In the arts, bricolage (French for “DIY” or “do-it-yourself projects”) is the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by mixed media.

The term bricolage has also been used in many other fields, including anthropology, philosophy, critical theory, education, computer software, and business.

Bricolage is a French loanword that means the process of improvisation in a human endeavor. The word is derived from the French verb bricoler (“to tinker”), with the English term DIY (“Do-it-yourself”) being the closest equivalent of the contemporary French usage. In both languages, bricolage also denotes any works or products of DIY endeavors.

In his book La pensée sauvage (dt. The Savage Mind) the contrasting French ethnologist and linguist the planning and rational engineer with the improvising bricoleur to represent the different approaches: The building on fundamentals, rationally developing engineer and the Bricoleur improvising out of an existing improper use. The difference is a gradual one. Both the Bricoleur and the engineer cover the observed world with an already existing structure that enables them to senseto decipher the observation. Thus are bricoleur and engineer for Levi-Strauss only metaphors for thinking in the Western tradition and the thinking of the time when primitive tribes people designated.

Unlike Lévi-Strauss, other researchers see differentiation as conceptual differences. In this way, Bricoleur and engineer become archetypal representatives of a school of thought. This is how Ted Baker et al. the approach itself as DPE (Design Precedes Execution) with the Bricoleur performing execution and construction simultaneously.

The prime example of a bricoleur is the American television serial hero MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson, who always improvised a solution from the existing resources according to the script. Cunha and Cunha confront MacGyver with the equally fictional character of James Bond, who solves his cases with technical marvels from the production of “Q”.

The concept of using resources beyond their intended purpose has been transferred from anthropology to a wide variety of fields: cognitive science, linguistics, information technology, innovation research and organizational theory. Among the topics that have been adopted by the Bricolage are resistance of organizations, improvisation and sensemaking, entrepreneurship, as well as the use of technical systems and artifacts, what Lévi-Strauss originally used meaning of “working with what -also-always-at-hand is “closest to coming. In addition, the term is also used today in the description and analysis of youth culture.

Successful bricolage requires intimate knowledge of resources, careful observation, confidence in one’s own intuition, listening, and the assurance that any enacted structure can correct itself if one’s ego is not too involved.

Bricolage after Lévi-Strauss
Lévi-Strauss used the contrast Bricoleur vs.. Engineer as a metaphor for the way of thinking and working of society. Bricolage was based on three parts, which together made up the process of bricolage.

The first part he describes as a repertoire that is continuously accumulated without a specific goal in mind. It is composed of artifacts and knowledge of use, availability, methods and procedures, and thus largely covers the concept of resource from which useful imaging requirement does not exist, however.

The second part is called Lévi-Strauss Dialogue (Dialogue), which describes the process by which elements of the repertoire are connected. The dialogue is the active relationship of elements of the repertoire and the goal to be achieved, the result of the bricolage process and thus the third part of Lévi-Strauss’ shares. In his understanding, it is only appropriate to call both the process and the result of the process as a bricolage, since the development process and this result are inextricably linked.

The differentiation between engineer and Bricoleur is according to the Greek organization researcher Yiannis Gabriel gradual. The Bricoleur differs from the engineer in that there is no “inappropriate” use of objects for him. He does not use carefully designed and finely tuned elements, but assembles as needed or necessary elements that somehow fit into the overall. Thus, according to Gabriel, bricolage is opportunistic, ad-hoc, misleading, creative and original, constantly defining the tools to materials and materials into tools, and at the same time redefining the task given the assigned meanings.

Duymedjian and Rueling differentiate Bricoleur and engineer according to the dimensions (see adjacent table).

Metaphysics = theory of meaning
Epistemology = theory of knowledge
Practic = how to solve problems

Differences between Duymedjian and Rueling
bricoleur engineer
metaphysics everything is significant

complex, interrelated systems
closed universe
cyclic time

a priori, there is a hierarchical order

Reduction / Decomposition
Openness, the boundaries permeate
Linear Time

epistemology Intimate knowledge, familiarity

The knowledge of the relationships allows a low functional fixation
versatility leads to resilience.

Distant knowledge through representation

Knowledge of the structural peculiarities of the work
items Specialization

practice Search and compilation through chance discovery

unclear results
Dialogue with the elements of the repertoire
Diversity of resources
Assembly, replacement of functional parts
“it works”
Production and use can not be separated
The result is not comparable to anything else

Looking for appropriate, project-oriented resources

Project and Design
Consequences of previously defined specifications
Seamlessly integrated systems
Assessment by comparison with the expected level of performance / quality
Separation of production and use
Results are to be judged against common standards

Applications of the Approach

Resilience of Organizations
In his analysis of the Mann Gulch Forest Fire, the American organizational psychologist Karl E. Weick combines bricolage with organizational resilience and describes it as the ability of an individual or an organization to weather a crisis and thereby at the same time maintain the ability to act and the identity consciousness. Bricolage is proposed as a practical solution to crisis situations where DPE solutions can no longer be effective because the situation is unpredictable and there is no time for planned solutions. Analysts of the euro crisis also claim that bricolage is the only way to deal with crises. At the same time, they emphasize the necessity of contingency planning and planning in order to acquire the necessary skills for bricolage.

