Crafting Futures is a British Council funded project which addresses global threats to material and intangible craft practices and heritages. As researchers in the School of Communication, Royal College of Art, and Central Saint Martins (UAL), our role has been to co-create methods for knowing with, not knowing about, the largely tacit community knowledge of craft in Central Asia and its surrounding networks of meaning. We propose to address the ways in which small-scale, locally-embedded producers are engaging in craft practices which are deeply situated and entangled with identity and community building via practices of embodied storytelling and knowledge exchange, but we will also discuss the complex role of digital communications and technologies in crafting local-global relationships and their entanglement with neoliberal coloniality.
Since we started working for the British Council /RCA Crafting Futures project in 2019, we have encountered our role as researchers with an increasing degree of uncertainty. Not least of our concerns has been the meaning of change and the origin of agency within the project, and indeed, within the broader domain of community-based research. Who gets to define change or futures for communities has been a key question for us. In working with communities beyond our own academic and cultural contexts, we also must ask ourselves what ideologies we are projecting onto our participants and collaborators and for what purpose? In addition to our own ideological projections, what agency is appropriate when we encounter neoliberal frames of reference and stated aspirations from within the crafting communities we are working with? The extent to which we can or should challenge views we disagree with is far from clear. Our work is also informed by an engagement with Critical Pedagogy (Giroux, 2011), (hooks, 1994), acknowledging its critics, such as (Ellsworth, 1989) as well as learning from decolonial approaches to education and design (Ahmed, 2019).
Contemporary communication practices, such as those that stem from and cross expanded areas of graphic communication, sound, creative and critical writing, and digital storytelling are ubiquitous, often passing unnoticed as they blend with the materiality and culture of everyday life. While having economic, social and cultural purpose, they tend to be primarily harnessed for commercial gain and valued for their sensory and material qualities (Barnard, 2005). However, as Balaram (2011) observes, human need is the origin of design, and this is not just physical but psychological, socio-cultural, ecological and spiritual. When applied in situations involving multiple organisations, individuals, local and marginalised communities, including contexts relating to traditional crafts, contemporary communication practices can mobilise diverse global voices and suggest new critical perspectives regarding the contribution of arts/humanities research to trans- local development challenges. From 2019 we worked with craftspeople in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to generate visual and sonic narratives; at the centre of our research methodology is the imperative of countering and moving beyond naturalised colonial assumptions about what counts as knowledge. We would like to screen a short visual essay which we will pre-record, followed by a brief discussion.
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