Thursday, April 09, 2009

Craftivism. Craft+Activisim. Is Politics Really Part of the Mix?

(crossposted at BlogHer)
I first got wind of the Etsy kerfuffle on craftivism when Julie Finn posted about it on Crafting A Green World this weekend. An Etsy Team breaks apart over the very definition of the term? I was boggled. As Finn explained it:

The problem arose very recently when the team leadership, during a virtual meeting, just sort of mentioned, in the context of another discussion, that the Craftivism Team has a liberal political agenda.

Yep, a specific political agenda. And the leadership also seemed quite surprised to hear that a LOT of team members not only had no idea that the Craftivism Team was even supposed to be politically liberal, but that these members were themselves not politically liberal.

Indeed, we had some right-wing craftivists on our team. 

According to Wikipedia, craftivism is "a form of activism, typically for social justice, environmentalism or feminism, that is centered around practices of craft - especially handicrafts. Practitioners are known as craftivists."

Yet the term craftivism was, I believe, created by author Betsy Greer who writes:
My whole idea for this site is based on the idea that activism + craft = craftivism. That each time you participate in crafting you are making a difference, whether it's fighting against useless materialism or making items for charity or something betwixt and between.

It's about the not-so-radical notion that activists can be crafters, and crafters can be activists.
In a comment on the Finn piece, Betsy further adds:

The most concise definition I’ve written was on Twitter of all places: Craftivism to me is way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.

Your hands are powerful. Your voice is powerful. Your passions are powerful.

Nowhere in these fairly concise definitions of the term can I find any alignment of craftivism with a political stand.  So it behooved me to examine the Etsy group's own definition of their purpose:
The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans who believe that craft and art can change the world. Some of us use our work to carry messages of protest and political activism. Others believe that the act of making craft can be an act of resistance. Still others see that by buying and selling directly from the maker we are challenging the all pervasive corporate culture that promotes profit over people.

And, like BlogHer's Elise Camahort-Paige, I see terms used in this team defition that at least sound politically liberal to me:
  • progressive
  • protest
  • act of resistance,
  • pervasive corporate culture
  • profits over people 
Do not these very words sound a liberal bent?  By using these terms in defining the group, and accepting these terms when joining the group, didn't the members agree -at least tacitly- to these ideas?  Am I mistaken that conservatives would not normally align themselved "against a corporate culture"?  Or align themselves as "progressive"?

In comments on the first Crafting a Green World post, group creator Stephanie wrote the same thing:
While you guys are debating the meanings of liberal and progressive
and craftivism, and reporting what they mean to you, you’re not
considering what they meant to the people who first got this team off
the ground.

As I stated yesterday, the INTENT of the group came first; the NAME
second. I contacted people who seemed of like-minds (generally) based
on things I read or saw in their shops, and asked if they’d like to be
part of a group of progressive, socially activist etsyans. After it
was clear that a group would be started, the name came. I’ll repeat it
here: Someone suggested the name craftivist, which I thought was a
great idea. So it stuck.

Hence, you can’t just say, “It doesn’t matter if you are liberal or
conservative, it just matters if you’re a craftivist,” without knowing
a couple of things. First, where did the name come from? (For this
group). Second, where did the group come from, and thirdly what
craftivism means to those who decided to name this team.
Anyone is free to start another team with their own take on
And yet kakariki countered this assumption of the term "liberal" on her Radical Cross Stitch blogpost Whose Craftivism?
The key phrase (I think) in the group description is this “The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans who believe that craft and art can change the world.”  While I respect what Stephanie has said about believing she had a very clear ‘liberal’ definition when this was written.  I do believe this sentence is open to a quite wide interpretation.  I read it as people  who want to make positive change in their communities and use art and craft as their main medium to do so.  When I read this when I joined, I understood that there’s going to be people of different political persuasions, and knowing that this is an international group, even the spectrums of left and right will be different for different people, they may not even exist in some countries (and they don’t, I assure you).
It seems to me that the problem with this Etsy group was not with Craftivism, per se, but with how the team was originally defined and how members chose to accept that definition when they joined.  Or whether they even took the time to read the mission statement.

In that light, I hope that a new Etsy group - and groups outside the Etsy culture - form and define their purpose using less politically embued words if their intention is to practice an apolitical version of craftivism.  The Etsy Craftivism group is clearly -in my mind- defined as a politically liberal group.  Perhaps it would be better if they changed their name to something different since this is the rare instance where politics was attached to the term from the groups inception. Just to keep the term "craftivism" clean.  Yet there is no method to compel such an action, and I doubt it will be taken.

Personally, I hope for a future similar to the one TreeHugger's Kimberley Mok envisions in Must "Craftivism" Have A Politically Liberal Bent? :
Or perhaps is it more appropriate to ask: will we someday move toward a culture that will someday view creative self-empowerment and crafting positive change as instinctive as breathing, rather than a political agenda that one specifically adheres to?
Julie Finn has posted Examples of Craftivism in Practice with projects that span the entire political spectrum at Crafting A Green World.

What's your take?  Must craftivism take a particular political stance or is it a movement without political boundaries?  How would you have crafted the group mission statement if Etsy Craftivism group was formed first as a craft+activism group instead of a politically liberal crafting group that just happened to borrow the term?

I also blog at: Weight for Deb and BlogHer on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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