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)

Fieldwork Update

IMG_3192 Last week I sat in on CuriousWorks' strategic planning meeting, and what an exciting three days it was. The crew did all sorts of workshopping around current states of play, while looking towards what sort of operation they would like to be in the future. Elias and I held a session on using a logical framework matrix for project planning and evaluation, and I presented some of my research findings which included a proposal to create some resources the company could use. Thankfully they all seemed to like my plan, which I will expand on at a later stage.

Network Privacy and Maintaining Agency

Wonderful piece by danah boyd illustrating how network privacy is all about human agency: "People should – and do – care deeply about privacy. But privacy is not simply the control of information. Rather, privacy is the ability to assert control over a social situation. This requires that people have agency in their environment and that they are able to understand any given social situation so as to adjust how they present themselves and determine what information they share. Privacy violations occur when people have their agency undermined or lack relevant information in a social setting that’s needed to act or adjust accordingly. Privacy is not protected by complex privacy settings that create what Alessandro Acquisti calls “the illusion of control.” Rather, it’s protected when people are able to fully understand the social environment in which they are operating and have the protections necessary to maintain agency.

Social media has prompted a radical shift. We’ve moved from a world that is “private-by-default, public-through-effort” to one that is “public-by-default, private-with-effort.” Most of our conversations in a face-to-face setting are too mundane for anyone to bother recording and publicizing. They stay relatively private simply because there’s no need or desire to make them public. Online, social technologies encourage broad sharing and thus, participating on sites like Facebook or Twitter means sharing to large audiences. When people interact casually online, they share the mundane. They aren’t publicizing; they’re socializing. While socializing, people have no interest in going through the efforts required by digital technologies to make their pithy conversations more private. When things truly matter, they leverage complex social and technical strategies to maintain privacy.

The strategies that people use to assert privacy in social media are diverse and complex, but the most notable approach involves limiting access to meaning while making content publicly accessible. I’m in awe of the countless teens I’ve met who use song lyrics, pronouns, and community references to encode meaning into publicly accessible content. If you don’t know who the Lions are or don’t know what happened Friday night or don’t know why a reference to Rihanna’s latest hit might be funny, you can’t interpret the meaning of the message. This is privacy in action.

The reason that we must care about privacy, especially in a democracy, is that it’s about human agency. To systematically undermine people’s privacy – or allow others to do so – is to deprive people of freedom and liberty." Read full post...

CCi 2011 Conference Takeaways

Once again, the biannual conference of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi) was a winner. The event took place in Sydney and was hosted by the Journalism and Media Research Centre at UNSW. This was my fourth CCi conference and the one I have enjoyed the most. The point at which I am in my candidature, combined with excellent papers, stimulating emerging scholars workshops and enjoyable social activities all contributed to a great experience. My highlights included hearing Deb Verhoeven's 'Digital Production (research) methodologies', where she proposed that data sharing and interoperability become a research default standard and that we need to move to dynamic publishing where our publications respond to shifting data. I also enjoyed Jean Burgess' 'Computational Turn', where she urged us to think about computation as a core cultural dynamic, and echoed Richard Rogers' call to action to use the internet to diagnose social change as opposed to studying how people use the internet. Jason Potts' 'Innovation Commons' was also very interesting, and involved the proposition that there are two commons - the resource and information commons, where the latter involves knowledge about opportunities and market conditions. The session that explored the CCi narrative was also great, where Elspeth Proben and Kim Anderson delivered enlightening responses to questions about the future of the centre.

On a broader note, I feel very privileged to be part of the research culture that has been cultivated by the centre. Having the opportunity to be exposed to the work of media, communications and cultural studies scholars from other Australian universities as well as visiting international scholars is really awesome, and has been a key professional development outcome of my PhD candidature.

Wirelessness, Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures

I must get my hands on a copy of this book by Adrian Mackenzie. Want.

After years talking about the revolution in space perception induced by the real time IT networks, the strong industrial trend to go wireless whenever possible has pervaded space and habits. We're slowly "getting rid of cables", pushed by the industry as if cables were parasites, but unconsciously changing our culture without being aware of what is really happening technologically. Mackenzie fruitfully questions the use of taking wireless connections and communications for granted (as if they were some obscure "public service"). His definition of "wirelessness" states that it "designates an experience trending toward entanglements with things, objects, gadgets, infrastructures, and services, and imbued with indistinct sensations and practices of network-associated change." This experience of change is explained well chapter by chapter, through transmission algorithm principles, the physical perception of transmitters, antennas, postcolonial investments in third world countries, wireless coverage and a quantity of other related activities. Moreover his "radical empiricism" is indeed a godsend. He combines a theoretically rigorous approach with empirical considerations, never losing the reader’s interest. Mackenzie delivers an analysis of contemporary networks that is grounded on the visionary idea of a "Hertzian Landscape" by William Mitchell, while tracking the meaning of the disappearing origin of signals, in a compelling style. He probably would have loved the performances of Men In Grey too, but they just came after this important book.