Magic Tree Clock

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revaluations, by Caroline Hunt

In 1901, the progressive, feminist home economist, Caroline Hunt, presented a philosophically-oriented paper entitled, "Revaluations", which discussed home economics as the practical AND philosophical core of liberation and social relationships. (See Caroline Hunt: Philosopher for Home Economics by Marjorie East, 1982). Although I disagree with some of her statements, for example, that the women of the early 1900s who continued to make their own soap were enslaved to that task when they could free themselves for other things if they made the choice to purchase pre-made soaps, there are other statements that I find interesting.

Caroline begins the Revaluations like this: "Vacations are to the worker opportunities not only for bodily recuperation, but also for orientation, and for getting a view of [her or his] work in its wider relations". Later on she writes, "Progress comes when a [person] is sufficiently clear-headed to deduce from [their] own experience a correct conclusion in contradiction to the world's conclusions as expressed in custom, and is strong enough to institute for [themselves] a new line of procedure." I wouldn't be quoting these two statements if I didn't agree with them. But if I follow Caroline's line of thinking, when I come to my own conclusion that "enslaving" myself to the task of making my own butter is my "new line of procedure" based on the evaluation of my experience, then I am progressive.

This was the kind of thinking that Professor Mark Shutes of Youngstown State University was teaching me as an undergraduate in anthropology - to understand the individual as choices were made (Mark died in 2001 from pancreatic cancer). In our research, we were understanding individual farmer choices in the town of ancient Korinth on the Greek Peloponnese and recording crop choices using GIS (Geographical Information Systems). Even though customs in farming choices could be had, farmers continually proceeded with farming options that would often shock their neighbors, and of course some choices were incremental steps in new directions based on current economic knowledge and risk.

Did the Greek farmers go on vacation to re-orient their thinking and return knowing what crop and how much to plant next? I don't know. What I do know is that when we step away from the farm, leave our office desks behind, put down the hammer and nails, leave the house cleaning for another day, stop flipping hamburgers, get our noses out of pre-written philosophy books, and take even just a few days vacation for "orientation", we've set ourselves on a path of renewal, self-understanding, and broader perspective. That's what I call a souvenir.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stir It Up, by Megan Elias

I'm almost finished reading Stir It Up by Megan Elias. This book is such a good and comprehensive history of home economics that I question whether I need to finish my dissertation! Well, yes, I should. Although Elias discusses history and topics that I am including in my own writing, my focus on relevancy and awareness problems in Extension is not addressed.

As I continue to think about the relevancy of home economics, I keep coming back to the problems of the economic turmoil occurring around the world. Is it the downturn of industrial Capitalism? Is it the lack of fair relationships in trade? Is everything Wal-Mart's fault? No. An easy answer would be nice, but when I consider all I have learned, and all I have researched, and all that I practice in my own life, the problem must be coming from one thing - an overall hegemonic lifestyle pattern from production to consumption. Read whatever overtones you think are in this statement, but the past 200 years of American history show that the push to purchase consumables and to leave one's own production behind has now created a stage of our own (un)planned obsolescence.

In thinking about "us" being obsolete, that really isn't it I suppose. What I really mean is the way in which we live and work, how we play and learn - it's boring. Ultimately I can only speak for myself, so let me tell you a brief story. Last week I worked my normal 8 hour day, and like most days this summer, it stunk! I was bored, but I had to be there if I wanted to be paid. As sometimes happens, I felt there was no real purpose for my job; there just wasn't going to be a practical outcome of my 8 hours behind the computer. That evening, I went to the Weavers Guild to begin winding my warp for some handwoven blankets. I turned on the radio, drank some of my coffee, and settled-in in the weaving room.

After placing my bag of yarn on the floor in front of the warping board, I grabbed some white yarn, made a loop, and hooked it over a peg. Then I began winding. To do this, you take the yarn and go back and forth across the warping board (see picture) spanning a yard in each direction. It had been over a year since I created a warp, and I had made about 8 passes with the yarn from top to bottom, and I suddenly found myself emotional! I teared up - why? Because of the shear joy it brought me to be doing something I love so much, to be in the process of making something meaningful, practical, and skillful - to know that what I was doing was worthwhile and would have an outcome I could see, touch, and literally wrap myself up in!

Now I didn't start working with fiber projects until 2000 when I learned to knit. Oh, if I had only learned about this unleashed passion earlier in life, I wonder if I would be just working to pay the bills, or if I would be living? Well, I got over the shear happiness and tears and went on to warp for 3 hours, doing the warping dance that comes with moving left to right with the yarn, lifting and moving my hands like flowing water. This is the kind of thing that a national economy can't induce through a mandatory education system; this can only be accomplished in the informal education, often a reflection of home and personal economy. It resists being obsolete, and in that, it is liberating and relevant.