Digital fabrications amongst hackers, makers and manufacturers: whose 'industrial revolution'?
Location 119
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 2


  • Johan Soderberg (Göteborg University) email
  • Adrian Smith (University of Sussex) email
  • Maxigas . (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Adrian Smith (T011.1) and Maxigas (T011.2)
Discussant Pedro Cabello (T011.1) and Alev Coban (T011.2)

Short Abstract

Digital design and fabrication tools (3D printers, etc.) are said to create agency, community and work. Yet they stem from numerical control machines, whose conflicted history deskilled workers and stole their livelihood. What does this contrast tell us about the promised future of "making"?

Long Abstract

Our track brings critical analysis to the plurality of collectives, spaces and futures that are assembling around increasingly accessible digital design and fabrication technologies. Computer integrated tools hold historical ironies and contradictions: early introduction threatened skills, livelihoods and identities amongst manufacturing communities - while they are celebrated today as enabling agency, identities and communities for makers. Whose industrial revolutions, if any, do tooled-up assemblages portend?

STS has much to contribute to understanding, engaging and bridging digital fabrications, past and present; conversely, apparent historical turnarounds in digital fabrication, with repurposed tools spilling into new collectives and spaces, offers an opportunity to interrogate STS theory and methodology.

Fifty years ago, social ecologist Murray Bookchin, like other commentators, welcomed a future in which collectives would own tools and organise production non-hierarchically around 'liberatory technologies'. Does grassroots appropriation of digital fabrication in hackerspaces, makerspaces, FabLabs and amongst user groups online, mean his future for egalitarian tool-based creativity has arrived? Or do digital fabrication futures reinforce the automation, flexible specialisation, and globalised outsourcing documented by David Noble in the 1980s; and which has been a motivation amongst manufacturing strategists since then? How do business- and activist-centred collectives and spaces pursuing different futures intersect, contest, and co-exist? Who is making these contested futures?

We welcome papers that provide critical reviews, original empirical studies, and theoretical developments.


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


How Fab Labs materially realize their imaginary (or not)

Author: Cindy Kohtala (Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture)  email

Short Abstract

'Fab Lab’ makerspaces in the global north appear to struggle to enact the ideology of democratizing technologies. The paper details how material elements in Labs symbolize successes and compromises in everyday practice, based on longitudinal empirical study and Symbolic Interactionist analysis.

Long Abstract

'Fab Labs' are a distinct form of makerspace for digital fabrication communities whose discourse espouses the democratization of technologies and open access to all. However, empirical study reveals the struggles Labs in the global north face when enacting ideology. This is most apparent when examining materials and objects in the Lab: things and space arrangements symbolize aspects of ideology and are partial material realizations of Labs' imaginary. However, they also represent compromises when Labs encounter structural constraints, when the 'revolution' meets the mundane. Actors in Fab Labs therefore often appear unaware of whose industrial revolution they are promoting: the theme of this special track. The paper is based on Symbolic Interactionist analysis in a longitudinal ethnographic study conducted during the author's doctoral research. The main data set is based on one Fab Lab; it is cross-compared with data gathered in 10-15 other Fab Labs, mainly in northern Europe. The paper's main contribution is the articulation of two interrelated dynamics: first, how ideology is enacted and materialized in tangible objects is illustrated with empirical examples, but also shown is how unintended breaches of ideology are materialized. Secondly the paper examines how the imaginary obfuscates material consequences of maker activity such as toxicity or high energy consumption. The findings have implications regarding the socio-environmental benefits the maker movement is purported to deliver. There are also implications for how STS studies can draw attention to negative impacts before they become configured as infrastructure for future practices in these counter-communities.

Openness and Closure in Distributed Innovation Processes

Authors: Tobias Drewlani (Technische Universität München)  email
David Seibt (Technische Universität München)  email

Short Abstract

Digital technologies hold two conflicting promises: On the one hand a democratization of the innovation process, on the other hand an ever growing efficiency for companies extending their control over a large number of individuals. We argue that these two futures might be two faces of the same coin.

Long Abstract

New digital technologies are often hailed as a chance to democratize innovation processes, making them more accessible for non-professional developers (van Hippel 2005). On the other hand, this very openness affords organizations ways to enroll a large number of individuals in their corporate projects (Chesbrough 2003). Using theoretical concepts from both organization studies and STS, we argue that openness and corporate control rather than being mutually exclusive scenarios are often two faces of the same coin.

