What is Craftivism? Division over the Definition Explodes an Etsy Team

Be a Change Agent!Now, this may read as a little gossipy, since I, myself, am a member of this team (for now, the reasons for which you’ll soon see), but I think these recent struggles within one group of crafters are important to share, because they say a lot about where our contemporary culture is right now, politically, socially, even globally.

You see, the Craftivism Etsy Team recently had a really big fight, so big that a lot of us actually left the team. Feelings are still hurt, and a lot of those who are left for now are left wondering exactly what our team is, after all, and what it actually stands for.

What did we fight about, you ask?

We fought about the definition of craftivism.

Etsy Teams are groups of etsy sellers who come together because they have something in common, anything from what they sell to where they live to what they believe. Some Etsy Teams are loosely structured, some are highly structured, but all, however casual or organized, have a profile, a mission statement of sorts. Here’s the Team Craftivism profile:

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. Some of our members make t-shirts, jewelry, pottery, and art with creative,thought-provoking messages. Others spin yarn, sew, hammer, forge, glue, knit, knot, alter and sculpt with an eye towards creating new forms of commerce and the making of goods. We gather to learn about and promote each other’s work; to learn about how art and craft are being used as acts of resistance and change around the world, and to creatively join forces in order to spend less, sell more, and empower each other so that we can work towards a more hopeful, thoughtful future.

Sounds good, right? And it is good–this is a good mission statement, and a good team. I became a Craftivist because I believe in DIY as personal empowerment, that instead of relying on the mass-market commercial culture, we can be in charge of the literal creation of our own wants and needs.  I was also interested in how others utilized the act of craft to struggle for change, or achieve power, or practice resistance. Please forgive me–I’m an academic.

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. Some were so offended by the immediate conversation that they left the team then and there, but as others stuck around, and the discussion continued over email over the course of a few days, several team members suggested that the definition of craftivism not be so tied to a political agenda (yes, you caught me, I’m one of these members).

What is craftivism, if it is tied to a specific political agenda? Well, it’s not only limited to American politics, but to one brand of American politics. It’s uninterested in how other political activists, other citizens in other countries, themselves use the act of crafting as activism. It’s implying that much of the work of crafting–buying and selling directly from the maker, challenging corporate culture, tying a work to a thought-provoking message–is necessarily politically liberal within the American system of politics. And I don’t think that’s true.

Our leadership thinks it is, though. Whatever craftivism the word means, Craftivism the Etsy Team is remaining (for now) implicitly (though still not explicitly, I believe) tied to a liberal political agenda, and the team profile is meant to be read through such a lens. I’m not sure what procedure the leadership is now going to use to vet potential members to make sure there’s no more right-wing craftivism in our midst, so perhaps we’ll fill back up again before things come again to a head. I might stick around, because I really am interested in crafting for change, and I actually am politically liberal (although I don’t think craftivism itself has to be). It would be fun, perhaps, to branch out and form my own etsy team focused around an idea of craftivism that’s less limited politically or geographically…

But another etsy team already has that Craftivism name.

What do you think craftivism means?

45 thoughts on “What is Craftivism? Division over the Definition Explodes an Etsy Team”

  1. I think as long as a member of Team Craftivism supports the mission statement, her politics is irrelevant. The desire to change the world through art isn’t liberal or conservative, and shouldn’t drive us apart. It’s human—the very best human quality, and should bind us together.

  2. I think craftivism is using your skills to create things that make a positive change in the world. Positive change can mean different things to different people, though. This argument you guys had just underscores how I already felt about words like “liberal” and “right wing.” Those are some loaded phrases, and it feels like a step above name-calling to me. We’re all just people, and petty fights like this strike me as a waste of time and energy.

    My favorite part about being a crafter is the community. In-fighting like this doesn’t get us anywhere. We all have this powerful, creative force in common and so much potential to make a difference! Let’s pull together and work towards the things we care about it. Politics schmolitics!

