Having done lots of research around this theme, I’ve been able to get some perspective. So here’s a reformulation of the question into something more concrete:
- How do we best harness the energy and creativity of the maker movement (and associated groups, technologies and ideas) to develop new ways of living, production, commerce, and art that are sustainable, fair and rewarding for humans and the rest of the planet?
- More broadly, if making culture can itself be a laboratory for new cultures to emerge, how do we design the technology, institutions, and social relations of this making culture to better our chances of getting these outcomes. What does a healthy maker culture look like, and how do we nurture in into this shape?
- And can we shed light on today’s situation by looking at how previous technology systems have emerged, been designed or co-opted, and where earlier socially progressive maker movements (e.g. the Arts and Crafts movement) have failed? Can we see the traps we should avoid, what dramas are being played out, and who is writing the stories?
Going back to our makerspaces example, if you believe that makerspaces could be seen as “sites of agitation that champion a different way of living”, how do you design spaces so they can fulfil this function? How should they be set up and managed? What should happen inside, and what should it feel like to be there? Who should be using them? If you look at the actual makerspaces we have today, are they up to the task, or are they deficient in some way? If the latter, is that a systemic problem, or could spaces be tweaked in some way to be more effective in this respect?
Makerspaces are just one area of concern. This issue also touches on manufacturing, craft practice, education (formal and informal), work, the economy and labour relations, materials, tools, morality and social values. And these are by no means technical issues – they’re questions of power, ethics, and deeply conflicting agendas.
The question has urgency because this culture is being formed today. It’s shifting dramatically from previous incarnations of craft, art, leisure and manufacturing culture – it’s contested, and therefore contestable.
And it has high stakes because our track record at turning technology-led movements to social benefit is mixed at best: private transport, the web, and of course the big one – the Industrial Revolution itself – have all been heralded as transformative utopian shifts in technology, but have turned out to have significant negative effects on the environment, social justice, and the systems they infiltrate.