Soft Circuitry: Methods for Queer and Trans Feminist Maker Movements
Rogers, Melissa Susan
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Fiber craft practices such as knitting, crochet, quilting, embroidery, and weaving have been used as experimental, hands-on methods for queer and trans feminist knowledge production, especially since the 1970s and 80s when feminist art movements in the United States were thriving. “Soft Circuitry: Methods for Queer and Trans Feminist Maker Cultures” tracks do-it-yourself (DIY) knowledge through contemporary feminist art praxis and high-tech maker movements, demonstrating how overlapping communities of practice use the language and techniques of craft in order to make sense of their worlds. Queer and trans fiber artists use craft in order to create historiographical interventions in the mechanisms of canonization, thereby reimagining what artistic and educational institutions might look like. At the same time, the commercialized maker movement purportedly seeks to democratize technology while transforming education, manufacturing, and war through “making”: a hybrid of art, craft, and machine-assisted fabrication, encompassing a vast array of construction techniques. Combining feminized skills such as sewing with new digital technologies for physical computing, wearable electronic textiles, and soft circuitry, maker education seeks to attract girls and women to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, incorporating them into the official narrative that the U.S. is a “Nation of Makers.” This nationalist narrative simultaneously excludes others from its narrow definitions of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. I argue that the theories, methods, and conceptual tools that have been prototyped and iterated by generations of queer and trans feminists can be used to refigure the maker movement, which has a longstanding, yet devalued, relationship with craft. By attending to intergenerational feminist dialogues about craft and identity, recent art activist projects that queer digital technologies in order to create safer worlds for trans people of color, and my own fiber craft practice, I demonstrate that present-day maker cultures are active sites of transformation and feminist intervention. Borrowed from maker movements, the language of soft circuitry suggests useful metaphors for doing speculative feminist materialism. Feminist craft praxis functions as a soft circuit: a technological pathway or schematic for feeling our way toward newly habitable worlds and ways of being.