Professors Sanjay Sarma and Susan Silbey’s project offered insights into the challenges and opportunities for Indian artisanal craft workers
A close-up of Indian textiles, courtesy of LACMA.

Artisans organized

MIT-India supported this collaboration after MIT Professors Susan Silbey and Sanjay Sarma (also Dean of Digital Learning) articulated a pressing question in their proposal: “Even though Indian handloom and handicraft products are well-known around the world for their beauty and intricacy, why do millions of artisans who make these products still languish in poverty?” They noted that while much of the craftsmanship from India is high quality, inconsistency plagues the work of artisans, “which inhibits development of a wider, global audience.” This was the question Sarma and Silbey wanted to address, and they knew that they would need local insight to gain it.

Finding the value

Their research eventually uncovered how artisans created value for themselves and others. “They treat their work as a calling, where the work is intrinsically valued beyond the money,” they report. Silbey and Sarma included Aruna Ranganathan, a doctoral student, in the research to trace the interactions of the artisans and traders who formed the backbone of the distribution of these crafts. In turn this led to insights that would be of immediate relevance to policymakers, to help them understand how artisans approach their workplace and economic decisions. “We have developed an in-depth understanding of handicraft production in India,” Sarma and Silbey concluded in a report, “one that could not have been attained without our travel to India."

  • India
  • Seed Fund
  • Management