Crafting communities of practice and interest: connecting 'online' and 'offline' making practices

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


This research will undertake a systematic review of practices of online/offline participation within craft related communities of practice and communities of interest. Addressing both scholarly literature and contemporary trends, this review will address the development of new cultures of communication within online/offline communities linked to craft, and the role of creativity in shaping those cultures. This project will also review the new cultural, social and economic practices in the crafting movement, in relation to online/offline practices of community building. It will analyse how the adoption of ICT tools has shaped the connections, practices and processes that constitute craft communities. These tools include the Internet, social media, Web 2.0 applications, and using digital technologies in the production of craft objects themselves.

This review understands online/offline craft communities as dynamic processes, rather than static entities. It will explore the limits to distinctions between online/offline, virtual and real subjects, to show how making materially mediates these complex temporally dynamic communities. This understanding raises a number of questions: what are the distinctions and overlaps between communities of practice and interest in relation to online/offline craft? How are traditional skills appropriated by contemporary communities of practice/interest? Is there a tension between craft's emphasis on local networks and global connectivity? What are the relationships between 'virtual' communities and material products? These questions unfold in the nexus between online and offline communities and are concerned with how space, time, and materiality relate to the processes and practices of community building.

The review will adopt a multidisciplinary approach to achieve three objectives: 1) a literature review to situate online and offline communities within humanities and social sciences literature. This will review how online technologies have been engaged by different craft communities over time, their relationship with economies of craft, their use to disseminate knowledge, and their role in producing new forms of making. 2) A workshop to understand emergent craft communities and practices of connecting. The study will actively engage with stakeholders and makers within the craft community. This will establish a dialogue with and between craft makers in order to think through the role of online/offline tools in craft communities. It will uncover how these engagements relate to the creative economy, and the role of intermediaries in virtual spaces that influence that engagement. 3) Theorising to connect the materialities of online and offline practices of making: the review will build on these findings to explore questions of materiality and temporality that emerge from making objects in between 'virtual' and 'real' communities.

The review itself is timely: craft practices bring together people to share knowledge, encourage creative practice in everyday settings, and contribute to the creative economy. However, a critical engagement with how groups and individuals use online/offline practices to form communities, identities, and to make and to share these practices is missing. Redressing this absence is critical to answering questions about contemporary community building. Furthermore, innovative practices enabled by online tools are rapidly being adopted by craft organizations. However, their experience and successful uptake has met with mixed success. Further understanding of the benefits and limits of online interactions is needed to ensure that best practice can be developed. Furthermore, the rise of new political movements, such as 'craftivism', which use online tools to gather together activists that use knitting and embroidery to make political statements, suggest there is more to be learned about community sustainability, resilience and engagement, from the example of craft.

Planned Impact

This impact summary first identifies who will benefit form the research and then details how they will benefit. It is anticipated that the learning and reflection outcomes of the review process will be accrued within the timescale of the 6 month review process. Outcomes linked to changes in practice and development of policy/online platforms will happen beyond the life of the project.

1. Those who strategize and deliver policy in the creative industries sector including organizations that advocate for craft and formulate crafts policy.

The changing practices of online/offline practices are a highly dynamic feature of the contemporary creative economy. It is vital that policy makers and those allocating resources to the development of digital technologies effectively understand the relations. This review aims to assist the strategic use of resources to effectively target new opportunities for commercial or social benefit.

2. Crafts organizations using and developing online platforms to facilitate communities of practice / communities of interest

While much attention is placed on the vibrancy of craft in relation to online and offline communities, organizations within the sub-sector have indicated that they can struggle to identify the best way to achieve this given the plethora of options. Many craft organisations are experiencing funding cuts and are having to make strategic decision about the best way to target their spending. Online activities represent an economical way to engage with audiences, however these need to be developed in appropriate ways. The outcomes of this review should assist with such decision-making processes.

3. Organisations in the broader creative/knowledge economy using and developing online platforms to facilitate communities of practice / communities of interest

Although this review will focus on online/offline craft communities of practice and/or interest, the outcomes of the review will be relevant to allied interest groups and organisations within the creative sector. The review will engage with the general issues of online/offline practices linked to communities of practice, in addition to the sector specific case study. It will be possible to translate findings to other sectors of the creative and knowledge economy.

4. Participants within Communities of Practice / Communities of Interest seeking to develop or understand online/offline practices

Our experience of engaging with practitioners and participants indicates that they are keen to understand more about the dynamics of online communities of practice and/or interest. Such knowledge may be shared amongst their broader community, and also has the potential to inform their practices of online/offline engagements.

5. Collaborating non-academic partners of the Expert Advisory Panel and collaborating participants (see Collaborating Activites attachment for details)

The non-academic partners within the Expert Advisory Panel and collaborating participants will engage with the review process in a detailed manner, shaping and guiding the research. Working in this participatory manner means that all participants' knowledge and expertise will be valued and also that there will be opportunities for collaborative learning and personal development. Those involved in his process will have the potential to benefit from enhanced social capital. It is likely that there will be a series of unintended outcomes that emerge through this collaborative approach.

6. Benefits to Research Associate
The Research Associate will be embedded in review process that engages the academic debates with policy and practice. Their knowledge of online/offline communities in connection with the creative sector will be transferable beyond the academy. The skills of analysing online/offline communities and engaging with stakeholders through a formal review process are also highly transferable.


10 25 50
Description This study has undertaken a systematic review of practices of online/offline participation related to craft practice. Addressing scholarly literature and contemporary trends, this review considers the development of online and offline communities of practice that have emerged in relation to new cultures and economies of craft. The research has paid attention to the role of creativity and connectivity in shaping new social formations associated with cultures of craft. This research reviewed cultural, social, political and economic practices emerging within contemporary craft practices, particularly in relation to the quality of social relations that are enabled through online/offline engagements.
Exploitation Route Online social relations
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy

Description The findings have been made available to the AHRC Connected Communities Research Network. The findings have informed further research
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

Description AHRC Follow on Funding
Amount £80,070 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/M008452/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2015 
End 07/2016
Description Crafts Council 
Organisation Crafts Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Stakeholder Project Partner
Collaborator Contribution Research planning, access to expertise, networks
Impact Supported the delivery of the project.
Start Year 2011
Description Craftspace 
Organisation Craftspace
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Stakeholder participants / partners in the research
Collaborator Contribution Expertise, access to networks
Impact Geography, Creative Industries AHRC funded Pilot research undertaken
Start Year 2011
Description Leach Pottery 
Organisation Leach Pottery
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Participation in AHRC Connecting online and offline craft communities of practice and interest.
Collaborator Contribution Access and Participation
Impact Participant Stakeholder
Start Year 2011
Description Development of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen online community history 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The learning from this Connected Communities award has informed the development of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen online history. During the Summer of 2017 the Guild members, friends, family and supporters will populate a new website within the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen own platform to share their histories of the Guild as a community of practice and interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017