Research in the time of COVID-19

Wow, it’s been a weird few months, hasn’t it? And for the first few weeks of voluntary self-isolation, I was certainly over-using the word ‘weird’.
In lieu of posting a new blog post here, I will gladly link you to a blog post I wrote for Nessling Foundation, who is funding my current research project.
Enjoy!
Rapid Response, Slow Adjustment

Aalto Fablab, January 2019

Codes of Conduct

There is a common myth that self-organizing peer-to-peer communities can collaborate together by sheer virtue of the fact that the individuals involved are rational and reasonable human beings. When conflicts occur, and they inevitably do, there are no mechanisms to deal with it, and those with invisible power, higher up in a hierarchy that everyone denies is there, tend to use their power to maintain their position or rise higher, often buoyed by charisma and the ability to proselytize.

In some cases conflicts and flame wars can ultimately be healthy, leading to forks and new pathways for social or technological innovation. But often the costs are higher than the gains, with people simply leaving – usually women, BIPOC, LGBTQ and other folks marginalized by physical disabilities or being neuro divergent.

There is also a collective amnesia with regard to self-organizing. Current peer production social movements appear to ignore the long history of, for example, anarchist organizing in favour of an abstract concept of a rationalist meritocracy that is free of ‘censorship’. Some groups do acknowledge this important history, however, and have worked to integrate better patterns of self-organizing into their socio-economic activities. Community guidelines and Codes of Conduct play an important role in this.

From the position of Science & Technology Studies, I have observed particularly the materiality involved in how DIY maker-activists try to get things done and distribute group governance. By collaborating with experts in media psychology and conflict resolution recently, I have also learned an immense amount about how peer groups can better manage their own self-governance. (And I have painfully recognized the mistakes I have made in the past in my own activist experiences.) This process was initiated and first materialized in a process of writing a Code of Conduct for a group I’m involved in (in my other life as an activist). We wrote about this Values-in-Design (VID) process for a short exploratory paper for the NORDES Nordic Design Research Society Conference.

You’ll find the paper here: Nordes_2019_paper_81
The Caring Community Guidelines are open and free for anyone to copy and adapt to their own needs: https://github.com/ckohtala/community-guidelines/blob/master/CaringCommunityGuidelines.md

Systems of Resilience: A Dialogue on Makers

Here is a free pdf of my chapter in the Agents of Alternatives book, called ‘Systems of Resilience: A Dialogue on Digital Makers, Making and Their Principles of Conduct’ (2015).
It’s an easy read, inspired by the dialogue format Jane Jacobs used in Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. I present various types of DIY makers, typical motivations for why they do what they do, and the typical types of commons they foreground.

It was reprinted in the research publication Fabricating Society produced for the FAB13 international Fab Lab meeting in 2017, edited by Andrés Briceño and Tomás Vivanco, available as a free pdf here.

Research mindmap

Here is my 3rd draft of the research mindmap on citizen production (material peer production, open design, fab labs and makerspaces, etc.).
Draft 4 will have to incorporate the health and bio lit.
The sizes of the circles are relative to my perception of the sizes of the lit in each area – not exact quantities/proportions at this point. I still say that maker-ed / fab-ed / fab-learn is still the biggest area of interest with the most studies.

Research landscape on distributed production / citizen production / maker culture

I started the mindmap last year inspired by Peter Troxler’s publication, which sums up the current understanding on the relations between maker concerns, new manufacturing, urban issues, education and innovation in a nice, concise way.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Strategies of oppression

In 1989 Marc Lépine murdered 14 engineering students on a Canadian university campus because they were women (as he said while killing as well as in a letter found later).
Subsequently, any analyses and discourse that linked this horrific crime to misogyny and systematic violence against women was mainly shunned, ridiculed and silenced in the Canadian mass media.

The exact same pattern is happening again, in the wake of violent attacks by misogynists known as ‘incels’. This essay Murderous Fallout written in 1991 eerily echoes the same rhetorical strategies we see today, as if we have had no real progress in the last 27 years. I found the essay because of a memory triggered by the current atmosphere: I was doing my Bachelor’s at the University of Alberta at the time (in the late 80s), and to my horror, at a U of A engineering event, male students started shouting ‘Shoot the bitch!’ targeting a female engineering student who was making official complaints about sexist practices.