(1) Different forms of 'openness' may co-exist within the same innovation process either simultaneously or at different stages of the process. These may include top-down forms of openness centered around a focal company as well as bottom-up community based forms of openness.

(2) The very allocation of resources like open standards, hardware and software design tools may function as a way for companies to impose their norms on the developers using them.

(3) Even though independent developers or hackers may use the allocated resources in ways unintended by the company. These may resonate with or deviate from the company's initial goals.

We draw these points from our extended study of Google's "Project Ara", which represents the company's promise to democratize the hardware development process by making it more like software development. By allocating free standards as well as hardware and software design tools, Google hoped to construct a global community of makers in order to develop a modular smartphone for six billion people. However the project soon slowed down due to conflicting enactments of openness and closure.

Does one size fit one?

Author: Ginger Coons (University of Toronto)  email

Short Abstract

Mass customization is served by arguments like those supporting the emancipatory power of digital fabrication: giving consumers more choice mitigates the alienation of industrialisation. I argue that choice has little benefit if parametrically-customized goods are tied to systems of mass production.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I use mass customization to explore concerns about alienation from consumer goods and the possibilities for consumer/user agency that may be present in practices of customization. I outline one of the clearer value propositions for users of digitally-fabricated, parametrically-customized goods, namely the ability to get a product made to one's own specifications, a value in common with historical and niche forms of custom production. But there is a gap between parametrically mass-customized goods and goods customized through a one-to-one interaction between a consumer and a producer. I argue that the values of traditional or niche forms of customization are often assumed to be present in mass customization, whether they are or are not. Benefits like attention to the appropriateness of a good, or the ability to have substantive interplay with the producer are seldom present in systems which offer parametric mass customization. Arguments in favour of automated customization often seem similar to arguments about the emancipatory power of technologies like 3D printing: putting some amount, no matter how small, of decision power back into the hands of a consumer acts to mitigate the alienation of industrial production. I use cases of parametric customization alongside a historical case (19th century dressmakers) to argue that the romantic ideal of custom production invoked in our imaginaries of mass-customized goods is distant from parametrically-customized goods tied to the needs of large companies and existing industrial forms of mass production.

Makers of the World, UNITE!

Author: Christopher Csikszentmihalyi (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute)  email

Short Abstract

“Maker spaces” are an old brand in a new wrapper, designed to create a discursive rupture with older forms of material production. What would it take to redesign them as spaces for local mētis-centered approaches to research, development, and production?

Long Abstract

"Maker spaces" are as old as tools: a kitchen, garage, or vo-tech all share qualities in common with the current brand of Fab Labs. While some would argue that the differentiator is "digital fabrication," Computer Numerical Control has been around for over 50 years, and "fablabs" share more similarities with prior techniques than differences. At best, "making" is a marketing phenomenon rather than a social movement.

That said, "maker spaces" present an opportunity. In particular, their locational specificity offers the possibility of introducing alternative technical trajectories. Global capital and transnational corporations are responsible for most of our material culture; alternative technologies offer a critical form of resistance. Local knowledge, what Scott calls mētis, is "part of a political struggle [against] institutional hegemony by experts and their institutions…[S]trategies of production [are] also strategies of control and appropriation." Local sites for alternate forms of production may offer the opportunity to hone metis-centered approaches to research, development, and production.

This paper draws on Innovation research around "user innovation" (von Hippel) and technology- and product- oriented social movements (Hess), as well as social movement theory, to speculate on ways that community shops can hone and amplify mētis.

Sharing, makerspaces and the new industrial city

Author: Ramón Ribera - Fumaz (Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) - Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)  email

Short Abstract

Makerspaces are becoming the iconic architectural and institutional space of the sharing economy. However, what kind of sharing/industrial city do they prefigure? This paper unpacks the role of makerspaces in prefiguring prefiguring urban futures and whose city is produced.

Long Abstract

Spaces of digital fabrication (hackerspaces, makerspaces or fablabs) have exponentially grown around cities across the world. These spaces are challenging traditional ways of producing and innovating economically, politically and socially by implementing peer-to-peer open innovation and digital fabrication practices. In this regard, makerspaces are becoming the iconic architectural and institutional space of the sharing economy and new industrial futures (Holman, 2015; Tham et al 2014; Aygeman and McLaren, 2015; Gutierrez 2016). However, what kind of sharing/industrial city do they prefigure? What is the role of digital fabrication in remaking postindustrial cities? And more importantly, does it mean a more egalitarian, bottom-up cities? Or in contrast, reinforces current techno-dystopias such as the Smart City?

