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)

A Logo is Worth a Thousand Words


This year's eG8 logo bares a striking resemblance to the free and open source packet sniffing software Ethereal. Packet sniffing refers to the process of inspecting the contents of packets, the unit that describes the sets of information that make up digital communications networks such as the Internet. Packet sniffers are used for debugging and optimising network protocols, but can also be used to intercept, prioritize or filter network communications.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the host of this year's eG8 Forum, will be leading a charge to increase government control of the Internet, using the rhetoric that centralisation is necessary to develop a "civilised Internet". I can't help but feel the similarity of these two logos is a sobering reminder of the implications of Sarkozy's proposal; even though it is unsurprising to see another Internet gatekeeping manouvre by a sovereign power. At the end of the day, there is always Gilmore's Law to consider.

Logo similarity spotted by

Seven Resolutions for 2009 - Geert Lovink

1. Radical makeover of Indymedia into an irresistible network of networks, aimed to link local initiatives, worldwide, that aim to bring down corporate capitalism. In order to do this Indymedia needs to go beyond the (alternative) news paradigm. This is the time to do it. If not now, when? The debate should be about the possible adaptation, or perhaps transcendence (think negative dialectics) of the social networking approach. Is it enough if we all start to twitter? Perhaps not. A lot of the online conversations at the moment circle around these topics. There is a real momentum building up here, and that's exciting. 2. Renaissance of theory, radical texts that appeal to young people and help them to dream again, aimed to develop critical concepts,cool memes and audio-visual whispers that can feed the collective imagination with new, powerful ideas that are capable to move people into action. Theory, in this context, means speculative philosophies, not academic writing or hermetic bible texts, aimed to exclude outsiders and those with the wrong belief system. Overcoming political correctness in the way that beats populism would be the way to go.

3. Dismantling the academic exclusion machine. With this I mean the hilarious peer review dramas that we see around us everywhere, aimed to reproduce the old boys networks, excluding different voices, discourses and networked research practices. We need to have the civil courage to say no to these suppressive and utterly wrong bureaucratic procedures that, in the end, result in the elimination of quality, creativity and criticism (and, ironically, of innovation, too). In the same way we need to unleash a social movement of those who dare to say no to all these silly copyright contracts that we're forced to sign. We should stop signing away our 'intellectual property' and begin to radicalize and help democratize and popularize the creative commons and floss movements.

4. Overcoming media genres and expertise prisons in order to productively connect our knowledge and experience. With this I do not mean diplomatic gestures to open up token channels for interdisciplinary dialogue. Any formal attempt to bring together people from different backgrounds is bound to fail. What might be a solution is to go for hybrid-pervert situations in order to investigate the absurd edges of the knowledge universe. Again, any model that somehow wants to move towards a synthesis (or convergence) is doomed to be irrelevant and will only be instrumentalized in institutional restructurings in which the creative-subversive elements are the ones that will be excluded.

5. Squatting the overlooked ruins of the 2009 crisis. There is an enormous economic infrastructure that is being abandoned at the moment, ripe to be socialized. The problem, however, is that we do not really 'see' it, in the same way as in the 1970s and 80s many did not see the subversive potential of squatting warehouses, factories and old housing stock. Luckily this is merely a matter of start wearing the right pair of glasses. Put them on and you discover an abundance of abandoned resources, ready to be re-used.

6. Global crackdown of the corporate consultancy class. We have to get a better understanding of the dubious role that the Ernst & Young/PricewaterhouseCooper etc. consultants are playing, from downsizing firms, coaching NGOs and global civil society professionals, privatizing public infrastructure, to running entire education sectors. Not only are they experts in cooking the books (see the dotcom crash). Their role as (invisible) advisers, speech writers and PR managers needs some serious investigative journalism a la Naomi Klein.

7. Opening channels for collective imagination. It's not enough to say that another world is possible (we know that). Radical reform plans are available-and are being implemented as we speak-by the bankrupt neo-liberal elites, in a desperate attempt to somehow make it to 2010 or 2011, when the recession will be over and old policies can be continued again. It's not enough to be satisfied with the promise of a green GM car, made in the USA. We can think, and build, so much more. For this to happen, the corporate elites need to be dispossessed of their power. Calling for 'change' comes with consequences: dethronement. Sorry, you fu*ked up badly. It's time to step down and move on. Exit.


Geert Lovink (Netherlands) is a Dutch-Australian media theorist, author of Zero Comments, and director of the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam, where he also teaches at the new media masters program of Mediastudies/University of Amsterdam.

Obama and the LGBT Community

"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."-- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

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