Studying Industrial Design in those years, in that programme, meant being the only woman in many of the classes (or one of two or three). It was absolutely completely normal in those days for my fellow students to make sexist remarks during our project presentations or even sexually explicit comments. For me it was absolutely normal to have to hear these comments because I am female. It was absolutely normal for the male professors to allow this atmosphere – because that kind of atmosphere was normal. In fact, while it made me uncomfortable, I was so used to that kind of discomfort that I thought it was a given – this is just the world so deal with it. It was absolutely normal that adult males felt they had the right to lay their hands on young women’s bodies, whether mine, my friends’, my nieces’… the family friend, the grandfather next door, the slimey brother-in-law, the brother’s best friend, the cousin, the neighbour – and family members would not call it out because it would have caused disruption and confrontation. Creepy uncles are just part of life.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me until years later, with perspective, maturity and more self-confidence, to realize how this behaviour is not normal and needs to be called out and stopped. I wish the other males around would have had that kind of maturity.

Pretending this oppression doesn’t happen is an oppression and a silencing of its own. Trying to claim that racism against BIPOC doesn’t exist and violence against women doesn’t exist – that there is no patriarchy and no white male privilege – is continued oppression and obvious attempts to maintain current hierarchies. Moreover, pretending that all this talk is just banter in social media with no real consequences is utopian – it has real ramifications in politics and elections, in mobilizing violent mobs, in making workplaces undesireable and uncomfortable for people who don’t happen to be white men, in incentivizing young men to kill.

See Toronto van attack: Your social-media speculation has real-world impact

See journalist Arshy Mann’s Twitter thread and column

Arshy Mann Twitter thread

See Absolute Unit’s fierce Twitter thread

See David Futrelle’s article ‘Incels hail Toronto van driver who killed 10 as a new Elliot Rodger, talk of future acid attacks and mass rapes’

See studies done by anthropology students

See this Master’s thesis

See ‘4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump

See ‘How the alt-right’s sexism lures men into white supremacy

See Laurie Penny’s column

See the thousands of threats directed at Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Laurie Penny (including the ones investigated by the FBI/police that mean they have to leave their homes) – and then tell me that calling out racism and sexism is virtue signalling and turning our society into a victim society. Whatever the f*ck that even means.

Researching emerging practices of making/production

In our department’s 2017 doctoral Summer School, run by Prof Idil Gaziulusoy, the theme was ‘Concepts and Contexts for Design for Sustainability’. I gave a talk on ‘Researching emerging practices of making/production’. Due to popular demand (a request from one colleague), I’m posting some of the advice here. (The whole slideshow is on Slideshare.)

To clarify, much of this advice is based on frustrations with reading and reviewing article drafts and submissions written by junior researchers that keep repeating the same weaknesses. There is way too much conceptual speculation out there and too little empirics. Everyone is writing about what should-be could-be and not about what is actually happening in DIY making and grassroots activism. DIY making and repair has the potential to dematerialize consumption/production, so everyone writes about this potential instead of actually trying to determine how or if we are experiencing dematerialization or transmaterialization. I have had excellent conversations about this with the stellar Irene Maldini, who wants to investigate the claim that citizen involvement in production and person-product attachment can actually have an impact on consumption – doing the follow-up studies needed to try to observe what people do when they leave the FabLab or clothing workshop.

In other words, Irene and I agree strongly on this: there are surely positive impacts when people do DIY making and repair activities, but don’t try to make the claim that this is going to impact material consumption volumes if you’re not willing to do the work to provide evidence for this. So what then are the impacts? Are you prepared to observe and articulate what they are? What do you have access to and what are you actually observing? Is it about social learning? Something related to ’empowerment’? ‘Agency’? What does empowerment and agency actually mean in your research site? How can it be observed, identified, tracked?

And then, in order to demonstrate the should-be could-be, many articles use the same examples over and over again as illustration, proof of concept, evidence. RepRap. Open Source Ecology. LilyPad Arduino. Again and again and again the same examples – and again and again the same claims that this one example represents something giant and revolutionary instead of something indicative, marginal. Again and again avoiding the conceptual and analytical work in articulating what this example, in its context, tells us about grassroots innovation and sustainability. And worse: writing descriptions of these case studies based on second-hand texts written by others on websites instead of doing case study work (interviews or investigating primary sources and archives).

In research we are supposed to be doing research, not writing manifestos. (Or: do the research first and then write the manifesto so you know what you’re up against and you have some experience under your belt.)

Another common weakness is citing the could-be should-be in popular mainstream books as if it were evidence instead of what it is – discourse (e.g. Chris Anderson’s Makers). Or citing the summarizing discourse in books like Charles Leadbeater’s We-Think or David Gauntlett’s Making is Connecting instead of examining the actual studies those summarizing narratives are based on and citing that. Books like We-Think and Making is Connecting are aimed at wider, more mainstream audiences than academia, and they are therefore written in a different way: there is research cited and described, and then the chapter ends with rhetorical summarizing and proselytizing. I call this proselytizing the Blah Blah Blah. Junior researchers love to cite this blah blah blah, and it drives me mad.