  3. Great discussion, but unfortunate outcome. I am sorry to hear that difference in political views is causing such a rift in this group. I agree that Craftivism should welcome any and all viewpoints that start intelligent discussion in any way, not limit those viewpoints! Best of luck to the stranded group members and the Craftivist group.

  4. As someone who started writing about craftivism 7 years ago when it was a concept in my head and a completely made-up word, I’m a bit gobsmacked by all of this.

    To say something is political doesn’t necessarily mean that it follows certain political agendas. For example, I make a lot work surrounding the politics of war. I make anti-war cross-stitch based on graffiti around the world expressing that war is globally disliked by the people but propelled by the government. Like Sarah Palin? Make something that expresses your feelings about her policies.

    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.

    After writing the definition for an the Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, and writing more on the definition here and here, here’s what it’s come to mean to me, and the tenets behind what it is, and started, about. There’s also more here, which speaks of the heart of craftivism, too:

    “When we make crafts that speak to our frustrations, hurts, anger, we are continuing the conversation that our world is not a just one, but one full of hope nonetheless. Your hands give you the freedom to speak even when you don’t think your voice will carry. Just remember that they are important, necessary and truthful as we may live in a sometimes unfair world, but a world where our actions help others speak up and gather the courage to fight as well. Your voice will carry, whether it comes from your mouth or your hands, as it all comes from the heart.”

    Why fight and explode over something unnecessarily when it’s about creating energy and positivity, not destroying it?

    So, get making, get passionate, get crafty.


  5. This may sound strange but I think it is an exciting sign for the growing power of DIY that this kind of issue is being reckoned with now. I know it’s not pleasant, but I don’t see it as petty at all, nor a waste of crafters’ time and energy.
    OK that said, I’m rooting for Craftivism to emerge stronger, and I wish for you that the sheer joy of creating prevails.
    FWIW, my personal stance seems to be a lot like yours. I always prefer a global perspective rather than USA-centric. Also that even within a USA-focused DIY action, both left-leaning and right-leaning can make a difference together that is meaningful to both. That has already been the case.

  6. I thought it would be nice to report “the other side of the story.” So here it is from the infamous leader of the craftivism group.

    I may cut and paste from some of my posts over at our google group (so if it sounds a bit disjointed, please bear with me).

    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
    craftivism. There are more than one Christian teams on etsy, more than
    one “green” teams, etc. I’d love to know the history of why the
    separate teams. Did people have disagreements and then leave a team,
    or did people just want to start a team with a slightly different
    bent. Which is why there are descriptions on our team page explaining
    what the team stands for.
    Some people are saying, “You can’t assume a conservative is for less
    governmental restriction and a liberal is for more. You can’t make
    I beg to differ. Of course we can’t assume that the moon isn’t made of
    cheese, but WE CAN MAKE SOME GOOD GUESSES or good assumptions, based
    on knowledge, evidence, science, facts, etc. We live in the same world
    and we use language to represent things and ideas. We assume that when
    we refer to “cheese” we are in the general ballpark about what the
    other person means. (You needn’t write telling me that there are many
    different types of cheese. That goes along with the assumption that we
    know what the other is talking about. Cheese is a category that most
    reasonable people—and perhaps more telling, most food experts or
    food producers can define and agree on a definition. If you insist on
    disagreeing, that doesn’t mean that you are RIGHT. It just means that
    you’ve decided to use the word cheese differently than what most agree
    it means).
    So. Liberal is an ideology that means something. Conservative is, too.
    Do they vary from culture to culture? Yes. Do they vary from era to
    era? Yes. Do sociologists and economists and political scientists
    GENERALLY agree about what they mean? Yes, Virginia, they do. Do
    political parties have underlying philosophies and ideologies? Yes.
    Yes. Yes.

