The research addresses three related themes: crafting practices, rurality and digital engagement
A growing number of academics are exploring the potential of the digital economy to connect communities and empower local economies. This project adds a new area to this field: digital engagement for rural craftspeople. In rural areas, crafting practices play an important role in local heritage and identity, contributing to the local economy and quality of life (Kazana and Kazaklis, 2009; EU Commission, 2009). Crafting industries form part of the creative industries, an important sector in rural areas and a major area of growth in the UK. Yet much literature on creative industries reveals an urban bias, perpetuated by Florida’s (2012) “creative class”. Recent research has embraced contemporary craft movements but typically focuses on the amateur level (‘craftivism’) – professional crafting practices are not so frequently explored. The last two decades have seen interesting developments for crafting industries. Some traditional crafts have declined due to mass production and rising consumerism, leading to the devaluing of craft as a practice and reduced sharing of traditional crafting skills. Others have evolved, for example by embracing contemporary cultural ideas in their practice (Levine and Heimerl, 2008). Craftspeople can benefit from embracing the digital age, particularly in marketing their products and engaging with new clients, collaborators and audiences. Existing crafting communities can connect online with others to develop their bridging social capital and explore wider collaboration. The rise of the web as a place for sharing, collaborating and growing networks has been revolutionary for some, providing opportunities to reach a wider (even global) marketplace, for example through the use of online selling platforms such as Etsy. Craft and digital technologies are by no means contradictory; indeed there may be synergies between them that can bring value to craftspeople. Yet our research with creative practitioners in rural Scotland and Cornwall suggests a need for support with digital engagement in order to realise these benefits (Townsend et al., forthcoming), for example through engaging with social media. Rural craftspeople, like other rural dwellers, are less confident and less likely to adopt technologies than their urban counterparts (Townsend et al., 2013) and are therefore at a competitive disadvantage in an increasingly digital society.
The research addresses three related themes: crafting practices, rurality and digital engagement. It responds to the issues and concerns of CCN+ thus: we explore how a rapidly evolving digital economy can leave certain groups (in this case, rural craftspeople) behind. Digital technologies represent an opportunity for creative workers; ironically they can also represent a threat when not embraced (Townsend et al., 2013; Townsend et al., forthcoming). We will facilitate a crafting community to digitally represent their craft practices, raise awareness of traditional crafting practices, and reach broader audiences, markets and communities of practice. We will generate interdisciplinary dialogue between academics, arts development agents and craftspeople that speaks to current approaches to digital engagement of relevance to policy, industry, academia and practitioners.
Iain Gildea, Director, Make Aberdeen
Dr Debbie Maxwell, Research Fellow, Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh
Michael Rawlins, Talk About Local
Professor Mike Wilson, Loughborough University