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Liberatory technologies? Grassroots digital fabrication

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Slides for a seminar I gave to the Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, University of Edinburgh, 9th February, 2015.

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Liberatory technologies? Grassroots digital fabrication

  1. 1. Liberatory technologies? Grassroots digital fabrication Adrian Smith Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, UK Seminar at Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation University of Edinburgh, 9th February 2015
  2. 2. First [ Introduce FabLabs and Hackerspaces Second [Reflections: What to make of the hype and realities? - portent for transformative structural change? - latest utopian attempt at liberatory technologies? - people having fun with stuff? Third [ Discussion: STS? Overview…
  3. 3. What are Hackerspaces, Makerspaces and FabLabs? [ Physical spaces where diverse groups of people meet up to make things together in workshops [ Use and provision of versatile digital design and manufacturing technologies [ There are more than ~1000 Hackerspaces globally and over 440 FabLabs in 60 countries [ Anybody can make anything, from toys and vehicles to solar panels and eco-houses [ There is a commitment to openness and collaboration: designs, instructions and projects are documented, filmed and shared using web-based social media [ Training is provided to teach people, who also experiment and learn and have fun with others through hands on involvement in self-directed projects [ Exploring new meanings and relations in technology, production and consumption?
  4. 4. [ Do not only operate locally but are also connected to global networks and movements [ FabLabs have an Academy, Foundation and other platforms and attract government and business support; hackerspaces have hackercamps, conferences, associations and visit one another [ Discuss common issues and share learning through forums and web tutorials, as well as meeting up at conferences and events regionally and internationally [ Create interwoven global infrastructures – develop manifestos and training programmes or more ad hoc initiatives and collaborative projects Global networks
  5. 5. Tremendous diversity [ Projects – individual hobbies; collaborative projects; art; start-up ventures; awareness raising; self-help; education … [ Technologies – machine tools; woodworking; metalwork; textiles; electronics; coding … [ Activities – meetings; open evenings; school visits; festivals; on-line collaboration; high/low profile; … [ Situation – membership/autonomous; charities; universities; libraries; local authority; commercial; … [ Aims – making; community; entrepreneurship; training; education; prototyping; democracy; alternatives; fun; sociability …
  6. 6. Excited claims are made [ Third industrial revolution (from bits to atoms) – extending digital revolution into the material world and putting it in the hands of people (e.g. Anderson 2012; Gershenfeld, 2005) [ Democratising and/or personalising manufacturing – engagement in commons-based peer production (e.g. Mota, 2011; Benkler and Nissenbaum 2006) [ Unlocking grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship – accessible digital fabrication technologies (e.g. Troxler 2010, Dickel el at, 2014) [ More sustainable production and consumption – local manufacturing and post- consumerist activities (e.g. Schor 2010, Light, 2012)
  7. 7. FabCity Barcelona [ Political leaders have a vision for a self-sufficient city by 2050 [ 50% of stuff consumed to be made locally [ Investing in workshops (Ateneus) for every district of the city [ Working with community associations to embed in neighbourhoods (not always easy – Ciutat de Meridiana) [ Access to digital tools seen as new public infrastructure: empowering and democratising – people create own futures [ Iceland too, World Bank …
  8. 8. What are we to make of this fascination with the social possibilities of machine tools? [ Signals for deeper structural changes? [ A long-standing allure with tools for liberation? [ A topic ripe for STS analysis?
  9. 9. Manifestation of deeper seated structural changes? [ Technological changes: falling costs & increasing accessibility of tools (3D printers, laser cutters, design software, scanners, microcontrollers, code etc) (e.g. RepRap, Arduino) [ Cultural changes: free culture, knowledge commons, peer production (e.g. P2P Foundation, book scanning, Buen Conocer) [ Social changes: maker movement, do-it-with-others, domesticated opening of black boxes (e.g. Instructables, Makerfaires, co-ops, open energy monitoring) [ Economic changes: freelancing/precariousness, collaborative self-reliance, Silicon Valley entrepreneurialism, start-ups, new manufacturing models; vector class, solidarity economies, social knowledge economy (e.g. Kickstarter, Shapeways) [ Political changes: horizontality, direct activism, social innovation (e.g. Occupy/ Podemos, Labs/Hubs) http:/ / wiki/ List_of_Hacker_Spaces From HackerspaceWiki This is a comprehensive, user-maintained list of all active hackerspaces throughout the w We have also a list of planned Hacker Spaces, as well as a list of ALL hackerspaces around the globe - including already closed. This page is cached due to its long rendering time. If you want to flush the cache, Click Here (http://hackerspace action=purge) If we're missing your space, or you want and/or are about to create a new one, please add yourself to the list. hackerspace Country State City Website Metameute Germany Schleswig- Holstein Lübeck The Hacktory United States of America Pennsylvania Philadelphia RaumZeitLabor Germany Baden- Württemberg Mannheim Milwaukee Makerspace United States of America Wisconsin Milwaukee Hackspace Jena Germany Thuringia Jena Interaccess electronic media arts centre Canada Ontario Toronto Fishburners Australia New South Wales Sydney HacroEvolution United States of America Kansas Manhattan ChaosKueste Germany Schleswig- Holstein Kiel (Baltimore) Harford Hackerspace United States of America Maryland Baltimore http://www.baltimorehackerspa 5000 km 2000 mi
