Traditional Occupations: Baton Rouge’s Overlooked Cultural Resource

2015 Louisiana Studies Conference Presentation Abstract

“Traditional Occupations: Baton Rouge’s Overlooked Cultural Resource”

Presented by Jon Griffin Donlon, Consultant/Public Intellectual

Dr. Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon and I spoke with several practitioners of traditional occupations still active in Baton Rouge Louisiana, including: Alford Safe and Lock, Ebeniste Furniture Repair, Savarsh Kaltakdjian Custom Jewelry and Repair, Martinez Custom Clothier, “Jack” Marucci, Militello’s Shoe Repair, and Zeagler’s Instrument Repair. In each of these settings, although the service provided varies wildly in its technical particulars, practitioners share a cluster of core attributes we view as reasonably common to traditional occupations: possession of skills acquired by practice and training (generally through working with the already skilled, often family members), reliance on specialized, craft or trade-unique tools, and a demand for constant learning and polishing of performance. Many of these occupations have enormously arcane, hoary pedigrees, extending back into dim antiquity while necessarily embracing cutting-edge, contemporary technology.

I propose to briefly describe the contours of “traditional occupations,” then present a number of short example items from our fieldwork in Baton Rouge.

Traditional occupations may include a wide array of skill-sets, pretty much all involving earning a living, but as a group can be very, very different in kind and type. Almost always constituting work in the sense that these undertakings are performed in return for pay, profit, in order to earn a wage, or with an eye on revenue, many traditional occupations are thus like all work—a function of need rather than want—but essentially all seem to exhibit clearly identified additional features.