    You can be a conservative flower child, if you like, but for most
    historians and others, being a flower child has meaning, and the
    meaning is not conservative.
    Language alloys us to stop arguing and to use a shorthand way of
    communicating. I can use the word brown and assume that you know what
    I’m talking about. (Yes, yes, I know: there are many shades of brown.
    But enough!).
    People start teams because of commonalities, whatever they may be. I’m
    wondering if people join a vegan group and argue that their definition
    of veganism is one who eats milk and eggs. Do people join an eco team
    and argue that global warming doesn’t exist?
    Would the other eco team members feel, perhaps, a bit intolerant of a
    fellow eco team member who says, “But I just don’t believe that global
    warming is real.” I think so. Acceptance of global warming probably
    goes along with calling yourself “green.”
    Yes. You all may be more tolerant than I am. Good. So be it.
    You can embrace everyone if you like. Fine. Wonderful. My political
    philosophy is one that embraces ideas that promote tolerance. I will
    argue mightily with people who say that being gay is a sin. You can
    say to me, “You should accept all people. Even people who think that
    homosexuality is a sin.” I will say to you that I want to defeat that
    idea because it promotes intolerance.
    BTW, terms like “social justice,” “activism,” “resistance,” “protest”
    and “challenging the all pervasive corporate culture,” have generally
    agreed upon meanings as well. And you can say that you disagree with
    me about what they mean until you turn blue, they will still mean the
    same thing. If you read them and came to a different conclusion than
    most reasonable, knowledgeable, aware, educated people come to when
    they read them, I am truly sorry that you misunderstood the intention
    of the group. I know for a fact that one honest etsyan never read that
    description of the group. If you didn’t read it, and now want to
    challenge it, that seems a bit unfair, I think.

  7. Forgive me, I am an academic, too: People make assumptions based on thier own experiences. This is exactly what has happened in your group.

    When reading your mission statement, it is completely neutral from an anthropological point of view. Therefore, it can and will be interpreted by each individual according to his or her own experiences and beliefs. This is because what both far right and far left activists share is a belief that the dominant system is failing and that the other side is responsible for that failing. For a liberal, conservatives have controll of the system and the system reflects their agenda. For a right-winger, the system has been corrupted by liberals and it supports their viewpoint. The reality is that the system ALWAYS represents the middle. The further one is on one side of the political spectrum, the more the system looks controlled by a viewpoint opposite of their viewpoint.

    Since your mission statement does not specifically include to what ends your activism is aimed (progressive change or restoration of tradional norms), then I don’t see how your group can have a specific political aganeda. IF you want to be a left-wing goup, your mission statement should include the word “progressive” or “liberal”. But the language you used was neutral, the leadership just made unconscious assumptions that the language belonged to left-wing thought. Conversely, the right-wing members assumed that the language used was owned by their ideology. In fact, the language used is owned by radicalism which can be either right or left.

    Good luck with sorting this out. Anthropologically, humans prefer to associate with like AND define themselves by first defining the “other”. Therefore the odds are that your group will become an explicitly left group. However, I hope that all of you will have learned that your understanding of everything is colored by your lense of experience and be more cautious about making assumptions that everyone else’s lenses lets them to see what you see.

  8. If the leadership wanted their group to have a specific political agenda, they should have said so in the mission statement. Punto. El Fin. The End. Just rewrite the mission statement to say what you really want it to say and move on. Those who are in dis/agreement will do what they have to do.

    No doubt someone will form an expressly neutral group and like-minded Craftivists can join that one.

    I second the opinions above, that this kind of debate is good in the long run, if painful in the moment, and that it speaks well to the vibrance of the community.

  9. You guys can twist this around as much as you want—-and cite your academic creds as proof that your are right, but this groups was started by a group of political active, anti-war etsy sellers who were in general agreement about what we believed in and why we wanted to form a team.

    BTW out of 100 members, 7 have left over this. Everyone else has stayed.

    I think the people have spoken.

