Grassroots Digital Fabrication and Makerspaces: Reconfiguring, Relocating and Recalibrating Innovation?

23 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2016

See all articles by Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith

University of Sussex - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU)

Sabine Hielscher

University of Sussex - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU)

Sascha Dickel

Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (IÖW)

Johan Soderberg

Institute For Research And Innovation In Society

Ellen van Oost

University of Twente

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

Around the world, diverse groups of people are making things together in community-based workshops and their networks. Equipped with versatile digital design and manufacturing technologies, global networks of workshops, like Hackerspaces and FabLabs, provide facilities for exploring ‘commons-based, peer-production’ in practice; and they are spreading rapidly. Emphasis rests in bringing people into collaborative DIY projects where they innovate and learn together - from making toys and jewellery to solar panels and eco-houses - and use on-line social media to connect to open-source designs, tutorials, and workshops globally.

Excited claims are made about workshops transforming practices of design, innovation, production and consumption; ‘how you live, work and play in a world where anybody can make anything anywhere’. Excitement includes claims for a ‘third industrial revolution’ and post-consumer sustainable societies. Less evident, however, are social scientific analyses of the practices and governance arrangements actually emerging in workshop spaces and networks, and which could contribute to debate about their possibilities and limitations for sustainability. Some workshops do enable design and innovation for recycling, re-manufacturing, and feeding user-led prototypes into sustainable local enterprise. They might even reinforce virtues relevant to post-consumption societies through peer production, the sharing economy, and collaborative consumption. However, evidence also suggests a dispersal of production capacity, diminished (resource) scale efficiencies, and intensified consumption through the personalisation of manufacturing.

Our paper develops a conceptual framework for analysing workshops. Drawing upon science and technology studies, social movement theory, and material culture, we consider community workshops configuring and performing production and consumption across three inter-connected levels: networked-communities, local-workshops, and user-projects. Relationships across these levels are complex. When combined with contested ambiguities inherent to sustainable development, then static, life-cycle analyses or similar into sustainability potential is misplaced. Rather, workshops constitute dynamic spaces for experimentation, and it is the emerging capabilities and material cultures that are most significant for aspirations to post-consumer societies.

Suggested Citation

Smith, Adrian and Hielscher, Sabine and Dickel, Sascha and Soderberg, Johan and van Oost, Ellen, Grassroots Digital Fabrication and Makerspaces: Reconfiguring, Relocating and Recalibrating Innovation? (2013). University of Sussex, SPRU Working Paper SWPS 2013-02. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2731835 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2731835

Adrian Smith (Contact Author)

University of Sussex - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) ( email )

Mantell Building
Falmer
Brighton BN1 9RH UK, Sussex
United Kingdom

Sabine Hielscher

University of Sussex - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) ( email )

Mantell Building
Falmer
Brighton BN1 9RH UK, Sussex
United Kingdom

Sascha Dickel

Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung (IÖW) ( email )

Germany

Johan Soderberg

Institute For Research And Innovation In Society ( email )

5, boulevard Descartes
Marne la Vallée, 77454
France

Ellen Van Oost

University of Twente ( email )

Postbus 217
Twente
Netherlands

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