Art vs Craft: Zine-Making as Feminist Practice

At the beginning of December, students and staff at Winchester School of Art (where I work) took part in a series of Critical Media Practice workshops, focused around the theme of ‘Gendering Technology’. The workshops developed practical skills, but also explored the gendered dimensions of technology’s access and use, and the framing of debates around gender identities and technology. Together with digital media scholar Mihaela Brebenel, I ran one of these workshops, and the topic of our session was ‘Zine-Making as Feminist Practice’. You can find the session slides here. The workshop was inspired by my previous experiences with zine-making at Feminist Archive South, by the fabulous work done by Anti-Precarity Cymru to raise awareness about casualisation and neoliberalisation in academia (including a 2019 calendar!), and by an article by Carly and Jennifer Jean Bagelman.

Talking about their experiences of using zine-making in the classroom, Bagelman and Bagelman write:

While the process of making zines might slow down the hyper-productivity model of the neoliberal-colonial university, slowness should not be mistaken for idly waiting. Rather than waiting on dominant media, zines are in fact able to quickly interject multi-sensorial political expression by seizing the means of production. Zines create opportunities to actively take apart hegemonic narratives, refuse elitist authority and knit together intimate relationships that serve to repurpose spaces – such as the neoliberal university.

Zine-making potentially creates a space where learning can happen slowly and creatively, without firm direction or control, and outside the discourse of professionalisation in which many students (and staff) are drowning.

Via @CymruPrecarity

For our zine, we took the day’s theme of ‘Gendering Technology’, using it to launch discussion and loosely organise our activities. In a previous class session we had talked about the ways in which our idea of a ‘professional’ is socially constructed, often through the lens of gender. Where one kind of labour may be defined as ‘work’ or ‘professional’, and compensated accordingly, other kinds of labour are classed as ‘hobby’ or ‘craft’, and dismissed as less valuable. Reframing zines as ‘women’s work’ in light of the feminist movement allowed us to think and talk about these issues at length.

We also used Ursula Le Guin’s definition of ‘technology’ in our discussion. She reacts against the practice of describing science fiction as a genre that is about technology, but which takes a very narrow definition of the term. For Le Guin,

Its technology is how a society copes with physical reality: how people get and keep and cook food, how they clothe themselves, what their power sources are (animal? human? water? wind? electricity? other?) what they build with and what they build, their medicine […] Technology is the active human interface with the material world.

The group had a little over an hour and a half to complete their work, but we could happily have gone on for much longer! The results of our labour can be found at this link. For those interested in the rest of the day, you can find a short report here. One of my colleagues also made a lovely video of the event:

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