International Communication Association Conference, Gold Coast

By Karen Patel on July 11th, 2024

In June I attended the International Communication Association (ICA) conference at the Gold Coast, Australia. I was part of a panel focusing on Etsy, with Susan Luckman (University of South Australia), Kylie Jarrett (University College Dublin) and Samantha Close (DePaul University, USA). The panel description is as follows:

Etsy was launched in 2005 and at the end of 2022 had an estimated 5.4 million sellers and 89.4 million buyers. It has long since shifted from being a fringe community offering quirky goods to a publicly listed corporation with billion dollar merchandise sales and monopoly power. But despite its significant economic and cultural footprint – not to mention iconic status – Etsy remains an under-discussed platform in critical studies of the media industries and employment impacts of platform economies. In no small part, this relative lack of scholarly attention beyond some key feminist craft scholarship (Close 2014, 2016; Gajjala 2015; Luckman 2013; 2015; Patel 2020a; 2020b; White 2015), is a direct result of Etsy’s place within the feminised sphere of craft-making.

In light of the 2022 Etsy strike and more recent calls to boycott the platform, this panel will offer critical insights into how Etsy operates within the exploitative models of platform capitalism. Drawing upon critical feminist, Marxist and activist approaches, the papers highlight the unjust aspects of this form of platformised cultural production and critiques the politics at play in the nexus between artisanal production and global media platforms that Etsy exemplifies. Throughout, the papers are sensitive to questions of diversity, equality, and justice, exploring how the platform and the activities of sellers resist, but sometimes perpetuate, the kinds of inequalities recognised in other media industries. It considers, though, how these are amplified in the context of the transnational platform economy.

Kylie Jarrett Speaking at the conference

Pictured: Prof Kylie Jarrett introducing the panel

The first paper is inspired by the 2022 strike and asks theoretical questions about how, or if, we can understand Etsy traders as workers, interrogating the resemblance of their experience to that of other platform-mediated workers. The second paper draws on research conducted with the Etsy “union” – the Indie Sellers Guild – describing how traders understand their needs and what an alternative platform might look like. The third paper uses a semiotic analysis of the Etsy site to critique the white, middle-class aesthetic of the platform. It highlights how its normative mainstreaming of a particular visual style operates as gatekeeping, excluding a wider, more globally and financially inclusive community of makers, products, and purchasers. The final paper returns to the struggles of sellers, focusing on the recent calls for a boycott, but questioning the effectiveness of this strategy in the context of Etsy’s monopoly and its implications for diversity in the notoriously exclusive craft industry in the global North.

My talk focused on the Etsy strikes which took place in 2023 and 2024, and I discussed the strategies for resistance employed by makers to counter the dominance of Etsy in the craft marketplace, and the potential implications of the boycott in relation to access and diversity in craft micro-enterprise.

We are hoping to reprise the panel for ICA 2025, presenting our work in progress and any new developments and insights on Etsy, and its role in the craft ecology.