Etsy, Inc.: Crafting a Living in a Capitalist Economy

Michele Krugh

Major Professor: Mark D Jacobs, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Michael O’Malley, Ellen Todd

Enterprise Hall, #318
December 05, 2016, 02:00 PM to 11:00 AM


Currently, American interest in craft might be the most widespread it has ever been. The successful e-commerce site Etsy, founded in 2005 and specializing in handmade goods, vintage products, and craft supplies, has played a major role in this contemporary craft resurgence. As a peer-to-peer sharing economy platform and a Certified B Corporation, Etsy, Inc. promises to improve the future through equitable uses of technology, providing some level of income for millions of people, as consumers spend billions of dollars annually on the site. Existing at the intersection of craft idealism, neoliberalism, financialization, techno-utopianism, and ethical business debates, Etsy exposes the contradictions and complications of business, work, and consumption at the current conjuncture. 

This dissertation interrogates Etsy’s ability to provide meaningful opportunities for making a living through craftwork in the financial system of advanced capitalism. Rooted in an idealistic legacy that envisions craft as a form of social critique, contemporary crafters attempt to balance the desire to make a living through the work they love with the precarious nature of such work. Craft provides a way for buyers to display their lifestyles and ethical values through their purchases. Yet as craft becomes more ubiquitous, it is in danger of losing its appeal and authenticity, which in turn will impact the ability of the seller to make a living. Ultimately I conclude that Etsy’s “reimagination” of commerce depends on its success in advocating social changes and providing even more meaningful opportunities for making a living through craftwork.