Community Culture and the Makerspace: Clashes, Craft, and Capital

Every month, staff members and volunteers of the Georgetown University Maker Hub convene for a group meeting. They create shared goals of the space, and come up with tasks and ideas to get those goals done. The process of mandatory monthly meetings helps make sure everyone participates in the community space and understands what its values should be.  Members of a given group who choose to meet shared goals foster community, and results in notions of belonging by the individual (Peters, B. 2016, p.64). If a mutual agreement to meet shared goals is what defines a community, however, what happens when a community takes on increasingly disparate goals?

Maker culture is made up of individuals who use do-it-yourself (DIY) tools and practices to create. The term is vague because it includes a variety of different types of people who use makerspaces (dedicated spaces for makers to convene to work on projects) for different goals. In recent years, individuals interested in starting new business ventures in the tech sphere have been using makerspaces to develop products in a low-stakes environment (Hatch, M., 2013).  However, this focus on business creation and capital can exclude other makers from these spaces, especially those who are using maker culture to create without commodifying their work. When the entrepreneurial spirit of the makers leads the conversation to define the culture of the space, crafting, DIY, and localist values are often erased from makerspace community culture.

The proliferation of low-cost, essential maker tools such as 3D printers, Internet of Things devices and hardware creation tools served as a catalyst for tech-oriented makerspaces to innovate, create new products, and subsequently engage in established commercial enterprises (Hatch, M., 2017).  Tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Tech Shop Mark Hatch details the importance of makerspaces for product innovation in Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers and Tinkerers, stating:

If we believe in manufacturing as an important component in an economy, then the distribution and diffusion of easy-to-use, powerful, and cheap access to the right tools are critical to the success of every industrialized economy, particularly ones that want to leverage the coming technological advances across so many industries (Hatch, M., 2013).

What results from a focus on business development and entrepreneurship are spaces that have a primary end goal of the creation of capital. Makerspaces built for this goal help new businesses flourish in an environment where they can create without the burden of investing in their own labs or tools. However, spaces that view the concept of making as a first rung on the corporate ladder orient the shared goals of a given space towards the generation of capital, which will likely exclude any conflicting goals of other makers in the space.

Crafters, makers who utilize more conventional skills like sewing, knitting, and woodworking, whose skills may not necessarily lead to a new business or source of income, are often excluded from makerspaces that focus on innovation in the tech world (Davies, S., 2017).  In Hackerspaces: Making the Maker Movement, Sarah Davies spoke to two leaders of makerspaces that worked to ensure a diversity of shared goals within their communities. One of the women described her space, highlighting the need to support those who used the space for crafting:

It instead sought to empower those whose making generally didn’t have the edgy ‘maker’ label applied to it. The space, she said, was for skill sharing; skills like sewing and weaving and carpentry, certainly, but also things like how to set up an Etsy shop or start your own business (Davies, S., 2017, p.96).

The proliferation of spaces with an established goal that accommodates makers who engage in non-technological forms of making, such as crafters, ensures that their needs, which may or may not include commercial enterprise, can at least share priority with business development. While the space described by Davies has made sure that crafters have the access they need in the space, it is notable that the ability to create an Etsy shop, which sets up an avenue for income generation, was still given priority even in this space.

Where does that leave makers who have no interest in monetizing their creations?

Individuals with the goal of promoting localism and sustainability within their community also use makerspaces. The advent of low-cost 3D printers has helped makers use spaces to create replacement parts for home appliances and home improvement tools. The ability to create specific tools or parts is an effective method for communities focused on sustainability to reduce their reliance on unnecessary and wasteful global supply chain processes (Kish, K. & Quilley, S., 2017). However, the likelihood of sustainability goals clashing with conventional business development efforts would make it difficult for a makerspace to include both cultures at the same time.

Maker culture, therefore, is not a single community but a label used to identify a number of different, and often conflicting, groups. The term itself reduces the many facets of the community to a single, digestible idea: one who makes. As the maker movement grows, it may be time to reconsider what we imagine maker culture to be, and how we define the spaces in which people make. Or, maybe we are better served by focusing on the shared goals of specific makerspaces, understanding each one as a unique cohort with communal goals that may or may not align with other makerspaces. It is essential, however, for members of makerspaces to take the time to establish shared goals within their specific community and make sure that one priority does not supersede the needs of others.

 

Works Cited

Avance, R. (2016). Community. In Peters, B. (Ed.), Digital keywords: a vocabulary of information society and culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Davies, S. (2017). Hackerspaces : Making the Maker Movement. Oxford: Polity Press.

Hatch, M. (2013). Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing. Retrieved from https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/the-maker-movement/9780071821124/?ar

Kish, K., & Quilley, S. (2017). DIY. Alternatives Journal, 43(1), 46–50,8. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1937833976/

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