Digitally Mapping "sustainability" and "innovation" through Crafted Networks

Curator's Note

The video embedded here is that of  Rob Kalin, the founder of Etsy talking to the World Economic Forum about "a handmade marketplace" (gesturing at once to digital coding and offline craft as "handmade"), "local living economies"  about the making of an "innovator."

In this video we see that Mr. Kalin raises various issues about economic concepts and value building through social networking. He uses terms such as ”Sense of Value,” “Sustainability,”  and “Innovation”.  These are terms also used in traditional as well as emerging theories of innovation as they relate to the developing world. Development models since the late 19th century have been faced with the discourse of innovation. Such a discourse of innovation has often meant a “diffusion” from Western worlds into so-called behind the curve “third-worlds”. 

However, in the way that Kalin talks about innovation – specifically marketing innovations through the digital interface  - we see that he is not talking about “innovating” the production of the goods being marketing. In fact he is suggesting that we recover handmade production processes. Thus he is talking of re-introducing "older" technologies such as hand-spinning, loom weaving, knitting, crocheting, handpainting, crafting, carving and so on. Interestingly enough his vision of simultaneous innovation and sustainability does not require the complete annihilation of production processes considered by the industrial and digital technological worlds to be outdated. Rather the literacies and skills we need to acquire to be a part of such online communities include learning to DO "handmade".

Social networks such as, and the many many craft and knit bloggers that have surfaced online since mid 2000s are taking up what we would have in earlier generations of development and economics considered to be contradictions.

How might this reconfiguring practices of marketing, production, communication, identity and business? Is what we see in these digital environments actually a possible reconfiguring of economic and social practice? What do the reader’s think?

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The reconfiguration of the economy will no doubt the theme of the next few years, perhaps the next few decades. What is interesting is to see the emphasis on these microcompanies that are artisinal in production. Given that the 20th century was supposed to be about modernization that outstripped the artisinal, it's interesting to see how social networks have re-enabled this spirit. 

Crafting, one of the first labors to be industrialized (as textiles), also continued as concealed women’s work (hidden from value-measurement). This contemporary upbeat recovery of artisanal practices seems like a return of the repressed, only now as reminder of the disappearance of use-value. An innovation in forgetting? Or perhaps in new ghosts.  Or better yet monsters (which Kalin surrounds himself with).  Hybrids of the digital (online, virtual) and the digital (fingers on the hand that crafts). What other values, besides the “new global marketplace” so gleefully promoted by Kalin, emerge from this monstrosity? 

It is interesting how "artisan" becomes a salvation from neoliberal global economy, whilst networks themselves, I would argue, are actually dependent on global capitalist flows.  Of course at its heart is the attempt to recover what is "human" about capitalist market interactions.  However, then the question becomes what can be counted as human at all, or as monstrous, as the matter of fact, in social networking, or in global regimes of distribution and production?  And "new global marketplace" is being promoted - what is then gets counted as the "old" marketplace, and more importantly, "old" labor and citizenship practices.

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