Craft Cultures Online - Can they be "global"?
by Radhika Gajjala — Bowling Green State University
February 23, 2010 – 00:04
Note: This is part of a larger conversation. I have several collaborators working with me and each is doing their own online/offline ethnographies in various online DIY communities, looking at Microcredit online and working with craft communities offline and online. Our intention is to examine critically - not to devalue any of the work being done by the craftivists. In fact - we hope to further dialogue and push for more craftivism worldwide by making individual crafters aware that there are more globally nuanced and multiple intersections possibles.
This present piece was selected and commented on by three of us - Samara Anarbaeva, Yeon Ju Oh and Radhika Gajjala.
Description of Video (Samara Anarbaeva):
It is important to be creative in advertising etsy crafts. These videos provide us with tools on how to be successful in advertising and how to think outside the box. Ultimately, this all comes down to social networking and artists creating a network where they share projects and collectively participate in the community. For example, Indie5Collective is a channel consisting of artists who share ideas and suggestion on how to successfully sell crafts on Etsy, how to market items. This channel also showcases current crafters on etsy. Even when an artist is on etsy or ravelry, there always seems to be a third more “neutral” social networking site to promote their projects on such networks like as youtube or facebook.
Critical Commentary 1 (Radhika Gajjala):
Increasingly online, we have the formation of community around craft and related virtual artifacts in online networks such as etsy.com, ravelry.com, and ebay - that exist side by side with practices of buying and selling virtual artifacts based in 3D space (such as computer game avatars, secondlife objects and so on).
In examining the processes through which these craftivist, crafted or objectified Other craft communities are produced, we can see that economic and cultural practices simultaneously highlight and disappear the careful crafting of transnational and local/global connections through an interplay of place, space and networks both online and offline [this is what I am trying to follow through in my current research].
It remains to be seen what role such networks play in the disciplining of the “"outside"” in liberal humanist notions of interactivity and how a particular situated notion of individualism re-forms community through a discursive erasure (invisibilizing) of offline place-based value-chain and production and marketing linkages. The celebration of networks and crafting spaces for individual expression of alternate craft networks along with the increasing celebration of micro-credit through the online clickable interface, potentially allows for an erasure of how power plays out in these interlinked economic activities. As we celebrate “Craftivism” – we must ask – what locations of privilege permit agency in craftivism? Can the Sweatshop laborer who often is a craft worker co-opted for transnational mass production take part in the seemingly liberating potential of craftivism made possible in these networks?
Thus while on the one hand these networks radically disrupt notions of passive female consumers, on the other hand they reassert other power frameworks through an apparently uncritical reinstating of liberal feminist benevolence and celebration of the individual self. A closer examination of conversations, interactions and display in these online social networks reveals the awareness of nuance and ways in which they are both laid out and covered up in engaging a global market space online
Critical Commentary 2 (Yeon Ju Oh):
This ‘cool’ girl, a member of Etsy which is a social networking group of people creating hand-made products, vividly illustrates how handicraft people should look like today. They should be young generation with ‘indie’ taste (rainbow-colored earrings and sky-printed wallpaper), tech savvy (video shooting/editing and web skills), somewhat bizarre character (sudden 10 second dance and face expression), and marketing insights (wearing the shop’s name). They are markedly different generation from my mother who used to create hand-made jewelries and decorations which were worth 20-30 cents per each item and sell those to retailers to save extra money twenty years ago. They are entrepreneurs as self-stated and are putting ‘market-value’ on craft works, revaluing traditionally feminized activities. Web-based marketing environments have undoubtedly accelerated the generational shift in handicraft practices, reviving and repacking hand-made products into profit making system.
Then, how much market value do such hand-made products have? Let’s do some simple math. To make a one dollar pinback button, 5 cents adhesive foam disc, 5 cents pin, 5 cents printing fee, and 5 cents package fee are needed. That is, the net value of a pinback button is 80 cents when the labor value is not included. However, competition with mass products and other hand-made products decreases the net value, increasing the loss of labor value. Ironically, in hand-made products businesses, the labor value which is the essence of craft works, is first diminished before other elements. As handicraft works are getting to have market value, those are becoming the work which most requires labor market flexibility. While so called Third-wave feminism which has been reclaiming knitting, sewing, and other crafting and new generation of handicraft people – mostly women – who are in part influenced by the Third-wave feminism and revival of craft works in developed countries seem to serve to revalue handicraft works, the very factors which discredit the values attached to those works are not challenged.
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