In 1921, the influential psychologist, Carl Jung published the book, Psychological Types, popularizing the terms introvert and extrovert as the central building blocks of personality (Waude 2017). Jung believed extraverts direct their energy outwards, towards other people, and gain energy through those interactions. Meanwhile, introverts focus inwards and gain their energy from solitary activities. Introverts prefer a minimally stimulating external environment and prefer to focus on a single activity when. The power of quietness has recently come into the limelight, with works such as Susan Cain’s Quiet (2012), Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introverts Year of Saying Yes (2019) by Jessica Pan, The Thriving Introvert: Embrace the Gift of Introversion (2017) by Thibaut Meurisse and The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World (2017) by Brenda Knowles.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet, stated that historically societies have preferred individuals of action rather than contemplation (Cain 2012; 11:33). As she describes it, Western society comes from Greco-Roman ideals of the person that can speak well, a rhetorical ideal. The preferential treatment of extroverts has grown exponentially, as we are in a society that uses charismatic movie stars as a guide for developing our self-image. But activism needs introverts. Just because individuals are introverted doesn’t mean that they don’t have a passion for causes. And everyone can make a change in society through quiet activism.
Take for example, the quiet activism of Rosa Parks. In 1955, Parks quietly refused to give up her seat to a white passenger that evening of December 1. After her arrest, Dr. Martin Luther King organized a successful Montgomery Bush Boycott. As he spoke to the crowd with passion, Parks stood quietly alongside him, not needing to speak a word as her act of quiet activism sparked the civil rights movement (History 2010). What do Al Gore, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Ghandi have in common? They are all introverts that have changed the world through their activism. Gandhi once said “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
Research exists on the connection between introversion and activism. Bratich and Brush (2011) conducted a study on ‘fabriculture’ the craft culture associated with domestic arts, such as knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking and more. The authors evaluated three dimensions of ‘fabriculture’, including the gendered space of production around new domesticity, blurring of old and new media and how digital and tactile crafts merge and new modes of political activism through folk art. The authors make the argument that the practice of crafting is power. Bratich and Brush (2011) make the argument that the emphasis of slow production in craft work can be regarded as a direct response to the pervasive and oppressive form of craft labor, specifically sweatshop labor. Crafting creates a slow space, at odds with the hyperproduction of sweatshops.
Hackney (2013) contributed to the research on ‘fabriculture’, as she explores quiet activism of craft making. “In contrast to much recent work on the resurgence of interest in DIY craft culture, it takes a historical perspective and argues for the emergence of a new, historically conscious, socially engaged amateur practice” (Hackney 1). Hackney specifically explores ‘craftivism’ as a form of activism through handicrafts. American writer and crafter, Betsy Greer coined the term “craftivism” in 2003. “Craftivism,” is a form of activism incorporating elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism, solidarity, or third wave feminism (Craftivism).
Sarah Corbett, an award-winning campaigner, started the Craftivist Collective. Their motto is “Changing our world one stitch at a time.” The Craftivist Collective is a group of individuals who according to her website are “an inclusive group of people committed to using thoughtful, beautiful crafted helps themselves and encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world” (Craftivism Collective). These groups use tools and projects to drive change. Sarah started this movement because she was feeling burnt out and questioning the effectiveness of activism conducted through confrontation. This group is now extremely successful and Sarah has delivered talks, workshops, and events to over 12,000 people around the world.
In an interview with Sarah Brown on the Better Angels podcast, Corbett states, that one of the most effective ‘craftivist’ achievements she has had was when she organized a quiet craftivist campaign to get Marks & Spencer, one of the largest retail companies in the UK, to pay employees a Living Wage (Brown 2019). For years, the company wouldn’t budge on the issue, but when Corbett engaged a thoughtful, quiet group of craftivists to stich handkerchiefs personally embroidered with messages customized for each board member, their message was heard. In May 2016, M&S made an announcement that they were going to pay above the current Living Wage rates and 50,000 employees had their pay increased. Following the successful change, Corbett heard a ShareAction trustee who said their handkerchiefs had had a profound impact on the entire board, and the Living Wage wouldn’t have been on their agenda without their gentle protest (Corbett 2019). Corbett gave a TedTalk about crafting as activism and stated that it can help introverts because it allows a way for introverts to be involved in activism without having to maintain eye contact, talking to big groups or being loud (Corbett 2017). She states there is space for all types of campaigning styles to make a difference.
Researcher Laura Pottinger (2017) conducted ethnographic research on quiet activism as it relates to the communities of seed savers who cultivate fruits and vegetables and then select and save seeds to provide future generations of plants for themselves. Pottinger calls for the need for scholars to differing embodiments called for by various modes of activism in order to trace their particular impacts, emotions, and affects.
Cain, Susan. Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Springer Verlag.
Cain, Susan. “The power of introverts.” TED Talk, February, 2012, https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en.
Rosa Parks Ignites Bus Boycott. 9 Feb. 2010, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rosa-parks-ignites-bus-boycot.
Rampton, John. 23 Of the Most Amazingly Successful Introverts in History. 20 July 2015, https://www.inc.com/john-rampton/23-amazingly-successful-introverts-throughout-history.html.
Pan, Jessica. Sorry I’m Late: I Didn’t Want to Come. Andrews McMeel Pub., 2019.
Waude, Adam. Extraversion And Introversion. 2 Feb. 2017, https://www.psychologistworld.com/influence-personality/extraversion-introversion.