It’s become commonplace for people to complain about the corrosive effects of modernity, grousing about everything from technology’s whittling away of our attention span to industrialization’s impact on handcrafts and the skill and knowledge individuals and communities hold about them.
The argument is tempting to parrot, especially among privileged people, who often fail to realize that their hand-wringing romanticizes oppressive and impoverished histories and neglects the possibility that modernity and tradition can actually coexist.
The narrative of modernity undercutting tradition can be dangerous for these reasons, above all because it tends to exclude the voices of the very people it purports to be defending.
How do people describe their own negotiations of past, present and future?
This was the question I asked on a recent visit to Oaxaca as I met with men and women whose identities and livelihood are bound up in the craft of weaving, a tradition that dates to the pre-colonial period. Each had a different response, and each eludes facile categorization.
Here is what they had to say: