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How do diverse makers use social media?

Dr Karen Patel, Birmingham City University

I am very pleased to be working on a research project with the Crafts Council looking at how digital technology, particularly social media, could support diversity in craft practice. It is funded by the AHRC’s Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship which supports projects which are broadly aligned with the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy.

The project arises from some themes which emerged from my PhD research, which looked at how creative workers signal expertise on social media. I focused on 19 UK creative workers from a variety of fields such as craft, fine art, literature and composition, interviewing them about their careers and social media use. I also analysed samples of their social media posts using a signalling expertise framework I developed. Some of my method and initial findings are featured in a chapter I published last year in a collection on collaboration in the creative industries.

During the research gender emerged as a significant theme; I noticed that the women participants behaved differently online compared to the men. Whereas the men shared a lot of their own work, the women tended to share the work of others, and engage in conversation with each other, rather than only pushing their own work. The women seemed to be wanting to help each other, even if they were in potential competition for customers. Using social media seemed to reap clear benefits for some of my participants – one woman used social media marketing to become a relatively successful portrait artist, whereas others who live in rural areas valued the online communities and support. Such online communities seem important for a collective raising of visibility of women’s art and craft. However in my general scoping of online hashtags such as #handmadeuk, it seemed that the most visible online communities were quite homogenous.

In this project I want to investigate this further, in the specific case of women from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and in the area of craft. A significant part of the Craft Council’s mission is to encourage diversity in craft, and while there has been a 5% increase in BAME participation in craft since 2014, the participation rate is still estimated to be at 15.3%. Furthermore, my previous research suggests that online spaces for creatives and craft workers are even less diverse. I am looking to explore this in greater depth, and work with makers to come up with solutions for BAME women to develop social media skills, think through critical issues about social media and diversity, and hopefully develop some useful resources and outputs.

The project began on 1st January 2018 and will run for 10 months. I will post updates as the project progresses! For more information please contact me at karen.patel@mail.bcu.ac.uk.