Weaving trajectories of hope: from vulnerability to sustainability in craft livelihoods

Date: 26 April 2017
Venue: Ravelijn, RA 1315
Speakers: Dr. Annapurna Mamidipudi


Craft producers in India stand in the shadow of deep divisions–rich/poor, urban/rural, modern/traditional, Brahmin/Dalit, educated scientist/illiterate labour, and so on. What does it mean to sustain craft, such as traditional handloom weaving, which employs around four million vulnerable craftspeople, in the 21st century? Are the products to be museumised as national heritage? Or marketed as designer ware that relies on exquisite craftsmanship to differentiate itself to elite customers?  Is the social organisation of handloom weavers and their way of life to be protected? How to guarantee them their rights as modern citizens and producers? Do we theorise them as subjects of colonisation or capitalism? How do we account for their survival in today’s world? Do we choose livelihoods, or markets or even policy as the place for intervention to ameliorate their vulnerability?

In this research I explore a framework for the innovation trajectory of handloom weavers; not as isolated objects of development, but as part of socio-technical ensembles that centre craft modes of production, focusing on contemporary practices of sustainable weavers. For example, concerns regarding outcomes of innovation in technological ensembles that do not function on a level playing field and vulnerabilities of technological cultures that have faced repeated disruption from dominant knowledge systems are explored. Sustainability then is an attribute of weavers who are agents in responsibly innovating socio-technical ensembles of production and consumption, rather than unsustainability being the attribute of an isolated weaver who then becomes an object of development by society. The objective is to rethink the role of craft and skills in general in innovation, its relevance today as well as its importance in weaving trajectories of sustainability for society for the future.


Annapurna Mamidipudi is employed at the University of Maastricht as a post doc to study responsible innovation. She has been a visiting fellow at the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium, as well as to the Max Plank Institute for the History of Science this year. She is a member of the NGO Timbaktu Collective’s executive committee, which works in the drought prone district of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh to support more than 20,000 poor farmer families. Trained as an engineer in electronics and communications, in Manipal, in South India, she had set up and worked for over 15 years in an NGO that supported vulnerable craft livelihoods before completing her doctoral thesis titled “Towards a theory of innovation for handloom weaving in India” in the University of Maastricht in 2016. She is an awardee of the Global Social Business Incubator program of Santa Clara University of 2009. Her research interests include the study of traditional craft in the contemporary world, particularly handloom weaving as livelihood, as socio-technology and knowledge; sustainable agriculture, politics of development and the role of markets in sustaining traditional arts and crafts.

Annapurna’s key publications include  "Mobilising Discourses: Handloom as socio-technology", Mamidipudi et al. 2012. Economic & Political Weekly;  "From Vulnerability to Sustainability: Weaving trajectories of hope." Mamidipudi, A. 2016. Jindal Journal of Public Policy; "Innovation in Indian handloom weaving", A. Mamidipudi and W. Bijker, forthcoming, Technology and Culture; and co-author of the chapter "STS and Development", A. Khandekar et al, forthcoming, in the fourth volume of The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, MIT Press. Her email is annapurnam@gmail.com