These questions are explored through the study of Barcelona's makerspaces and urban policies supporting the sharing economy. In recent years, Barcelona has embraced sharing, makers and re-industrialising the economy as means to re-invent the city future. This trend has been further strengthened by the arrival in power of a left coalition with a program of enhancing alternative economies such as the sharing economy and peer production. Supported by semi-structured interviews with relevant actors, newspaper library research and analysis of blueprints and reports, the paper draws on Castoriadis' (1987) concept of radical imaginary to unpack the role of makerspaces in prefiguring urban futures and whose city is produced.

Fablabs: The institutionalization of "soft hacking" in third places

Authors: Evelyn Lhoste (INRA- Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique)  email
Marc Barbier (INRA- Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique)  email

Short Abstract

We describe the emergence of the fablabs in France. They appear as third places where collaborative forms are tested at the interface between the academic world and advocacy movements. Brokering and intermediary agents seem essential to both their establishment and their longevity as third places.

Long Abstract

In this paper we posit that fablabs and makerspaces are part of a dynamic of institutionalization of collaborative practices stemming from hacking. Our survey on French fablabs describes the socio-materiality of digital technology and how it interrelates with issues of power, autonomy and transparency in organizations. Our inquiry focuses on the processes of institutionalization that have accompanied the creation and development of these places during the emergence of the movement. To that end, we mobilize the concept of brokering, which enables us to describe clearly the interactions between the actors of fablabs, with particular attention paid to the relations between users and creators/founders. The creators make the fablabs compatible with the material and social requirements of their reception and functioning. We study their relationship with the practices of users who are inclined to explore the potential of the place with regard to various objectives and sociabilities.

We thus highlight the predominant role of intermediaries, both in the organization of activities and in the institutionalization of fablabs as third places. We conclude that brokering could contribute to the promise of generalization of collaborative practices.

Our inquiry focuses on the processes of institutionalization that have accompanied the creation and development of these places during the emergence of the movement. To that end, we mobilize the concept of brokering, which enables us to describe clearly the interactions between the actors of fablabs, with particular attention paid to the relations between users and creators/founders.

Institutionalizing Making. How Making is translated into organizational practice

Authors: Klara-Aylin Wenten (Technical University Munich)  email
Sascha Dickel (TU Munich)  email
Anton Schröpfer (Technical University of Munich)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic data collected from a makerspace affiliated with a University Entrepreneurship Center, we show how established organizations translate ‘making’ into their organizational reality.

Long Abstract

The Maker Movement has generated worldwide attention due to its claims of drastically democratizing innovation. Yet, critical voices within the maker culture itself as well as in STS increasingly point to the growing danger of an instrumentalization of their 'countercultural' promises. At the core of this debate stands the argument of bottom-up approaches becoming increasingly integrated into deeply rooted top-down structures.

We will diverge from such views by arguing that this stance can only be upheld because there is, as yet, little knowledge about the ways of how organizations translate 'making' into their organizational reality. Based on ethnographic data collected from a makerspace affiliated with a University Entrepreneurship Center, our talk will address this question by analyzing the transition towards maker culture in the context of engineering in higher education and business. By this, it presents the result of qualitative research conducted at the makerspace as well as ethnographic work on a 14-days hackathon for students of engineering and business.

Our thesis is that 'the' maker culture is neither substantially 'democratic' nor immediately susceptible to instrumentalization. Instead, an institutionalization of 'making' is only possible through the process of (re-)constructing and (re-)performing it. Organizations that aim to incorporate 'making' have to re-organize and re-specify the identities of their members, knowledge-practices and spaces accordingly. At the same time, the identity of 'making' itself gets subtly transformed by the in(ter)ventions of multiple actors within the organizations that try to perform it. Our paper will discuss this reciprocal process of translations.

Digital fabrication in Brazil: can we make it work for social inclusion?

Authors: Rafael Dias (University of Campinas)  email
Adrian Smith (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

The paper seeks to explore the actual and potential role of Brazilian makerspaces using digital fabrication in promoting social inclusion, based on empirical evidence collected from interviews and visits to makerspaces in the city of São Paulo, Brazil.

