Seeing the Invisible

As we have been preparing our new research objectives, we have been immediately confronted by a handful of research dilemmas.  What is an artisan or a maker, exactly, and where do we find them?  What limitations do we impose on our research by creating boundaries around the artisans we include?  Who gets excluded, and at what cost?

Defining “artisan” and “maker” will inevitably create challenges for us.  One of the first orders of business for us was to try out the effectiveness of a few databases that catalog small businesses in fine detail.  For example, we searched the list of 135 Portland Made Collective members on the Reference USA database.  Of the 135 members, only 19 showed up in the Reference USA search results.  This is not reflective of a deficiency in the database; rather it is reflective of the invisibility of Portland’s artisans.  In other words, the self-reliant, autonomous, and amateur characteristics of makers and artisans make conventional economic analyses of the artisan economy very difficult to undertake.

With that said, we would like to emphasize the fact that Portland’s artisans have very real effects on the larger local economy.  Their invisibility does not preclude their economic and cultural sway in this city, as anyone familiar with Portland would attest.  We have many theories about why artisans and makers are so difficult to find, but of course, these will come to the fore through our empirical work.  Stay tuned…

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