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Restart Podcast Ep. 68: Inequalities in UK craft and making, with Dr Karen Patel

Dr Karen Patel

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This month we spoke to Dr Karen Patel from Birmingham City University about her work on Craft Expertise, a project researching inequalities in the craft sector and documenting experiences of makers from marginalised backgrounds. Dr Patel interviewed over 20 women on their experiences in craft.

Her research pertains specifically to the craft sector but we found that there are many similarities to the repair community – both positive and negative. Dr Patel shared insights with us from her research and we considered how we can support minority groups in our own repair community. 

Barriers in craft

There are multiple barriers to success – and simply to entry – into the craft world, mirroring those we see in repair. Dr Patel discussed how these are often related to people’s identities and pointed at minority groups. 

For example, those who come from a working-class background may find it harder to build a career in craft. Craft is viewed by many as precarious work and even by some parents of craftspeople, is treated as a hobby rather than a job. Along with its lack of inclusion in school curriculums and higher education, this view only becomes reinforced further. 

For female makers and makers of colour, Dr Patel tells us about the lack of safe spaces in the craft sector. Studios, fairs, classrooms and more are all spaces that are often white and disproportionately male-dominated. This means that other makers can feel unwelcome, unsupported and unsafe in these environments. 

The report found that microaggressions were an all too common occurrence in the craft sector. Almost all of the women interviewed reported these or worse.

We discuss how microaggressions can be extremely difficult to report and act on as they are often behaviours that are difficult to identify and therefore report. Another form of discrimination is the exotification, and resulting devaluing of expertise and experience, when it comes to makers of colour creating cultural objects. 

How to tackle these inequalities?

Like craft, the repair sector can feel like a very male-dominated space. While our community is explicitly a radically open and supportive space, we have received comments in the past from women who have not felt respected or listened to by male peers.

We ask Dr Patel if our Rosie the Restarter skillshares are a good tactic for supporting female-identifying and non-binary repairers in the repair community. 

We also have an essential discussion about how we could better tackle incidents of discrimination at Restart Parties or in the extended online space. This includes making the process safer and easier to report these occurrences if they do happen. 

Finally, we talked about the dynamics around gendered activities. Binaries around who craft and repair are traditionally for are limiting for everyone. We commit to working to make our community more inclusive and equal for all. 

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