  10. These are all such terrific thoughts. I especially like the idea of rewriting the mission statement to make it very clear exactly what geographically-relevant political party the group serves will do all the work to encourage only like-minded etsyans to join, and this is being debated in Team Craftivism right now.

    There are a couple more issues that I still find very intriguing, however:

    1) Since a lot of people in Team Craftivism were not American liberals at the time that the leadership made the team’s implicit political affiliation explicit, who is the more appropriate choice for making a decision like whether or not to tie the team to a specific political party–the membership or the leadership? The leadership has made it eminently clear that Team Craftivism was always intended to be politically liberal, but since that wasn’t made clear and a lot of non-liberal people became members, now who gets to decide?

    Of course, that one’s a moot point for Team Craftivism, since nearly all the non-liberals left very quickly after the first heated discussion, but it’s something interesting to consider for future groups.

    2) What are the ethics of using the term Craftivism as a specifically liberal term? Etsy is a major venue, and a lot of people look at it as their source for what is going on in craft today. It seems problematic for craftivism as a whole to have it tied, in such a large and global place, to such a specific agenda.

    It’s really such a fascinating discussion here.

  11. LTA says “When reading your mission statement, it is completely neutral from an anthropological point of view.”

    She then says: “IF you want to be a left-wing goup, your mission statement should include the word “progressive” or “liberal”. But the language you used was neutral.”

    Our opening statement: “The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans…”

    Not sure what you were reading that you believed was a mission statement.

    P.S. Your analysis of conservatives and liberals sounds slightly off to me. “For a liberal, conservatives control have control of the system.” There are so many instances of this being untrue I just don’t know where to begin. There are liberals who don’t care if liberals are in charge (as they are now in the U.S.)….there are still issues that they oppose, want to change, etc. Many liberals are critical of other liberals.

    Anthropology is limited in its worldview. I know anthropologists who won’t condemn female genital mutilation…..they just want to observe it, report on it, study it, etc. Many other academics (and non-academics) abhor this view.

  12. You might want to keep in mind that etsy has more than one green group, more than one christian group, etc.

    Also, Betsy Greer, who is attributed with first using the word “craftivism” just joined our team (fully aware of the brouhaha), and my feeling is that she feels it is okay and ethical to use the word as the name of our team.

  13. Art for a Democratic Society

    I’d like to weigh in as a member of this Etsy team.
    I don’t think this kind of discussion is in any way petty or a waste of time. In fact, I think this discussion is fruitful, and probably the best thing to come out of this team. I think that this kind of discussion is an essential function of a democratic society.
    Betsy Greer said:
    “Why fight and explode over something unnecessarily when it’s about
    creating energy and positivity, not destroying it?”
    First, I don’t know if I would qualify the ongoing discussion in our Team as a fight. Second, how is this discussion destroying anything? The team still exists. I think this discussion IS creative, IS positive, IS necessary.
    Second, what does it mean to be “about creating energy and positivity” anyway? That seems like a vague definition to me. I think a lot of the problems with this discussion stem from the vagueness of the definition of craftivism. If craftivism is an idea, what does it stand for? What doesn’t it stand for? If it’s a strategy, how does it work? What are its ends and means?
    Again, Betsy Greer:
    “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.”
    So, the first thing that jumps out at me is “a way of looking at life,” which I’ll take to mean that Craftivism is a point of view, perhaps a rubric through which one’s opinions are measured and defined, like an ideology, or a religion, or a political stance.
    Ok, if Craftivism is an ideology, what is its central tenet?
    “voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper, and your quest for justice more infinite.”
    this also brings up many questions:
    what kind of voice? political? operatic?
    compassion for what?
    what kind of justice? I think this is the trickiest bit – justice is a very loaded concept, and most people will have varying opinions on what constitutes justice. I think the death penalty is wrong, but many people will call it justice. Are we talking about environmental justice? economic justice?
    Not to rail on Betsy, because as she said she didn’t start the fire, but now that it’s burning, I say we deal with it by having this discussion, by getting people’s points of view out there, not by saying that this is petty and a waste of time.