  10. 10. Latest utopian wave for liberatory technologies? E.g. Lucas Plan, socially useful production [ Manufacturing in decline, massive redundancies in face of economic restructuring and technological automation – public funding contributes to this process! [ Lucas Plan (1976) pioneers arguments for socially useful production: 150 prototypes, economic analysis, participatory design, human-centred high-technology [ An alliance of workers, community activists, environmentalists, and left municipalities propose Alternative Plans for socially useful production [ Centres for alternative products and strategies are opened, and alliances made with similar movements in Scandinavia and Germany, plus international links [ Plans ultimately rejected by management, state and trade union hierarchy, but some practices are co-opted and take effect – participatory design, worker involvement, social responsibility
  11. 11. Technology Networks in London, 1982 - 1986 [In 1981 left GLC commits to socially useful production, industrial democracy and alternative economic strategy : [ Five community-based Technology Networks in the city for popular prototyping - linked to Polytechnics, tools, expertise, training, networks, product bank [ Prototyping for (co-operative) enterprise and mobilising campaigns [ Considerable work needed to put ideas into practice: participatory design, popular planning, product development, social investment [ Ultimately overwhelmed by Thatcherism - GLC abolished in 1986 – activities disperse (academia, community activism, environmentalism, business, design professions, etc)
  12. 12. ‘The central feature … is the development of ideas and organisation forms that encourage involvement, generate self confidence and release new found or rediscovered skills during the examination of how productive resources should be used to meet social needs. Initiatives must … be extremely responsible and very supportive throughout the complete process …’ (Lowe, 1985: 69) ‘Constructing an open door to planning and decision making procedures is not enough’ (Linn, 1987: 116) ‘You will not find this group coming together naturally after a CND demonstration or a football match, for a quick drink or an exchange of ideas’ (Moore, 1987: 214) ‘[Technology Networks] employed high numbers of technically experienced trade-union men whose language, bureaucratic ways of working and emphasis on the product rather than the community process act to exclude even technically qualified women’ (Linn, 1987: 121) ‘GLEB, for its part, put an increasing emphasis on commercial skills and product development … Network staff, members, and users, however, take a more complex view than this … they see on the whole a too early concentration on new products as counterproductive. What GLEB calls ‘outreach’, they see as the essence of networking, and the factor that in the end can generate real innovations’ (Mackintosh & Wainwright, 1987: 212- 213) ‘We started off looking at any kind of energy-saving products. But we’ve homed in on micro-electronic products because they seem to be the ones we do best, and there’s a market … We don’t have the money to set up manufacturing ourselves. And without the resources to manufacture it, you’re stymied. You sell it to someone who might be manufacturing it in Glasgow, which is no help to London’s economy’ (Susie {Parsons, LEEN quoted in Mackintosh & Wainwright, 1987: 208). Learning to work together? Listening to experiences in the past …
  13. 13. Historical reflection and structural awareness qualifies liberatory possibilities … [ Training in the use of tools or developing design and problem solving capabilities? [ Accessible technology or community development? [ Prototypes for development or debate? [ Attending to the social relationships involved in objects and material culture? [ Connecting to political economies and contending elite ideologies? [ The overall SUP model failed, but specific practices did have influence – what kinds of practices might hackerspaces help cultivate?
  14. 14. Analytical insight from STS? [ Tools and identity – domestication, multiple tools, globally interconnected? (e.g. Toombs et al, 2014) [ Technological frames – institutional positions and power of different frames, future expectations & mobilisations of history, uneven flexibility/closure? (e.g. Smith et al, 2013; Smith, 2014) [ Technologically mediated socio-economic relations – re-configuring labour processes, new forms of exploitation/agency? (e.g. Söderberg, 2013) [ Real-life laboratories / niche spaces – not models, but sites of experimentation – processes and consequences of this activity, who learns what, and so what? (e.g. Dickel et al, 2014; Smith et al, 2013) [ Techno-political sub-cultures – tinkering, hacking, opening-up, free hardware, democratising objects, critical making? (e.g. Troxler, 2010; Ratto and Boler, 2014) [ Emerging configurations (cf. technologies, which are quite established) – scenarios, horizon scanning …
  15. 15. Thank you! For further information @smithadrianpaul [ Questions and discussion … [Smith, A. (2005) The alternative technology movement: an analysis of its framing and negotiation of technology development, Human Ecology Review, 12, 2: 106-119 [Smith, A. (2014) Technology networks for socially useful production Journal of Peer Production issue 5 (online) [Hielscher, S. and A. Smith (2014) Community-based digital fabrication workshops: a review of the research literature, SPRU Working Paper Series 2014-08, Brighton [ Smith, A. and A. Ely (2015) Green transformations from below? The politics of grassroots innovation, in Scoones et al. (2015) The Politics of Green Transformations, Earthscan, London, chapter 7