In a study of the role of improvisation in the tactics and strategy of companies in the knowledge society, Ted Baker et al. between improvisation and bricolage, where bricolage often, but not always accompanied by improvisation. With a going back to Christine Moorman and Anne S. Miner definition of improvisation as “converge the extent to which composition and execution” (“the degree to Which composition and execution converge”) They contrast bricolage as an activity where, contrary to the resource-providing mentality, only the resources of the repertoire are used (“Making due with the means or resources at hand”).

According to Baker’s statements and confirmed by other research, improvisation implies bricolage, but bricolage does not imply improvisation, since bricolage can certainly be included in DPE approaches. The two concepts differ.

Youth culture
Bricolage (sometimes called sampling) in youth culture is the technique of placing objects in a new context that does not correspond to the original normative – artificially putting together clothes, symbols and emblems. Their original meaning can be changed or even canceled.

Examples of bricolage in punk are the use of safety pins as earrings or swastikas as a provocation, without trying to express the National Socialist sentiment. The massive gold chains with which hip-hopers point out their social advancement are also a form of bricolage.

The term was also used as a principle in communication in linguistics. So it is a hallmark of especially the youth languages and means there: “The playful tinkering with different styles of speaking.” (Schlobinski, Kohl, Ludewigt 1993). In particular, the young people, especially if they are in a closer relationship with each other (peer group), combine different styles of speech. In doing so, they resort to different cultural resources (films, series, advertising, music, sports, etc.) and bring them into the communication in a different way (alienated citation).

An extended sociolinguistic conception of bricolage includes not only the tinkering with entire styles of speech, but also the recording and alienation of individual style elements. Many young people use a variety of linguistic and cultural resources to create their own group-specific style and to position themselves socially.

The arts

Instrumental bricolage in music includes the use of found objects as instruments, such as:

Musical saw
Australasian slap bass made from a tea chest
Comb and wax paper for humming through
Gumleaf humming
Lagerphone (made from a stick and bottle tops)
Trinidadian steel drums (made from industrial storage drums)
African drums and thumb pianos made from recycled pots and pans.
American super instruments made from recorders and bicycle bells or metal rods and keys
Stomp dancing is an example of the use of bricolage in music and dance, utilizing everyday objects, such as trash cans and broom sticks, to produce music.
Many of the musical instruments created by American composer Harry Partch utilize unusual items, such as automotive hubcaps and pyrex carboys.

Stylistic bricolage is the inclusion of common musical devices with new uses. Shuker writes, “Punk best emphasized such stylistic bricolage”.

Musical bricolage flourishes in music of sub-cultures where:

experimentation is part of daily life (pioneers, immigrants, artistic communities),
access to resources is limited (such as in remote, discriminated or financially disconnected sub-cultures) which limits commercial influence (e.g. acoustic performers, ghetto music, hippie, folk or traditional musicians), and
there is a political or social drive to seek individuality (e.g. rap music, peace-drives, drummers’ circles)

Unlike other bricolage fields, the intimate knowledge of resources is not necessary. Many punk musicians, for instance, are not musically trained, because they believe training can discourage creativity in preference for accuracy. Also, careful observation and listening is not necessary, it is common in spontaneous music to welcome ‘errors’ and disharmony. Like other bricolage fields, bricolage music still values trusting one’s ideas and self-correcting structures such as targeted audiences.

Visual art
In art, bricolage is a technique or creative mode, where works are constructed from various materials available or on hand, and is seen as a characteristic of many postmodern works.

These materials may be mass-produced or “junk”. See also: Merz, polystylism, collage, assemblage.

Bricolage can also be applied to theatrical forms of improvisation, where the main strategy is to use the environment and materials at hand. The environment is the stage and the materials are often pantomimed. The use of the stage and the imaginary materials are all made up on the spot, so the materials which are at hand are actually things that the players know from past experiences (i.e. an improvisation of ordering fast food: One player would start with the common phrase “How may I help you?”).

Bricolage is also applied in interior design, through blending styles and accessorizing spaces with what is “on hand”. Many designers use bricolage to come up with innovative and unique ideas.

Bricolage is considered the jumbled effect produced by the close proximity of buildings from different periods and in different architectural styles.

It is also a term that is admiringly applied to the architectural work of Le Corbusier, by Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter in their book Collage City, suggesting that he assembled ideas from found objects of the history of architecture. This, in contrast to someone like Mies Van der Rohe, whom they called a “hedgehog”, for being overly focused on a narrow concept.


In literature, bricolage is affected by intertextuality, the shaping of a text’s meanings by reference to other texts.

Cultural studies
In cultural studies bricolage is used to mean the processes by which people acquire objects from across social divisions to create new cultural identities. In particular, it is a feature of subcultures such as the punk movement. Here, objects that possess one meaning (or no meaning) in the dominant culture are acquired and given a new, often subversive meaning. For example, the safety pin became a form of decoration in punk culture.

