From reed-weaving to embroidery
: An investigation into transitions of craft practice among craftswomen in southeast Madagascar

  • Sarah Brown

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis explores makers’ perspectives on the transition from reed-weaving to embroidery-based craft livelihoods in rural southeast Madagascar. Substantively, it provides new understanding of how craftswomen have individually and collectively navigated this shift. Methodologically, it presents an innovative, experimental, transdisciplinary approach that combines anthropology methods including apprenticeship and participant observation with creative art and design practice both in the field and throughout the analysis and communication of findings. Politically, it aims to challenge the use of craft projects in international development that alter local making processes without consideration of craftspeople’s experiences or the social dimensions of craft.

In 2012 a non-governmental organisation launched an embroidery livelihoods programme in Sainte Luce: embroidery is now widely practised. Field research carried out in 2018-19 reveals that changes in craft practice and social consequences continue to unfold for craftswomen years after the initial intervention. Aesthetic understandings, economic practices and modes of production emerging around embroidery are modelled on understandings of weaving. Makers’ experiences of the intervention and their creative outputs are also affected by social relationships: making spaces with different characteristics emerged in different types of social groups, shaping modes of practice that developed within them. These spaces influence individual and collective identities that emerge through the embroidery. The findings suggest craft and development practice and research need to pay far greater attention to the long-term and wider social implications of programmes and projects.

Methodologically, the thesis asks how the process of making the research can itself be used creatively to examine and communicate the change in craft practice and its social implications. It finds that making need not be restricted to the fieldsite but can take a central position as a way to re-engage with research materials, prompting reflection, analysis (both methodological and substantive), and communication. Using a combination of film, photography, drawing and making to tell a story with participants, the study responds to calls for an anthropology that moves beyond disciplinary boundaries and towards collaborative processes with participants themselves. The format emphasises the importance of an ongoing, multilogic conversation that unfolds between researcher, participants and the making process.
Date of Award12 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSarah White (Supervisor), Emma Shercliff (Supervisor) & Roy Maconachie (Supervisor)


  • Madagascar
  • Craft
  • Weaving
  • Embroidery
  • Livelihoods
  • Development
  • Transdisciplinary
  • Methodology

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