Makerspaces and urban ideology: the institutional shaping of Fab Labs in China and Northern Ireland | new journal article

Abstract from my new article due to be published in June in the Journal of Peer Production .. co-authored with Xin Gu.

Makerspaces—specifically those with a focus on digital fabrication and physical computing—are emerging as symbols of social and economic change in many cultures. Much of the empirical evidence that provides details of this phenomenon has been gathered in neo-liberal market economies in Europe and North America. Existing findings have helped situate makerspaces as sites that emphasise ‘commons based peer production’ underscored by non-proprietary ‘gift economies’ (see Gershenfeld 2005, Anderson 2012, Troxler 2013, Kostakis et. al 2015). These narratives have been expanded by findings that reveal how participation is shaped—and often impeded—by the communities, platforms, and policies surrounding makerspaces (see Alper 2013, Toupin 2014, Moilanen et al 2015, Shea 2016). This paper contributes to the literature through an analysis of the institutional arrangements of Fab Labs in China and Northern Ireland. It argues that processes of institutionalisation within these makerspaces are shaped by the specific urban ideologies they are bound to. Fab Labs in Belfast and Derry (Northern Ireland) are deployed as facilitators and enablers of unification processes in a post-conflict society, while Fab Labs in Shenzhen (China) have been manipulated for a specific post-industrial agenda. Institutionalised makerspaces, shaped by these different realities, challenge existing narratives of maker cultures in several ways: first, the development of makerspaces cannot be divorced from top down processes of nation building, as a range of strategic public policy agencies are involved despite low public participation rates; second, makerspaces are a reflection of local values rather than of the ‘commons based peer production’ paradigm of open source culture; and third, commercial corporations are investing in makerspaces to align with public policy paradigms despite uncertain economic returns. The accounts detailed in this paper further expand dialogue towards a more critical and nuanced analysis of makerspaces and global open source cultures.

Journal of Peer Production, issue 12 (forthcoming, June 2018)

National Cultural Policy Submission

I recently put together a submission responding to the Australian federal government's National Cultural Policy discussion paper. Below are a few pars from the submission ... the full document can be downloaded here >>- - - Culture-making is a crucial aspect of Australia’s social fabric. As outlined in the discussion paper, cultural activities support broader education goals, contribute to social cohesion and are fundamental to our success as a national economy (National Cultural Policy: discussion paper 2011, 23). It is timely to be considering strategies to support culture-making in Australia, as the current ‘networked moment’ is reconfiguring our cultural practices. The development of an Australian National Cultural Policy framework will therefore provide a contemporary foundation stone for culture-making over the coming decade.

My submission will argue that ‘cultural democracy’ should be a major consideration in the National Cultural Policy framework. The premise for this lies in Australia’s rich history of creating opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds to participate in arts and cultural activities. The historical context I will draw on to support my case is Australia’s community arts sector. I will outline several considerations for nurturing ‘cultural democracy’ in the current cultural moment – the ‘networked moment’ led by computer and mobile device networks. These strategies have evolved from my PhD research into the issues surrounding sustainable culture-making in the networked moment.

My overarching strategy for achieving sustainable cultural democracy in the networked moment involves developing literacies and competencies around participation in digital networks. My hypothesis lies in the notion that developing network literacies in turn develops network agency – having the capacity to be a critical network participant. - - -

India: 'Backwardness'

The Mandal Commission in India was established in 1979 by the Janata Party government with a mandate to "identify the socially or educationally backward." It raised the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination, and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine "backwardness." In 1980, the commission's report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of lower castes (known as Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes and Tribes) were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them by 27% to 49.5% A decade after the commission gave its report, V.P. Singh, the Prime Minister at the time, tried to implement its recommendations in 1989. The criticism was sharp and colleges across the country held massive protests against it. Soon after, Rajiv Goswami, student of Delhi University, threatened self-immolation in protest of the government's actions. His act further sparked a series of self-immolations by other college students and led to a formidable movement against job reservations for Backward Castes in India.

More on the Mandal commission from Wikipedia...