Long Abstract

Brazil is a country where many initiatives connected to making have recently sprouted. It is also a country in which poverty and social exclusion are still major problems. Seeking to intervene over these issues, several experiments on "social technologies" - artefacts, processes and methods oriented towards promoting social inclusion - have been developed. There are also many interesting "gambiarras", creative technical solutions produced under scarcity. While many of them somehow fit into the broad "making" category, there is a very limited number of experiences that draw from the promises of digital fabrication tools towards promoting social inclusion, most of which are related to improving housing conditions on poor urban communities and "favelas" in major cities. Motivated by this perception, this paper seeks to explore the actual and potential role of Brazilian makerspaces using digital fabrication in promoting social inclusion, based on empirical evidence collected from interviews and visits to makerspaces in the city of São Paulo, arguably Brazil's making capital and the first municipality in the country to create an effective public policy to foster making initiatives. The main questions we seek to answer are: is there a consensus among Brazilian makers about the role of digital fabrication as a tool for social inclusion? Are there relevant innovations for social inclusion being generated? And are makerspaces connecting to organized movements and agendas such as solidary economy and social technology? By answering these questions, we expect to grasp a better understanding of how digital fabrication may fit into sociotechnical transitions to inclusiveness.

Hacking the museum together: Historiographies of space, from hackspaces to shared machine shops

Author: Kaitlyn Braybrooke (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

Inspired by community hackspaces, European cultural institutions are opening shared machine shops. This paper explores user experiences at both hackspaces and institutional spaces, asking whether power, access and ownership are challenged or reinforced when introducing new commons-based practices.

Long Abstract

As traditional funding routes decline, today's cultural institutions evolve from cultural custodian to innovator, facilitating radical new experiences in commodified, austerity-driven battlegrounds for public attention (Falk and Dierking 2000; Housen 1987; Kelly 2001). These innovations include opening 'shared machine shops' (makerspaces, fablabs and digital studios) on-site, inspired by community hackspaces and featuring free lo-fi and hi-fi tools, from 3D printers to projectors. Perceptions of *pre-institutional hackspaces* have varied. They are described as emancipatory, testing experimental configurations of power (Maxigas 2014) and innovatory, seeding new relationships between human and non-human actors (Kera 2012). They are also characterized as contradictory, capitulating to neoliberal powers they attempt to subvert (Smith 2014; Troxler and Maxigas 2014), and meritocratic, unwelcoming to minorities (Toupin 2014). How might *institutional* spaces compare? This paper seeks to explore whether interactions of power, access and ownership are challenged or reinforced due to the introduction of commons-based practices on-site (Benkler 2006). Referring to geographer Doreen Massey's definition of space as a "meeting-up of histories" with ever-constructed interrelations (2005), I start with a historical review of community hackspace experiences throughout the 1990s and 2000s as outlined by scholars like Kelty (2008), Coleman (2013) and Jordan (2008). I then interview users at two newly-opened institutional spaces: the Tate Britain Digital Studio in London and FryskLab, a roaming fablab-library hybrid in the Netherlands. By positioning contemporary shared machine shop findings within a deeper community genealogy, I hope to ultimately extend Massey's "meeting-up of histories" by exploring how interactions may coalesce as spaces evolve. 

Souvenirs of Place and Time - Using in-situ 3D Printing as a tool for Audience Engagement with Local Heritage

Authors: Sam Forster (Edinburgh Napier University)  email
Katharina Vones (Edinburgh Napier University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper demonstrates how technological innovations in design and personalization, through in-situ 3D printing, offer opportunities to escape the serial reproduction of culture by using creative processes that engage the visitors to heritage sites in the creation of meaning.

Long Abstract

Gift shops are common in most museums and galleries offering visitors the opportunity to transform their intangible experience into a tangible memory through the purchase of a souvenir. Often the souvenirs stocked within these gift shops are 'inauthentic' and 'commoditised' products. This can detach the viewer from engagement with the actual heritage experience. However, technological innovations in design and personalization, through 3D printing, offer opportunities to escape the serial reproduction of culture by using creative processes that engage the visitor in the creation of meaning. Through this personal engagement in the production process, visitors are enabled to assign more emotional value to the customized souvenirs.

This paper contextualises the relationship between heritage and souvenirs based on scanned in and 3D printed versions of artefacts within heritage sites. An example will be provided, examining the case of a site-specific collaboration with Historic Scotland at Stirling Castle. Future possibilities for a series of public engagement events at locations of endangered modern heritage are discussed, to show how in the face of a growing critical awareness of the daring sculptural features celebrated by the Brutalist movement, the scope for creating objects that represent a souvenir of the living memory of such architecture for future generations is created.

This paper will conclude by presenting the outcomes of this project including observations of tourist engagement with the 3D printing process, the aesthetic appeal and commercial impact of the 3D printed souvenir and the subsequent analysis of the relationship between the tourist, souvenir and heritage location.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.