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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-04022024-163745

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
The concept of Craft: A literature review across multiple disciplines and a multi-method investigation into consumers’ perspectives
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Prof. Dalli, Daniele
  • artisan
  • consumer behavior
  • craft
  • marketing
Graduation session start date
Release date
In recent decades we have observed a resurgence of the artisanal market, defined as the “third wave” of craft (Luckman, 2015). This trend may seem surprising when considering the technological advancements, and globalization of our society (Eichinger et al., 2022). However, the digitization trend and the desire for craft should not be perceived as two unrelated dimensions. Indeed, it seems more evident that the craft resurgence is the human response (Bell et al., 2018) to the drawbacks of the dominant industrial production, which has started to be perceived as inadequate (Chreim et al., 2020) and with negative implications in terms of environmental and social costs (Miller, 2017).
The recent craft revolution also attracted the interest of scholars in management, ethics, organization, entrepreneurship, strategy, marketing, and psychology. In particular, the first five disciplines mainly focus on understanding craft from a producer perspective, as an approach to work, while marketing and psychology scholars explore the consumer attitude toward craft goods.
What seems to emerge is the profound relevance of producers and consumers as actors capable of shaping the craft market. Looking at the extant literature reviews on craft, the most recent and comprehensive one is that of Kroezen and colleagues (2021), which provides excellent insights into configurations of craft work. However, it does not consider the consumer side and the conjoint role that producers and consumers have in influencing the evolution and the persistence of artisanship.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of craft, it is essential to explore how both producers and consumers influence the market through their respective production and consumption activities.
To this end, Paper 1 “Integrating Production and Consumption Perspectives to Theorize Craft. A Literature Review” presents a literature review that aims to bridge what we know from a supply and demand side.
By collecting research on craft until 2022 through the Web of Science database, extant findings are discussed using a “Producer & Consumer” framework. This framework helps organize the current knowledge by understanding how the craft market is the result of the producers’ activities in terms of production, price, distribution, and communication and how the resulting product and activities are then interpreted, judged, and modified by the consumers across pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase stages.
As a result, craft emerges as a mix of meanings and practices that producers and consumers apply respectively in their production and consumption activities.

Furthermore, the review highlights potential future research, such as inherent tension and opportunities linked to innovation, sustainability, wise consumption, communication, and the need for a more structured conceptualization of craft from a consumer perspective.
Concerning the latter, while comprehensive understandings of craft have been conducted from a producer perspective, less is known about how consumers comprehensively conceptualize craft in their minds. Indeed, literature mainly focuses on some specific sub-dimensions of craft, such as handmade (Fuchs et al., 2015) or personization (van Osselaer et al., 2020). Even if these findings provide interesting insights into consumers’ preferences, they do not explain holistically what craft means to them. Considering this gap, the second and third papers are dedicated to a detailed investigation of consumers’ perspectives on craft.
Paper 2 “Craft vs. industrial. A consumer perspective” explores consumers’ understanding of craft by adopting a semiotic perspective that helps to understand consumers’ perception of this market by connecting it to industrial production. Indeed, a contraposition of craft versus industrial is evident in the craft marketplace and has been explored also by management and organizational researchers using a “counter-institutional” perspective. In this vein, this paper aims to understand if and how the industrial counterpart is also used by consumers.
The application of the semiotic square allowed understanding how consumers conceptualize craft and the inherent differences and the potential connections between craft and its contrary concepts.
90 students were asked to provide a set of words they had in mind by using the free word association technique. Results reveal that consumers primarily define craft based on positive criteria emphasizing its distinctive features rather than the absence of industrial characteristics (e.g., handmade rather than non-machine-made). However, the distinctive positive qualities that define craft arise in strong contrast to industrial attributes (such as small batches versus large scale, uniqueness versus standardization), illuminating how consumers perceive the craft market as fundamentally opposed to the industrial realm.
Additionally, examining the interplay of complementary terms enables an understanding of the aspects that are intricately linked with craft (such as territory and small batches) as opposed to those that specifically emerge when considered in a non-industrial context (the non-market dimension).

