We had a great opportunity to further reflect on what we’ve learned and the challenges we face during the past couple of days at two excellent events, The Maker Assembly and an event on makerspaces and sustainable development.
We’ve visited, repaired in and socialised in makerspaces and Makerfaires during past years. Not to mention we work out of one. Many of our volunteers blur the lines between making and fixing. We believe they fit together, and that our Restart Parties are an activity that can energise maker communities.
Equality and diversity
At Maker Assembly, Janet raised three really important approaches and ways of thinking of equality and diversity in maker (and fixer!) communities. Our aim was to provoke, but also reflect, and recognise that we do not always live up to our own ideals.
- Acknowledging “care-work” (and fairly distributing it) – the feminist economics concept of “care-work” is very relevant to maker communities. (It is estimated that unpaid care-work is worth three times the financial services sector in the UK). There is a particular care-work that happens in technical communities to accommodate under-represented groups and create the conditions for their participation. For us, maker community care-work includes but is not limited to: organising/scheduling, cleaning/tidying, translating/communicating, being a champion for access and participation. This work is work, and sometimes it feels like it can divert us from the fun of hands-on making and geeking out. Not acknowledging this can undermine equity and diversity in our communities. This post by Mel Chua crystallises this struggle for us.
- Meeting people where they are – being open is simply the start. Sometimes including people means a physical dislocation – literally going where they are: community centres, pubs, markets, churches. Sometimes it simply means being relevant, choosing activities with an immediacy and appeal. Sometimes this means adopting a language and an image that feels comfortable for people. We recommend Laurenellen McCann’s “Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech” for more relevant insights.
- Promoting dialogic learning (and valuing other forms of knowledge) – working for equality and diversity is NOT a chore. It benefits us, and quite immediately. Diverse forms of knowledge, diverse life experiences and ways of reading and conceiving the world have real value, and can help “new makers” with digital fabrication skills become learners, and truly transform their approaches. Who is the scrapper in the railway arch next-door? What knowledge does he or she have about materials? What knowledge does the joinery next-door have about building physics? What about the auto garage, or the DJs at the nightclub around the corner? Beyond absorbing technical knowledge, those sharing learning actually learn by sharing.
Environmental and material concerns
Then early this week, we participated in an excellent seminar on sustainable development in makerspaces, convened by one of our favourite academics, Adrian Smith. We contributed our vision of grassroots action for a greener future, data, and systems change. The group showed real interest in our work to collect data on repairs from the growing number of Restart Parties, and the promise of this data to impact manufacturers, regulators and people when they buy.
But we also revisited the points about diversity and equality from the Maker Assembly. There is no point talking about systems change if we adopt the same methods, modes of speaking, thinking and organising of the status quo.
Our prior work with farmers – people like Alifa, in the photo above – really helped us have a deep understanding of sustainable development, on the global “supply side”. We both worked with communities facing huge new pressures on their land because of global consumption patterns and financial structures.
We both learned from this work that “how matters” – that no matter how tempting it might be, we cannot simply default to the ways of the oppressive systems we operate in, even if in defence of the environment. Instead, we need to provide a positive and life affirming vision of the future that people gravitate towards and identify with. Grappling with the “how” is not easy, but there are many compelling experiments underway.
We heard from
- The Maklab in Scotland who believe that being where people are and being relevant to their needs are the best guarantees of sustainability. They are scaling in Scotland but in an adaptive and agile way.
- Tarpuna Coop in Barcelona who were helping to push back against maker “pongos” – slang in Spanish for crapject (literally meaning “Where do I put this?”) and integrating making with a host of grassroots community initiatives
- De War, a dynamic group from Holland that started the leanest Fablab ever, and run it in conjunction with a “Transition Lab” – so making and sustainability are paired
- Demand Energy Equality Now who use hands-on, DIY solar panel workshops as a way in to stimulating reflection and action on energy demand, here in London and in Bristol
There was excellent discussion and here are some of the things that stuck with us
- the need for “myths” – or perhaps stories with morals, that are not drowned out by the well-resourced, profit-driven channels in the space
- the issue of land and space being a major vulnerability of maker communities
- the complicated relationship with existing institutions, the private sector and the media: they rarely understand maker communities yet
- opportunities for much greater attention to material flows and resources used in makerspaces and by makers, potential for more commons-based approaches