  14. What’s petty and waste of time is not the discussion. It’s the vocabulary of the discussion.

    Anger rarely solves anything and rarely involves learning.

  15. As an outsider who didn’t know a thing about any of this until I read this post & slew of comments, seems to me that you are debating a pretty obvious thing… the word “progressive” is in the FIRST sentence of the team description. In American English, Progressive = Liberal. End of story. If anyone debates this, they are just being argumentative. Kinda seems obvious from my perspective…

  16. Let me first say that I am about as liberal as they come. I spent all of October in heated email arguments with a few conservative family members (spending hours researching and footnoting all of my points). I believe in the statement, “Better a Bleeding Heart, Than None at All.” Also, I’m not a part of your group so my opinion is completely objective. (I’ve never even heard of this argument before now.)

    Having said that, and based on the group’s original mission statement, I think that you should have the group inclusive of all political ideas. I say that because I believe the best thing to do, the grown up thing, in any situation is to be inclusive. One of the most exciting aspects of Obama’s presidency (which I went door to door for and donated a not-insignificant amount of money to, BTW) is the fact that he wants to hear from people who disagree with him. That place of openness to others’ ideas is the place where real progress is made because many times, our goals are the same. (Like when he said that we may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but we all want to reduce unwanted pregnancies.) And it sounds like, left or right, your goals really are the same.

    I remember a point when ‘Made in the USA’ was a slogan that uber-patriotic, freedom loving Republicans used to use. Now it’s been taken up by liberals in order to encourage local consumption. When we all work together, and the current mission statement of the group seems to encourage this, the potential is huge.

    I ask you this, do you want to make real change in how goods are manufactured (and what better way to do it than by including folks from both sides of the isle) or do you want to be totally in control? Because I think those who started the group have the *right* to make it whatever they want, but they’ve been given a huge (and frankly surprising) opportunity to partner with a new group of people. Incorporating their ideas in how best to serve the group’s mission statement, might allow you to reach an entirely new level. In my personal experience, conservatives don’t have much of a problem with Wal-Mart. Work with those who do, and you have a huge opportunity to make major change.

    So I say, personally invite each one of them back (all 7 of them) and ask what they think is necessary to further your common goals. Then, if you really need to, start a liberal Etsy group in addition to this one.

    One final point, I believe that assuming that someone is liberal just because they joined a group like this is as unhelpful as assuming that everyone is the same religion. (As a Buddhist, I find this particularly tiresome.)

    We are all different. That is our strength.

    Good luck. And peace out.

  17. Oops, ignore my ‘final point’, I missed the word ‘Progressive’ in your mission statement. (as well as the second page of comments) Still, though, I could see how some might see ‘Progressive’ as meaning ‘Change’ (even though it does also mean liberal).

    I still stand by the rest of my statements. Finding conservatives who want to be progressive is a great thing.

  18. hello,
    I am a new member of this group, and no, it was not stated that this group would find itself tied to american liberalism when i joined. First of all, I think if we are to consider ourselves craftivists at all, we must let go of the idea that we need a “leader”. Sure, this etsy group was formed with a certain intent by one person. But the term was coined long before this. Craftivism does not belong to one person. It belongs to thousands of artists around the world, many of whom don’t live in the USA (where american liberalism, or the term “liberal” is not one they wished to be associated with.)
    Craftivism and Liberalism do not go hand-in-hand, and we cannot force this. One person does not have the right to define what craftivism means, even if they decided to name their etsy group after it. So I ask that we, as a group be able to decide what our mission statement is, and we let go of this idea that we have a “leader/founder”?

