Cultural and Material Ramifications of Crafting in 2021
The fact that at-home crafting has seen such a massive surge in popularity during the pandemic makes sense: being stuck at home with nothing to do has logically influenced many people to pick up a hobby. Thus this trend seems positive, especially in comparison with some other side effects of boredom. However, as with many seemingly innocuous knowledge technologies, this first impression does not tell the full story.
This project, completed for SISP350 Sociology of Knowledge, intends to examine how the trend of crating interacts with knowledge creation and existing power structures. I'd like to argue that the crafting trend, which on the surface might seem to be a reclamation of “women’s work” or a radical anti-consumerist statement, in reality works to reaffirm the hegemonic structure of society through its proliferation on media platforms and the fact that it is accessible only to the already-rich. These are my contentions:
Although the choice to make one’s own clothing rather than purchase it from clothing retailers may seem anti-consumerist in essence, people with the capacity to craft during the pandemic were not doing so as active protest against capitalism, often supplementing crafting with online purchases.
Only those who had the privilege to be stuck inside during the pandemic were capable of learning a craft; and only those who can afford to do so keep the crafts they make. Therefore pandemic crafting was limited to people belonging to the upper echelon of wealth.
Massive capitalist social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube have played an important role in the rise and proliferation of modern-day crafting. If we consider followers and influence as a modern form of capital, all it requires is a quick scroll through TikTok to realize that the people profiting off this trend are young, skinny, majority-white, and female. For that reason, fashion trends within the crafting world are created by the people who already hold power in the outside world.
Ultimately, then, there is very little about the crafting trend that is truly subversive of existing structures of power. However, just because this trend is not actively subversive does not mean that the act of crafting itself is entirely lacking in subversive potential. For that reason, I’ve created this piece of digital scholarship that offers a how-to guide for sewing, featuring personal photography of my process sewing a dress, and a comparison between buying a dress at a store and creating my own—investigating the costs, the materials, the environmental ramifications, and of course, the people involved. This project will fulfill my desire to make the knowledge technology of sewing more widely accessible, while also paying active attention to the radical potential contained within the trend of crafting.
Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno. "The culture industry: Enlightenment as Mass deception,” pp. 94–136 in Gunzelin Schmid Noerr (ed.), Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford University Press, 2002.
Alessandra Mezzadri. “Introduction,” pp. 1-15 in The Sweatshop Regime: Labouring Bodies, Exploitation, and Garments Made in India. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Chandra Mohanty. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” pp. 17-42 in Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Duke University Press, 2003.