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  • Knitting as an Aesthetic of Civic Engagement: Re-conceptualizing Feminist Pedagogy through Touch
  • Stephanie Springgay (bio)


We are in the midst of an explosion in the popularity of knitting. Shifting the traditional stereotype of what a knitter should be, the youth of today have taken up knitting as a tactile and embodied form of connectivity. In a rapidly changing and unpredictable world, characterized by, among other factors, the unprecedented expansion of global flows and patterns of social interaction, youth are increasingly involved in complex forms of interconnection. This has important implications for the ways that feminist pedagogy is re-conceptualized, lived, and practiced. Many feminist scholars, such as Leila Villaverde (119) and Sharon Rosenberg (234), have begun to unsettle pedagogy, seeking ways to create sustained engagements that rupture the limits of meaning making. My own “unworking” (Nancy 27) of pedagogy is tangled up with these new cartographies, as I attempt to bring the materiality of the body into the feminist classroom.

I arrived as a women’s studies professor rather by chance, having practiced for many years as a feminist artist with a scholarly background in visual arts and education. It is from these intersecting perspectives that I embarked on a bit of a pedagogical experiment with my undergraduate students. I decided we would all learn to knit together. As the semester unraveled so did my thinking about feminist pedagogy and its relationship to the body. This paper grows out of this experience. It examines the embodied and tactile acts of visual culture and youth activism, and it re-conceptualizes globalization, collectivity, and feminist pedagogy from the perspectives of relationality and touch. Initial questions include: How might we understand collectivity, pedagogy, and globalization through visual culture? How might we understand the connective potential of the circulation, participation, and performance of visual culture in youth cultures? And how might such examinations bring about a re-conceptualization of feminist pedagogy—as pedagogies of touch—that enfolds bodies, tactility, and activism with changing global youth cultures?

In order to examine these questions, I will first analyze activism as art, and in particular theories regarding new youth subcultures of resistance. I then discuss two [End Page 111] activist knitting projects and consider how they encourage interpersonal or political engagement that is embodied, tactile, and connective. These projects serve as contextual examples, highlighting the ways that youth are re-conceptualizing feminist pedagogy as embodied and relational. Following these examples, I focus my attention on an activist knitting project that emerged in my undergraduate women’s studies course. While some scholars believe that today’s youth resistance seems obscure, transitory, and disorganized (Harris 1) my examination of youth’s lived experiences demonstrates that youth have new ways of taking on politics and culture that may not be recognizable under more traditional frameworks. It is in these unfamiliar and unrecognizable gaps, I argue, that an understanding of feminist pedagogy, as pedagogies of touch, takes shape.

Activism as Art

Many of us harbor an image of the knitter as a grandmother in a rocking chair. However, youth knitters and uncanny forms of knitting have gained in popularity in the twenty-first century, giving a twist to the traditional afghan, baby booties, and sweater. In Canada, for example, youth gathered for a “Rock and Knit” fest in a local bowling alley; there are countless blog sites attesting to the growing interest in knitting unusual patterns and objects, and stitch ‘n’ bitch clubs are increasing in popularity on university campuses. While the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement and third-wave feminism are contributing factors to the knitting revival (Wills 20) other reasons include a new approach to connectivity and resistance.

Youth resistance, although commonly framed around a “subculture” paradigm that posits a “heroic” notion of resistance and a static or fixed category of youth affiliation, has more recently been replaced with theories of neotribes, youth lifestyles, scenes, and new communities, which are more transitory, fluid, and not organized around a single resistant identity. Neotribes, argue Anoop Nayak and Mary Jane Kehily (13), are loose groups of young people who come together momentarily over shared interests and create moments of sociality. Moreover, the shift from subcultures to neotribes reflects the...


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pp. 111-123
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