    I don’t think craftivism should be tied to any specific political ideology, and that’s why I don’t like the term liberal. While I do not think it should be tied to a certain ideology, I do think that craftivism is inherently about radical craft action- be it the specific content of your work, the materials you use, or the space and place where you present/perform it. To me, it is about challenging the current status quo, and the status quo happens to be conservative, right wing, patriarchal, environmentally destructive, homophobic, racist…. etc, etc, etc. So I do not think you can be a “craftivist” if you support the (current) status quo. So obviously right wing conservatism does not mesh well with craftivism.

  19. I’m not part of the Craftivism team, and while I have one product that might be defined as craftivist (my Yes We Can perfume) I would say that I haven’t really gone that direction. It’s not that I don’t have strong feelings,I’m decidedly a liberal, but I do have people in my life, some whom I love, some whom I respect, and some whom I love AND respect who oppose my views for valid reasons based on their life experience, an experience that differs profoundly from mine.

    Politics are a slippery and infinitely changeable slope. But they are also, inevitably, a big part of activism – which is the root of “craftivism.” How you feel today may change, and ten years from now you may feel just as strongly about the opposite perspective. US populations do get more conservative as they age on a spectrum, and we are all aging as we sit here typing.

    For the sake of the team, I would suggest that you let people have their own politics and use those politics within the constraints of US and international law (nothing promoting something outright illegal, but if its immoral by someone’s standard leave it be unless it might get the team shut down.) One of the great lessons to learn in politics is that the people who disagree with you have the same rights you do – and they’re not too happy about you having those rights, either.

    You may need to name a cause when you’re doing your craftivist work, but perhaps beyond explaining why the cause is important to a given person, it might be wise not to discuss it further. While a lot of people believe expressing all their anger at someone else’s ideas or conditions, there’s some pretty strong disagreement. Reference: http://library.adoption.com/articles/does-venting-your-anger-help-the-answer-may-surprise-you.html

    If people are mad, unless it directly threatens their health or business in some clearly demonstrable way, it’s best they direct their attentions elsewhere.

    As an aside, it might be useful to start a project on the history of craftivism as a collaborative project so that people can get together and mend their fences. Conservatives can look for needlepoints or other examples of historic conservative leaders, liberals can comb through archives of the 60s and you can all share where the seeds of craftivism began.

  20. Eeek! Sounds like this is a private argument that’s now been brought out in public… a gentle suggestion from me – perhaps it would be best to take this argument back into the private sphere? Group storming, norming, and re-creation are always cyclic and I’ve found that groups storm and recreate/re-define more productively within a private sphere.

  21. Pingback: Radical Cross Stitch » Whose Craftivism?

  22. This specific issue aside (I don’t sell on Etsy and have no vested interest in the outcome of the argument profiled here): I think because things like environmentalism and DIY are associated with tree-hugging-hippie-liberal-blah-blah-blah in a lot of people’s minds, there is an assumption that all participants feel the same and represent a left-wing agenda.

    We had this discussion recently with a friend; my husband and his friend brew beer together and the friend – who owns and lives on his own farm – wanted to start growing organic hops and barley for brewing. Organic farming is something else that a lot of folks associate with the tree-hugging-hippie-liberal-blah-blah-blah agenda; and if that’s what you think, you’d probably not believe that this friend listens to Rush Limbaugh and votes Republican every chance he gets. We don’t. But the craft of brewing and the principles of sustainable farming are a place where we can come together and share in something positive.

    I see DIY, crafting, environmentalism, sustainable living, etc. as places where left and right can meet for a common purpose (betterment of all) rather than as movements to empower liberals and draw a dividing line.

  23. Wow, I was just writing about using craft for social change on my own blog and wish I’d known about this discussion before.

    Going back to Julie’s question about the definition of craftivism, I’d like to agree with Betsy’s definitions. Using creative activities for positive change might not always mean the same thing to people with different political beliefs, but there can certainly be some overlap. Crafters who might not participate in the same act of protest might very well cooperate in charity efforts. I think it’s fair to consider this type of activity craftivism too.