Social psychology
The term “psychological bricolage” is used to explain the mental processes through which an individual develops novel solutions to problems by making use of previously unrelated knowledge or ideas they already possess. The term, introduced by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Matthew J. Karlesky and Fiona Lee of the University of Michigan, draws from two separate disciplines. The first, “social bricolage,” was introduced by cultural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in 1962. Lévi-Strauss was interested in how societies create novel solutions by using resources that already exist in the collective social consciousness. The second, “creative cognition,” is an intra-psychic approach to studying how individuals retrieve and recombine knowledge in new ways. Psychological bricolage, therefore, refers to the cognitive processes that enable individuals to retrieve and recombine previously unrelated knowledge they already possess. Psychological bricolage is an intra-individual process akin to Karl E. Weick’s notion of bricolage in organizations, which is akin to Lévi-Strauss’ notion of bricolage in societies.

In his book The Savage Mind (1962, English translation 1966), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used “bricolage” to describe the characteristic patterns of mythological thought. In his description it is opposed to the engineers’ creative thinking, which proceeds from goals to means. Mythical thought, according to Lévi-Strauss, attempts to re-use available materials in order to solve new problems.

Jacques Derrida extends this notion to any discourse. “If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one’s concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur.”

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in their 1972 book Anti-Oedipus, identify bricolage as the characteristic mode of production of the schizophrenic producer.

In the discussion of constructionism, Seymour Papert discusses two styles of solving problems. Contrary to the analytical style of solving problems, he describes bricolage as a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around.

Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg have used the term bricolage in educational research to denote the use of multiperspectival research methods. In Kincheloe’s conception of the research bricolage, diverse theoretical traditions are employed in a broader critical theoretical/critical pedagogical context to lay the foundation for a transformative mode of multimethodological inquiry. Using these multiple frameworks and methodologies, researchers are empowered to produce more rigorous and praxiological insights into socio-political and educational phenomena.

Kincheloe and Steinberg theorize a critical multilogical epistemology and critical connected ontology to ground the research bricolage. These philosophical notions provide the research bricolage with a sophisticated understanding of the complexity of knowledge production and the interrelated complexity of both researcher positionality and phenomena in the world. Such complexity demands a more rigorous mode of research that is capable of dealing with the complications of socio-educational experience. Such a critical form of rigor avoids the reductionism of many monological, mimetic research orientations (see Kincheloe, 2001, 2005; Kincheloe & Berry, 2004; Steinberg, 2015; Kincheloe, McLaren, & Steinberg, 2012).

Information technology

Information systems
In information systems, bricolage is used by Claudio Ciborra to describe the way in which strategic information systems (SIS) can be built in order to maintain successful competitive advantage over a longer period of time than standard SIS. By valuing tinkering and allowing SIS to evolve from the bottom-up, rather than implementing it from the top-down, the firm will end up with something that is deeply rooted in the organisational culture that is specific to that firm and is much less easily imitated.
In her book Life on the Screen (1995), Sherry Turkle discusses the concept of bricolage as it applies to problem solving in code projects and workspace productivity. She advocates the “bricoleur style” of programming as a valid and underexamined alternative to what she describes as the conventional structured “planner” approach. In this style of coding, the programmer works without an exhaustive preliminary specification, opting instead for a step-by-step growth and re-evaluation process. In her essay “Epistemological Pluralism”, Turkle writes: “The bricoleur resembles the painter who stands back between brushstrokes, looks at the canvas, and only after this contemplation, decides what to do next.”

Visual arts
The visual arts is a field in which individuals often integrate a variety of knowledge sets in order to produce inventive work. To reach this stage, artists read print materials across a wide array of disciplines, as well as information from their own social identities. For instance, the artist Shirin Neshat has integrated her identities as an Iranian exile and a woman in order to make complex, creative and critical bodies of work. This willingness to integrate diverse knowledge sets enables artists with multiple identities to fully leverage their knowledge sets. This is demonstrated by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Chi-Ying Chen and Fiona Lee, who found that individuals were shown to exhibit greater levels of innovation in tasks related to their cultural identities when they successfully integrated those identities.

Karl Weick identifies the following requirements for successful bricolage in organizations.

Intimate knowledge of resources
Careful observation and listening
Trusting one’s ideas
Self-correcting structures, with feedback

Nasim Nicholas Taleb mentions it in his book Antifragile.

In popular culture

In his essay “Subculture: The Meaning of Style”, Dick Hebdige discusses how an individual can be identified as a bricoleur when they “appropriated another range of commodities by placing them in a symbolic ensemble which served to erase or subvert their original straight meanings”. The fashion industry uses bricolage-like styles by incorporating items typically utilized for other purposes. For example, candy wrappers are woven together to produce a purse. The movie Zoolander parodies this concept with “Derelicte”, a line of clothing made from trash.

MacGyver is a television series in which the protagonist is the paragon of a bricoleur, creating solutions for the problem to be solved out of immediately available found objects.

Source from Wikipedia