The new craft – an alternative form of organising work?

Published: 2022-03-28

Passion, creativity and community. That’s the essence of an ongoing craft trend, according to organisational researcher and homebrewer Stephan Schaefer. “Craft is a timeless form of work that has always been important for human development. But craft is not static. It adapts and develops to fit our modern times. This is an important message and something that companies can learn from,” he says.

Stephan Schaefer is the organisational researcher who a few years ago dove deep into the impact of digitalisation on work and organisation. But now his focus has shifted: Stephan Schaefer has recently launched a research project on craft as an alternative form of work organisation and its impact on sustainability. The fact that he himself is a passionate homebrewer, may have something to do with this.

On 6 April, you can learn more about Stephan Schaefer’s research and views on craft, organisation – and craft breweries. He will then take part in a panel discussion with the microbreweries Hyllie Bryggeri and Brekeriet on-site at Lund University School of Economics and Management.

Ahead of the talk, we asked him to elaborate on his thoughts on craft, passion and community.

”Craft”, what does it mean to you? You have earlier cited Richard Sennett who argues that craft “means doing an activity for the sake of doing it”. But how does that translate into people who organise craft for business purposes?

“Craft for me means the ability to enjoy an activity as an end in itself. I know of craft brewers who brew beer at the brewery during the day, only to return home and brew some more beer after a hard day of work, just because they enjoy it that much. This is really connected to the intrinsic aspect of our motivation to do something which stresses passion, engagement and satisfaction rather than focusing on rewards such as fame, money or likes.

Translated into business purposes, it means that people are eager to learn and further work on their specific skills not because of their job’s requirements but because they love what they do. The expression ’labour of love’ is commonly used by craft practitioners which I think is a fitting description. They tend not to seek the easiest way out but are curious and explore their area open-mindedly.

Craft is also related to a supportive community and the importance of sharing knowledge and connecting to others who are equally passionate and curious. Community is in fact a big part of craft which contrasts with a focus on the individual and seeking one’s own advantage constantly. Craft expresses the desire not to be a lone individual competing with others but supporting each other.

Lastly, craft translated to German and Swedish means “Handwerk” or “hantverk”, literally working with your hands. So, body and mind both play an important role in craft.”

You do research on craft as an alternative form of organising work and its effects on sustainability. What got you interested in this?

“Generally, I was always interested in craft through a fascination with people who are extremely passionate about what they are doing. More concretely, I developed a deeper interest in researching craft, organising and sustainability when Fredrik Ek, one of the owners of Brekeriet, came to lecture on my course on ’Organizational Creativity’ at LUSEM.

While he spoke about Brekeriet’s creative process he also talked about the importance of community, the hesitation to maximise profits and growth and the joy he had working with what he loved. Subsequently, I spend two weeks at Brekeriet to see what they were doing. This made me more and more convinced that this is an important issue that needs more systematic research as well as public attention!”

The event on 6 April focuses on craft brewers. Why this? Why local beer companies?

“I am interested in craft beer and a dedicated homebrewer myself. That helps me develop a deeper insight into the community, even when I am not ’doing research’. Also, craft breweries have grown tremendously over the last years, not only in Sweden but worldwide. This makes it a good empirical context to collect data and study craft.

We are currently seeking research money to extend our research to other crafts as well. It will be interesting to compare different craft domains and whether they work differently.”

You have previously studied the impact of digitalisation on work, and (hopefully) later this year you will release a book on “Organizing Creativity”. What do you enjoy most with topics such as these?

“I really enjoy studying how people experience working in organisations. Why do they do what they do? What is meaningful to them? What are their concrete practices as opposed to their aims and desires? This was the focus when studying digitalisation at the Pufendorf Institute at Lund University where we discussed the significance of digitalisation processes in organisations. The same goes for creativity.

Creativity is such an important part of being a human and what I find fascinating is to see how this urge is used but also constrained in organisations. How do we use and are able to use our creativity in organisations? What are the processes, practices and contexts of creativity? Thinking about these questions prompted me to write a whole book about it.”

The event on 6 April is titled “Craft: Organising against the mainstream. What does this mean to you?

“It is a slightly provocative question of course. To me, it means that craft may have become an alternative to the profit-maximising corporation that tends to disregard negative social and ecological consequences. Of course, it is a bit of a simplification, but research points out that craft organisations do not seek to maximise profits, engage with local communities and in many cases seek to mitigate negative ecological consequences.

In a study on craft breweries in the US, researchers found for example that they identified in opposition to “big beer”, which means the gigantic beverage corporations that want to sell as many mass-produced beers as they can. Being against the mainstream here means that the small craft breweries seek to produce not the largest sellable quantity of beer, but the highest quality.”

Is this a new phenomenon or a return to something more traditional? What can ”normal” companies learn from this?

“Craft is a timeless form of work that has always been important to human development and progress. Yet of course throughout history there have been different ways of organising craft.

If we think about the German purity law or “Reinheitsgebot” we see a very traditional way of thinking about craft, namely that beer should only be brewed with four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. In modern craft breweries, the “Reinheitgebot” is broken deliberately to add different flavours and ingredients. So, craft is not static but adapts and develops to modern times. This is an important message to what companies can learn from it.”

Learn more about the panel discussion on 6 April


Stephan Schaefer
Senior Lecturer in Organisational studies
Lund University School of Economics and Management

More on Stephan Schaefer’s research in the LU Research Portal


Stephan Schaefer’s research interests cover organisation and management studies. He is particularly interested in reflections and ignorance in managerial work; the role of critical research in organisational practices and the impact of digitalisation on work and organisation.

Recently, he has started a research project on craft as an alternative form of organising work and its effects on sustainability. Stephan Schaefer is currently finalising his upcoming book “Organizing Creativity”, published by Oxford University Press.

Lecture and panel discussion 6 April

On 6 April 2022 at 16:15, you can learn more about Stephan Schaefer’s research and views on craft, organisation – and craft breweries. He will then participate in a panel discussion together with Hyllie Bryggeri and Brekeriet at LUSEM’s premises in Lund, Sweden.

The talk will also be broadcast live via Youtube and can be watched afterwards.

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