You have likely seen these Tumblr blogs or these Facebook aesthetic groups where they have the word “Cottagecore” in them. I notice a lot of adolescents, young adults, and a handful of witches online using this term. But what is it? And why should we take a deeper look at its implications?
What is Cottagecore?
Before moving forward, I need to define what “Cottagecore” means as an aesthetic. According to Aesthetics Wiki, Cottagecore is “an aesthetic inspired by a romanticised interpretation of western agricultural life. It is centered on ideas around of a more simple life and harmony with nature. Certain themes associated are the survival of the environment, food and caring for people.” The name of the aesthetic was popularized in the 2010s and has gained traction in certain communities on the internet such as the witch/pagan community and the WLW/sapphic/lesbian community. As someone of European descent, I find my duty and goal is to have honest conversations on how settler colonialism is rooted in our society.
An earlier variation of the aesthetic that was popular between 18th to 19th century Europe was the Arts and Crafts movement. It was a decorative arts movement that originated in the British Isles and spread throughout Europe and the so-called “United States.” It was an attempt to revive the skill of craftsmanship due to industrialization, capitalism and mass production becoming more prominent in our economy and society. It did have a huge impact on the aesthetics of interior design and architecture during that time period. The aesthetic even had multiple movements throughout the next decades, in children books, fantasy genres, and even in video games today. Cottagecore has been a form of escapism from the dangerous and oppressive world we live in.
The Problem with Cottagecore
Now, as a reminder, it’s not that Cottagecore as an aesthetic is inherently bad at all. I mean it is fine to connect with nature. It is fine to learn how to grow food and how to craft things. The problem is that Cottagecore has a history of (and still to this day) romanticizing the Eurocentric pastoral settler life, the legacy of settler colonialism and environmental racism: settling on land that wasn’t ours to begin with.
Most of the time when you scroll through the #cottagecore, there are overwhelmingly white people in the photos, and rarely Black and Indigenous people in the forefront of the aesthetic.
It often oversimplifies the life and labor in which farmers and gardeners participate in order to grow food and medicine for themselves and their communities. There are even a handful of farm workers and laborers around the world that are being forced to produce food for other countries like how we’ve always been getting our fruits, vegetables and other food products from our local grocery stores. Lastly, there are even a few communities that used the Cottagecore aesthetic as white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal propaganda, such as tradwives, eco-fascists, and white supremacists. Cottagecore itself needs a lot of dissecting and consideration of its harmful roots, and that will have to involve providing alternative aesthetics and ethical solutions to these concerns.
There is a good alternative aesthetic that resonates like Cottagecore but in an ethical and anti-colonial way. Solarpunk is the one to investigate, and it is an interesting aesthetic sub-genre. It is defined as a movement that is focused on optimistic ecological vision for the new world where technology can nurture all of nature which includes animals, plants, and yes, human beings. Solarpunk even brings into light onto environmental issues such as climate change and pollution. The name of the aesthetic was popularized in the late 2000s, and it even had literary precursors to the genre such as ecological utopian novels. One of the books included Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston by Ernest Callenbach which was published in 1975. Solarpunk promotes a need for collectivism, eco-communalism, and using environment-friendly and ethical sources of energy. It all comes down to what we need to do next for the future of the new world.
How to Navigate the Cottagecore Aesthetic
Solutions to how you can ethically navigate Cottagecore all comes down to embodying these following values: unlearning toxic and oppressive ideologies, mutual aid, compassion, accountability, solidarity, and ancestral work and healing. There are so many steps to go about this, such as acknowledging whose land we’re currently settling on, practicing community care, advocating for environmental rights, and doing antiracism and anticapitalism work in general.
This lesson that we’ve discussed today is to encourage you to create a new world where humans can be the social and communal species we needed to be for this planet. In order to create that new world, we need to not be afraid to face the truth and reality of capitalism. We need to face the reality of white supremacy and settler colonialism. We need to build communities and dismantle systems of oppression. We need to have Black and Indigenous folks take up space in discussions around farming, herbalism, agriculture, accountability, decolonization, land sovereignty, and other elements to build a new world. This form of critical thinking therefore will eventually lead us into a path to liberation to all forms of nature. Because we are all part of a thread of nature.
About the Author: Maxx is a pagan witch that currently resides in Chochenyo Ohlone territory and is a queer nonbinary trans person of European descent that uses they/them pronouns. They like to read, write, create art, practice magic and divination, and blog about tarot, witchcraft, paganism, anti-capitalism, dismantling white supremacy, unsettlement, and ancestral work and ancestral healing.
Reading Resources for Further Research:
- Deloria, Vine, and Daniel R. Wildcat. Power and Place: Indian Education in America. Fulcrum Pub., 2001.
- Dowie, Mark. Conservation Refugees: the Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. MIT Press, 2009.
- Finney, Carolyn. Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
- Kaplan, Rachel, and K. Ruby. Blume. Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living. Skyhorse Pub., 2011.
- Kevin DeLuca, and Anne Demo. “Imagining Nature and Erasing Class and Race: Carleton Watkins, John Muir, and the Construction of Wilderness.” Environmental History, vol. 6, no. 4, 2001, pp. 541–560. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3985254. Accessed 31 July 2020.
- Pellow, David N. What Is Critical Environmental Justice? Polity, 2018.
- Steinberg, Theodore. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. Oxford University Press, 2002.