Paper 3 “The Crafty Essence: How Consumers Perceive It and its Connection to Press Narratives on Artisanship” has two principal objectives. First, it aims to investigate in more detail the set of meanings that consumers use when conceptualizing craft and the relationships that exist between these aspects. By conducting 15 semi-structured interviews with consumers, study 1 provides a detailed description of the set of meanings, confirming the three major dimensions emerging from the management and organization literature, and from Paper 2: the craftsman, the craft product, and the production process.
Furthermore, it allows exploring more in detail the underlying dimensions. Regarding producers, these are human touch, mastery of technique, and attitude of dedication, while value, uniqueness, and authenticity are considered for the product. Finally, the handmade and production and distribution elements characterize production and distribution. This identification showed how consumers use these values as interrelated aspects that dialogue together, which may generate potential tensions in the co-existence of tradition with innovation.
In a second step, this study aims to bridge the consumers’ conceptualization of craft with that emerging from a macro level. Specifically, considering the relevant institutional and cultural role that journalists can play in influencing perceptions and conveying information across society (Humphreys and Thompson, 2014), a quantitative content analysis is applied to verify if and how the results emerging in the first study are represented in the more general social discourse. 12,769 narratives about craft have been selected across three international newspapers: Corriere della Sera (Italy), The Guardian (UK), and The New York Times (US).
Findings revealed a consistent pattern across the three newspaper presses. Particular emphasis has been placed on the aspects of human touch, craftsman expertise, product value, and distribution elements, aligning with the consumer standpoint. Moreover, the correlation between and within the identified dimensions, along with a more in-depth analysis of select exemplary articles, highlights that the narratives surrounding craft encompass also in the macro discourse the convergence of multiple dimensions.
This collection of papers contributes to craft literature in several ways. First, it provides a new perspective of analysis that integrates the producer and the consumer perspectives to shed light on their roles in influencing the craft market. Among the several research directions, the need for a detailed and comprehensive conceptualization of craft from a consumer perspective emerges as particularly relevant.
To this end, the findings of the second paper provide a first comprehensive and integrative conceptualization of what craft means to consumers, while enriching the counter-institutional stream (Solomon and Mathias, 2020; Verhaal et al., 2015) with the consumer perspective.
The third paper enables understanding more in detail the multiple dimensions used by consumers in conceptualizing craft and their interrelationship while comparing results with the social discourse of craft.
Finally, the use across the manuscript of multiple methodologies, encompassing qualitative and quantitative approaches allowed analyzing the craft topic from a thorough perspective, setting this research apart from extant ones mainly focused on experimental design methodologies that prevent holistic comprehension of the phenomenon.
Considering managerial implications, findings provide a roadmap for producers of the set of consumers’ values when conceptualizing craft that can be adapted in product communication.
If the objective is to sell, it is advisable to communicate them as “craft”, rather than emphasizing “non-industrial” dimensionality, since the latter is associated with a non-market and non-profit aim.
Furthermore, findings highlight that despite consumers are aware of the potential integration of innovative technologies in craft, this aspect is not directly elicited in their minds. Producers should develop strategies where possible technological and/or industrial integrations are introduced without being perceived as value destroyers.
Producers should also emphasize the human value of producers, the product value, and the local and traditional places of production and distribution to enhance craft essence. However, this narrative should be balanced to avoid craftwashing perceptions (Kroezen et al., 2021).
Regarding future research, the literature review provides a list of research questions encompassing the aspects of craft and innovation, craft and sustainability, and craft and communication. These questions can be explored by using integrative approaches such as Service-Dominant Logic (Vargo and Lusch, 2004) or market system dynamics (Giesler and Fisher, 2017) that can help integrate multiple actors' perspectives.
Furthermore, future research could extend the extant findings of Paper 3 by comparing consumers' conceptualization with producers’ narratives. In particular, the validated Italian and English dictionaries might be applied to explore discourses implemented in e-commerce platforms, such as Etsy, to understand how they communicate their background and if this aligns with what consumers have in mind.

Bell, E., Mangia, G., Taylor, S. and Toraldo, M.L. (2018). The Organization of Craft Work. Chreim, S., Langley, A., Reay, T., Comeau-Vallée, M., & Huq, J. L. (2020). Constructing and sustaining counter-institutional identities. Academy of Management Journal, 63(3), 935-964.
Eckhardt, G.M. and Bardhi, F. (2020). New dynamics of social status and distinction. Marketing Theory, 20(1), pp.85–102.
Fuchs, C., Schreier, M. and Van Osselaer, S.M.J. (2015).
Fuchs, C., Schreier, M. and Van Osselaer, S.M.J. (2015). The handmade effect: What’s love got to do with it? Journal of Marketing, 79(2), pp.78–110. Giesler, M., & Fischer, E. (2017). Market system dynamics. Marketing Theory, 17(1), 3-8.
Humphreys, A., & Thompson, C. J. (2014). Branding disaster: Reestablishing trust through the ideological containment of systemic risk anxieties. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(4), pp.877-910.
Kroezen, J., Ravasi, D., Sasaki, I., Żebrowska, M. and Suddaby, R. (2021). Configurations of craft: Alternative models for organizing work. Academy of Management Annals, 15(2), pp.502–536. Luckman, S. (2015). Craft and the creative economy. Springer.
Miller, F.C. (2017). The contemporary geographies of craft‐based manufacturing. Geography compass, 11(4), p.e12311.
Solomon, S.J. and Mathias, B.D. (2020). The artisans’ dilemma: Artisan entrepreneurship and the challenge of firm growth. Journal of Business Venturing, 35(5), p.106044.
van Osselaer, S.M.J., Fuchs, C., Schreier, M. and Puntoni, S. (2020). The Power of Personal. Journal of Retailing, 96(1), pp.88–100. Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2004). Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of Marketing, 68(1), 1-17.
Verhaal, J.C., Khessina, O.M., Dobrev, S.D., Verhaal, J.C., Khessina, O.M. and Identities, O. (2015). Oppositional Product Names, Organizational Identities, and Product Appeal. Organization Science, 26(5), pp.1466–1484.