Crafting Articulations


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Slides from my presentation at the 2010 National Communication Association convention.

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  • Buy Olympia was established to promote artists and crafters in Olympia, Washington. It began as an online retailer
  • Crafting Articulations

    1. 1. Crafting Articulations: The Mode of Production of Online Crafts Chris McConnell Department of Radio-TV-Film, UT Austin NCA, November 16, 2010
    2. 2. Crafting Articulations • Crafts sales on the Internet – Crafts, a working definition – online retail • Articulation • Informationalization • Cultural Capital
    3. 3. Microcosm - Zines
    4. 4. Crafts: a working definition • Not necessarily handmade, contemporary crafts are produced on a limited basis by a small number of self-employed producers. – Hand-knit and sewn items – Printed items such as t-shirts and ‘zines – Bricolage such as belts and handbags made from found items. The limited scale of production and aura of personality defines “craft” for the purpose of this paper.
    5. 5. The Dark Ages • Crafts are certainly not a new form of cultural production • Sources of crafts – Made for self/friends/family – Craft fair or flea market – Specialty retail such as record store, boutique, or bookstore – Mail Order • Purchasing crafts often depended on time spent searching face-to-face… and luck
    6. 6. DIY • While crafts have been associated with the traditional or conventional, an oppositional stream of crafting emerged in the 1980s and 90s. • Reaction to industrialization and mass production • Reaction to mass media and corporate culture (Duncombe, 2000; Spencer, 2005)
    7. 7. Examples of Craft Online • Microcosm Publishing – “a not-for-profit*, collectively-run publisher and distributor of zines and related work” – Established in 1996 • – ‘a way to help our friends sell their awesome handmade items online’ – Established in 1999 in Olympia, now in Portland • – “Your place to buy and sell all things handmade, vintage and supplies” est. 2005
    8. 8.
    9. 9. Microcosm - Stickers
    10. 10. Microcosm - Buttons
    11. 11. BuyOlympia – Bicycle Related
    12. 12. Etsy
    13. 13. Articulation • Hall (1978) uses the concept of articulation to explain how local cultures and modes of production can exist within global capital • A punk/indie/DIY mode of production can resist global capital at the micro level, yet feed into the broader global capitalist economy.
    14. 14. Online Craft Sales and Articulation • These sites such as Microcosm and BuyOlympia nurture small-scale production • Yet their sales and distribution are firmly situated within global systems of information and commerce – Internet – Credit card transactions – Shipping (US Mail, FedEx, UPS)
    15. 15. Informationalization • Castells (2000) describes the global trend of documenting and measuring commerce and labor as “informationalization.” • Informationalization rationalizes transactions for capital • Makes transactions more convenient or efficent • Improves discovery of suppliers
    16. 16. Etsy and Informationalization • Does not sell items itself • Provides a marketplace for buyers and sellers • Offers a variety of discovery tools • Processes credit-card transactions • Charges sellers 20¢ listing fee • Takes 3.5% cut of each sale
    17. 17. Etsy-Discovery
    18. 18. Etsy – Discovery by Locality
    19. 19. Etsy – Color Discovery
    20. 20. Etsy – Specialty Goods
    21. 21. Etsy – Specialty Goods • Customers can find good they might not be able to find in their local markets • Offensive to local sensibilities? • Possibly illegal?
    22. 22. Cultural Captial • For customers, Etsy takes a lot of the work out of finding handmade goods • Allows these persons have the artifacts of a DIY lifestyle without the effort of visiting craft fairs, boutiques, etc. • Presents the image of a hip, countercultural lifestyle without necessarily living it - hipsterism
    23. 23. A Return to Cottage Industry? • 95% of Etsy sellers are women (average age, 33), mostly stay-at-home moms and college students looking to supplement their income rather than make a full-time living. (Miller, 2007) • $10 million in sales in first two years. • Most items sell for $15-$20 • Sellers work by the piece, for dubious margins
    24. 24. Conclusion • Online craft retailers articulate between craft/DIY modes of production and the norms of contemporary global capital • Provide customers the opportunity to participate in subcultures unavailable in their local communities • Yet… – Entry into a DIY lifestyle becomes all to easy for poseurs – Potentially exploits women, particularly stay-at- home moms and others alienated by labor market.