Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Fabricating Activism: Craft-Work, Popular Culture, Gender

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Fabricating Activism: Craft-Work, Popular Culture, Gender

Article excerpt


This article examines the recent resurgence of interest in what we call "fabriculture." Three dimensions of fabriculture are explored: the gendered spaces of production around new domesticity and the social home; the blurring of old and new media in digital craft culture; and the politics of popular culture that emerge in the mix of folk and commercial culture. Ultimately, we conceptualize craft as power (the ability or capacity to act), as a way of understanding current activist possibilities.


In this article we analyze the recent popularization of DIY craft culture. We evaluate craft culture, or "fabriculture," around three major knots: (1) the spaces of production, especially as they are gendered; (2) the relationship between old and new technology or how the digital and the tactile merge; (3) how this popular cultural form, weaving together folk and commercial culture, provides new modes of political activism. Examining Web sites, practitioners' statements, and other craft-related events, we assess the tendencies within fabriculture. While cyberculture and digital culture seem inherently opposed to the archaic practices of weaving, spinning, and crafting, we situate fabriculture within this field of new media study. Ultimately, we seek to conceptualize craft as power (the ability or capacity to act), as a way of understanding current political possibilities.

When we speak of "fabriculture" or craft culture, we are referring to a whole range of practices usually defined as the "domestic arts": knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting, embroidery, sewing, doll-making. More than the actual handicraft, we are referring to the recent popularization and resurgence of interest in these crafts, especially among young women. (1) We are taking into account the mainstream forms found in Martha Stewart Living as well as the more explicitly activist (or craftivist) versions such as Cast Off, Anarchist Knitting Circle, MicroRevolt, Anarchist Knitting Mob, Revolutionary Knitting Circle, and Craftivism. In addition, a whole range of cultural forms fall in between these poles, such as the virtual knitting circles and crafting blogs, as well as the association with (post)feminism in the pages of Bitch and Bust magazines. When we use the term craft-work, we are specifically referring to the laboring practices involved in crafting, while fabriculture speaks to the broader practices (meaning-making, communicative, community-building) intertwined with this (im)material labor. (2)

This resurgence, we argue, complicates conventional notions of activism, especially regarding gendered politics. Craft-work's communal quality, reconfiguration of time, and reappropriation of spaces provide a rich tapestry for rethinking contemporary activism (Minahan and Cox 2007). The crafty subject is bound up with trickery and artifice, with tactics that make fabriculture part of what Michel De Certeau calls the "politics of the popular." Finally, it is tied to a broader DIY culture and an activist community in a way that spatially and analogically links experiments in making futures differently.

I. Spaces and Histories of Craft-Work

The dawn of capitalism emerged in the transmutation of craft. Textiles, we will remember, were one of the first major industries. Craft-work was transformed from guild to factory, from artisan work to industrial labor, from use value to exchange value. But it was not just the "handicraft" that became systematized and eventually automated in the loom. (3) The communal craft circle--the ability to produce a community through production and distribution of the object (within the family, as gift, as public sign)--was also captured by capital. The revival of craft-work and fabriculture is in some ways a revival of this original mutational moment.

And this labor transformation was thoroughly gendered. Mechanization and industrialization smashed the cottage industry of weaving; it changed the speed and space of production and introduced a shift in the gender of weaving. …

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