The politics of the workshop: craft, autonomy and women’s liberation – 2019

Published in Feminist Theory.

‘The women’s liberation movements that emerged in Britain in the late 1960s are rarely thought of through their relationship with technology and technical knowledge. To overlook this is to misunderstand the movement’s social, cultural and economic interventions; it also understates how the technical environment conditioned the emergence of autonomous, women-centred politics. This article draws on archival evidence to demonstrate how the autonomous women’s liberation movement created experimental social contexts that enabled de-skilled, feminised social classes to confront their technical environment and the deficits they experienced within it. The context for forging such politics was the workshop. More than a one-off, skill-sharing event, the workshop was a mobile habitus, adapted from a Marxist craft politics that prioritised the distribution of collective knowledge and responsibility and enabled the realisation of women’s self-determination and autonomy. The workshop was discursively extended through publications in the 1970s and 1980s and designated a specific orientation within knowledge that supported women to practise a range of technical knowledge and gain expertise. An important, and largely forgotten political legacy of women’s liberation is its world-making activisms: how it created social contexts that supported de-skilled, feminised classes to substantially intervene, shape and re-build their environments. Such histories can inspire how we practise politics today within an environment characterised, some theorists claim, by dramatic scales of de-skilling and dispossession.’

Keywords: Autonomy, computerisation, craft, expertise, infrastructure, techne, technology, women’sliberation, workshop