Johnson, Robert.  “Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies.”  CCC June 2010.

Abstract:  This article argues that craft knowledge can provide a disciplinary rationale for writingstudies. It draws from the ancient concepts of teche, phronesis, and the four causes of making and makes the case for a definition of disciplinary knowledge fitting for writing studies. The article concludes with a conceptual framework that can serve as a heuristic to explore craft knowledge.

Johnson starts by noting how craft knowledge has been relegated to the “lower forms” of knowledge over the course of the past couple of thousand years (but has new significance in the age of mechanical reproduction right?).  Working from “craft” (Johnson defines it as one of the most central human essences) as an oxymoronic concept, Johnson argues that the fields of writing studies should embrace its “craft” and lift it into higher forms of knowledge.  For Johnson, craft knowledge “is a strong and deep description of knowledge that is both relevant to writing studies context and a source of knowledge that literally has value far beyond the historical and cultural biases placed on it” (674).  Further, considering writing studies as craft knowledge might help the discipline sort out the question of legitimacy and commensurability with other disciplines in the academy.

Johnson works through the Platonic conception of techne – and it’s secondary position to episteme and phronesis – to demonstrate how the nature and understanding of “making” has long occupied the Western consciousness.  Next Johnson consider the “four causes” of Aristotle (how, what, when, and why or efficient, material, formal, and end) to demonstrate what appropriate craft knowledge (and the production of craft) looks like.   There are five aspects of the four causes that Johnson utilizes in this essay:

  1. Techne is a type of knowledge and is the formation of knowledge (it is epistemic).
  2. Techne begins with the maker (it’s in the human domain).
  3. Techne has two ends – the thing produced and the use of the production.  This fact invokes ethics as the production and use of products entail action and ethical consequences
  4. The four causes are not linear (efficient to material to formal to final end); rather, they are recursive and multiplicitous (this allows for education).
  5. The use of the end product invokes phronesis and ethical action.

Considering these five aspects, Johnson then makes the enthymatic conclusion that if techne is the production and use of product, then it is also phronetic and a major predictor in the production of poesis (the ethical production of the self).

Next Johnson reflects on the problem of disciplinary epistemology and its attendant likelihood of creating boundaries to the expansion of knowledge.  Though interdisciplinarity poses a possible solution, the reciprocity – or knowledge swapping between other disciplines and writing studies – doesn’t seem to be working out (681).  In the pursuit of a knowledge base (and the problems associated with having a “base” at all) Johnson recommends using a metaphor of “economy” of knowledge (fluid, open, self-critical, and taxonomic).

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