    There are bound to be conflicting special interests within any group, but isn’t this tolerable as long as there’s a larger commitment to engaging in constructive, thought-provoking statements/activities through handmade goods?

    Just my two cents! I have no verdict on the argument/discussion not having witnessed it, but I am happy to learn of the Craftivism Etsy team–bickering or not, it’s good to know that the spirit is there.

  24. Craft as a skill set is politically neutral, meaning you can make work that carries any message political or not. But alas there are many ways to view craft and indeed activism.

    Craft as a medium, with a rich history of political dissent, is unquestionably rooted in a socialist tradition in both Great Britain and the United States. This is well documented by Historians such as Eillen Boris, Gillian Naylor, Pamela Todd, etc. William Morris was a vocal member of the socialist party! Perhaps you may not see the linage from the current craft (DIY) movement as related to the historical Arts and Crafts movement, but I see many similarities in them. The largest comparison that can be made is that they are both reactions against “the system” meaning industry and corporatism.

    I think it is easy to conflate craftivism with a political ideology because they seem to have similar goals. I don’t think I would be opposed to anyone using that word (which I have invested in as well), as long as their intent was social change, regardless of politics. Using craft to achieve social change = craftivism. Get out your pocket dictionaries…;-)

    Thanks to Betsy for weighing in, she if anyone has been the keeper of the craftivism code, but it is clear from this conversation that language is plastic. No one can own a definition. And it is true that the general consensus of use will ultimately win out, even if you have the righteousness of St. Obama, or St. W. Bush on your side.

    I can’t resist mentioning, in the last line of the mission statement… “join forces in order to spend less, sell more,” this seems a bit contradictory to me.

    Perhaps my recent essay “The New Craftivism” would be of interest, because I think that almost everyone is using the word craftivism incorrectly, and that it can describe a much different practice that uses craft in activist schemes without the influence of commerce. Check it out:



  25. Just wanted to draw your attention to one more early example of craftivism that pre-dates this discussion.

    In 1889 Ellen Gates Starr and Jane Addams started the Hull House which was founded on radical philanthropic principals that included living in the community to be served, believing in the dignity of all people (and according the proper respect to them), and working against poverty and lack of opportunity for depressed people. The Hull House supported many political, educational, and social activities. Sometimes these themes co-mingled as in the many craft/skill based educational programs designed to give people the opportunity to better their lives and community through artistic and economic freedom. For her life’s work Jane Addams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. At no time before or since in history, has a craft proponent received such a prestigious honor.


    I long for the day when a craftivist can be worthy of a Nobel peace prize again. We should ask ourselves if what we are doing in our work and in our lives really does make the kind impact worthy of a Nobel Prize.

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi


  26. All these comments are great!

    I’m working on putting together a craftivist history so maybe problems like this won’t crop up again. The term is in the public domain and I’m so happy to see it so!

    As an idea that has been my baby and watching it to see where it goes, I’m working on putting together resources, photos, and words together so craftivism.com can become a resource itself for issues like this.

    If you have anything you’d like to pass on or any questions about that project, please feel free to email me: betsy@craftivism.com

    And keep discussing and challenging each other (nicely, please!)


  27. This is interesting. I think the idea of Craftism is a great one and it kind of annoys me that it seems to be owned by those with a libral agenda.

    Don’t assume that just because an artist or crafter is green, recycles, and has activist tedancies that that person is liberal. There are a few of us conservative artist/crafters out there. It would be nice to just keep politics out of it and just make stuff.

  28. Pingback: This is Craftivism! Some Examples of the Practice : Crafting a Green World

  29. Katrina London

    The term “craftivism” more and more is becoming an everyday term, known and used widely by anyone who has an interest in “making”… Despite this specific Etsy team having created the term, now the gate is open and the horse has bolted! I wish you luck if you want the word to remain untouched by conservative ‘craftivists’… Fantastic to be talking about the issue though.

