Handloom weaving in India is a vibrant and dynamic craft-based technology that is more than two thousand years old. It is the second-largest provider of rural livelihoods, with a 10 percent share of the domestic textile market, unified under the cultural brand of “handloom.” Yet weavers, like other craftspeople in India, stand in the shadow of deep divisions: rich/poor, urban/rural, modern/traditional, Brahmin/Dalit, educated scientist/illiterate laborer. As a system of knowledge, handloom weaving is associated with a museumized past rather than a promising future; the weaver is seen as a laboring body rather than an innovative mind. Yet through theorizing handloom weaving as sociotechnology, this essay endeavors to explicate the sustainability and innovation in handloom weaving. Studying examples of innovation in handloom weavers, the essay explores craft livelihoods as offering the opportunity for political action: as a unifying device for cultural cohesion, as embodied knowledge that engages both mind and body, and as a tool for justice and equity.

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