Ethics, Tradition and Temporality in Craft Work: The Case of Japanese Mingei

Journal of Business Ethics 188 (4):827-843 (2023)
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Based on an empirical illustration of Onta pottery and more broadly a discussion of the Japanese Mingei movement, we study the intimacy between craft work, ethics and time. We conceptualize craft work through the temporal structure of tradition, to which we find three aspects: generational rhythms of making; cycles of use and re-use amongst consumers and a commitment to historically and naturally attuned communities. We argue these temporal structures of tradition in craftwork are animated by two contrasting but co-existing ideas of the good: the moral and the ethical. By developing the work of Elizabeth Grosz, we conceptualize this distinction between moral and ethical as a temporal phenomenon, specifically in differing relations to ideas of the future. Moral aspects of craft work understand the future as a progression from past, whether in preserving practices and norms, or improving upon them in relation to ideals. Ethical aspects understand the future as inherently open to chance and divergence, valuing difference, accident and the possibilities for creativity these entail. Empirically, we show evidence of both aspects in the case of Mingei—a organized movement dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional Japanese craft work. We contribute to studies of craft work by revealing and classifying its temporal aspects. We contribute to studies in business ethics by conceptualising a generative distinction between morals and ethics configured through differing understandings of time.



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Robin Holt
Copenhagen Business School

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