrepreneur, Innovations, n° 35, 9-28.
Boutillier S., Uzunidis D., 1999, La légende de l’entrepreneur, Syros, Paris.
Boutillier S., Fournier C. Perrin C. (dir.), 2015, « Le temps des artisans. Permanences et mutations », Marché & Organisations, n° 24.
Crawford M., 2010, Eloge du carburateur. Essai sur le sens et la valeur du travail, La Découverte, Paris.
Crossick G., Haupt H-G. (dir.), 1984, Shopkeepers and masters artisans in Nineteenth century Europe, Methuen, Londres/New-York.
Domurad F., 2019, Hometown Hamburg: Artisans and the Political Struggle for Social Order in the Weimar Republic, Anthem Press, Londres & NewYork.
Gresle F., 1981, L’univers de la boutique. Les petits patrons du Nord (1920-1975), Presses universitaires de Lille, Lille.
Jaeger C., 1982, L’envers de la roue de l’histoire, Payot, Paris.
McKitrick F., 2016, From Craftsmen to Capitalists: German Artisans from the Third Reich to the Federal Republic, 1939–1953. Berghahn Books, New York.
Perrin C., 2007, Entre glorification et abandon. L’Etat et les artisans en France (1938-1970), CHEFF, Paris.
Perrin C., 2020, La résistible déclin de l’artisanat en France des années 1920 aux années 1970, Entreprises & Histoire, n° 100, 73-84.
Sennett R., 2010, Ce que fait la main. La culture de l’artisanat, Albin Michel, Paris.
Zarca B., 1986, L’artisanat français, du métier traditionnel au groupe social, Economica.
Zdatny S., 1999, Les artisans en France au XXe siècle, Belin, Paris.


Η Δράση Αναβάθμιση και Ανανέωση του ιστοχώρου της Ελληνικής Εταιρείας Οικονομικής Ιστορίας χρηματοδοτείται από το Κοινωφελές Ίδρυμα Ιωάννη Σ. Λάτση, στο πλαίσιο του Προγράμματος Ενίσχυσης Επιστημονικών Εταιρειών 2016