  30. Katrina London

    PS I am from Australia where the Liberal Party are the major conservative political party! Ha ha! It’s like a bad joke for my US friends…

  31. First of all, I want to say that this is a very interesting discussion, and an even more interesting turn of events. I am an Etsy seller, and had never heard of the group or the term “craftivism”, though I wish I had.

    To me, the discussion, not the mention the hubbub, is a powerful reflection of the power of words and language, which, in this cyberworld, are all we have.

    I will admit I am confused at the statement from several people that, if the group had wanted to be identified as liberal, that they use the word “progressive” (or the like) in their statement. They *did*.

    I think we could argue all night about whether the word “progressive” implies liberal (even though the two are listed as synonyms in nearly every online dictionary). We can insist that of course, some people who are politically conservative consider themselves “progressive” people interested in activism and protest. Sure, why not?

    At the same time, it is naive and simplistic, in my view, to pretend as if we don’t know, at least in the U.S., the common usage of words in their political context (as soon as you’re talking activism, you’re talking politics, of one sort or another). It’s a sad statement, but it is undeniable that words and phrases have are evolutionary and have been defined and continue to be defined by our culture.

    I mean, come on, folks. We all know that “progressive” is used as a synonym for “liberal”. We all know that “family values” means something that reflects a particular sociopolitical ideology, and that to join a “family values” group, in general, when you are a lesbian pro-choice mom (that’s me) is just…well, let’s just say “misplaced”. When the words “activist judges” was bandied about by the right wing (it’s still being used) after some rulings in favor of gay marriage, they weren’t using the word “activist” as neutral. These are not necessarily “definitional” uses of words, but they are defined by usage. And for the most part, we all know it.

    I hate it that words come to be “owned” by this group or another when they are really just words. But it’s reality.

    When I read the mission statement as posted, it seems blatantly clear to me that this group was liberal and therefore very likely to be on the left politically.

    I really don’t get how that could have come as a surprise.

  32. Pingback: Craftivism Controversial? « Craftivism

  33. How about Craftists United! You could have Craftism – Leftys and Craftism – Righty’s and Craftism on the Fence, but if we really want change wouldn’t it be better to be “Craftists United”?

  34. I am not an etsy member and I haven’t really been involved with the debate. My perception of craftivism is using traditional craft materials in non traditional ways to make a social or political statement. I hadn’t really thought of it as being unique to one political ideology or culture.

  35. Pingback: Is Etsy Ripping Off its Sellers? I, for One, Want My Money Back : Crafting a Green World

  36. Pingback: Crafter by Night » Gosh I love Controversy

  37. Truely, my hope for Craftivism is that it transcends traditional political groupings and adopt a more independent mindset — A case-by-case consideration of issues with new solutions and activism. This thoughtful approach seems like it would have such great potential locally and globally. But then again, I’m not much for staying within the lines…

  38. To me, craftism (supporting handmade) is just another personal choice we make, similar to buying organically grown foods and recycling our trash. To politicize choices like these is to inject anger and hate into the equation. Only those who feel it necessary to impose their beliefs on others see politics in lifestyle choices.

    I ran across this today as I was putting together my own blog post (http://etsylounge.blogspot.com) about indie fashion designers on Etsy. Not only do I believe in the ethic of handmade, I prefer the individuality expressed in wearing unique, one-of-a-kind clothing by small designers.

  39. WoW. I can’t believe people got into it like this! I didn’t know Etsy was so serious.. people need to CHILL right! I think Etsy is great for finding local handmade gifts.

    Stock Pots

  40. It is absolutely political and leftist, that is in fact the whole point. The fact no-one had caught onto to there being right-wing conservatives in the group is actually pretty scary. And while I appreciate the idea that focusing just on American politics is limiting, the divide between right and left is everywhere. And if craftivism isn’t about liberatory practices, then isn’t not craftivism, its just crafts.

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