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)

"Information Geographies" and the Internet for Development

In this excellent presentation, OII research fellow Mark Graham discusses the importance of understanding who produces and reproduces the information that populates digital communications networks. Through an exploration of "information geographies", Graham concludes that "rather than democratising platforms of knowledge sharing, the Internet seems to be enabling a digital division of labour in which the visibility, voice and power of the North is reinforced rather than diminished."

Unlike Us: Adjacent Communities and the Adjacent Possible

Last week I attended Unlike Us, a conference exploring alternatives to social media monopolies. Held in Amsterdam and hosted by the Institute of Network Cultures, it brought together communities of academics, artists, designers, educators, and activists, who share an interest in developing alternative code and cultures around social media. The event proved identity affirming for me, as it brought together the disparate elements of my work practice, around subject matter I’m really interested in. I witnessed some excellent debates about the politics of centralization and decentralization; the politics of assuming different identities in social media networks; and, the problems with defining relationships in code.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook received a lot of attention. Anne Helmond’s and Carolin Gerlitz’s ‘Reworking the Fabric of the web: The Like Economy’ was a stand out presentation, as was Harry Halpin’s ‘Hidden History of the Like Button’. PhD researcher Frederick Borgesius also gave a fascinating talk about behavioral targeting and how advertisers are buying audiences through data profiles.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that Unlike Us appealed to me. I have always really enjoyed events that bring together different groups that are adjacent in proximity but have few opportunities to cross-pollinate. I like these opportunities as they give me a glimpse of what Stuart Kaufmann calls the adjacent possible: “a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.”

The adjacent possibilities that emerged from the gathering of these adjacent communities, involved new thinking, new software platforms, new ways of organising and new modes of coalition building. The different approaches people were taking to advance critical thinking and practices around social media alternatives – from software protocol development to digital literacy education to network theory – revealed a need in my mind to be involved in more initiatives that facilitate collaboration between adjacent communities.

Expanding the frontiers of hacking (call for papers)

Call for abstracts for a special issue of Critical Studies in Peer Production (CSPP) - a new open access, online journal that focuses on the implications of peer production for social change. Interested authors should submit an abstract of no more than 500 words by July 10, 2011. Edited by: Johan Söderberg and Alessandro Delfanti

During the past two decades, hacking has chiefly been associated with software development. This is now changing as new walks of life are being explored with a hacker mindset, thus bringing back to memory the origin of hacking in hardware development. Now as then, the hacker is characterised by an active approach to technology, undaunted by hierarchies and established knowledge, and finally a commitment to sharing information freely. In this special issue of Critical Studies in Peer Production, we will investigate how these ideas and practices are spreading. Two cases which have caught much attention in recent years are open hardware development and garage biology. The creation of hacker/maker-spaces in many cities around the world has provided an infrastructure facilitating this development. We are looking for both empirical and theoretical contributions which critically engage with this new phenomenon. Every kind of activity which relates to hacking is potentially of interest. Some theoretical questions which might be discussed in the light of this development include, but are not restricted to, the politics of hacking, the role of lay expertise, how the line between the community and markets is negotiated, how development projects are managed, and the legal implications of these practices. We welcome contributions from all the social sciences, including science & technology studies, design and art-practices, anthropology, legal studies, etc.

More info...