Moreover, the proselytizing in the mainstream lit is often written in what one of my colleagues calls gush: oh, DIY making is so lovely! And everyone and everything is so beautiful! And they are so happy! And all this will obviously change the world and make it a better place because there are no politics and no negativity! Activism is all just so lovely lovely!

In Finnish, lovely lovely = ihana ihana! (The same gush colleague, Eeva Berglund, and I published a book on urban activism in Helsinki in 2015, and in discussions with the publisher and the graphic designer, we were all in agreement that we avoid any kind of ihana ihana book cover.) But junior researchers seem to love the ihana ihana texts, and they liberally sprinkle their articles with ihana ihana citations. This also drives me mad.

Hence the list.

Please please don’t:

Cite ‘should be’ as ‘is’.

Cite (only) the blah blah blah. What studies is the blah blah blah based on?

Misrepresent studies and overgeneralize findings on SCP (Sustainable Consumption and Production). Check the product category, demography, study aim….

Romanticize. Don’t use the same ‘gush’ ‘ihana ihana’ tone as mainstream books.

Catalogue and inflate. Don’t choose only a few niche examples as ‘cases’ (usually overused anyway) and expect them to represent something significant. Be explicit about your case choice and what it represents/doesn’t represent.

Please don’t:

Avoid getting your hands into your data. Analysis is not (only) about a rigorous set of codes defined beforehand. Coding is just a way to get to know what is in your data and find it easily. Write descriptive overviews. Make diagrams (Clarke 2005) and mindmaps. Get hints on ways to analyse from Qualitative Data handbooks.

Avoid making memos or notes about data collecting or analysis.

Hide your data or analysis process in papers. Spell it out.

Do:

Formulate your research question according to what you are actually studying and able to study. What can you access?

Choose your terminology ‘xx’ according to the field you are aligning with. Be clear and honest with yourself: when I am studying xx, what does that mean in terms of data collecting, and how do I observe it in my data?

Be creative (in a way that is researchable). What designerly ways will deliver data and knowledge? Design interventions / experiments? Workshops?

Be clear and explicit about what ‘sustainability’ is. Choose a definition and principles. Use better, more exact phrases (transition to a more sustainable society, less negative environmental impact, more equity in access to resources…).

Be clear to yourself about what you are studying. The ‘sustainability’ of a system, or participants’ beliefs about the sustainability of the system? Principles for a Circular Economy or how this group encountered/defined barriers and opportunities for transition to a circular economy? Keep this distinct.

And… good luck.

Call For Papers, Open Design and Citizen Production / DIY Making (Jan 2018)

some useful upcoming Call for Papers. (thanks, Massimo.)

ACM SIGCHI Workshop

Maker Movements, DIY Cultures and Participatory Design: Implications for HCI Research

Location: Montreal, Canada

Website: https://makersdiyparticipatorydesign.wordpress.com/

Deadline for submissions: 2 February 2018

One-day workshop: 22nd April 2018

 

Open design & manufacturing in the platform economy – panel

EASST2018, 25-28 July 2018

EASST2018 Theme: MEETINGS

Website: https://nomadit.co.uk/easst/easst2018/conferencesuite.php/panels/6189

Location: Lancaster, UK

Deadline for submissions: 14 February 2018

 

Technoscience from Below 7th STS Italia Conference

Location: University of Padova, Italy

Website: https://www.frombelow-stsitaliaconf.org/call-for-abstracts

Deadline for submissions: 10 February 2018

Dates: June 14–16, 2018

 

Journal of Peer Production “OPEN” CFP ISSUE #13

Website: http://peerproduction.net/journal-of-peer-production-open-eoi-cfp-issue-13/

Deadline for submissions: 15 January 2018

So, What About Politics? Part 1

In November I attended an excellent seminar in Brussels called #SWAP: So, what about politics? at iMAL, a ‘center for digital cultures and technology’ (which also hosts a FabLab). I must thank iMAL Director Yves Bernard, moderator Bram Crevits and the iMAL team for such an inspiring and educational event and for the careful selection of speakers and topics. I posted updates about the event as it proceeded on Facebook, and I will repost some of my notes, those short descriptions and links here, along with photos. iMAL livestreamed the talks and you can find all the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjQCOGgYPYdhmhj6pzH6Dj7h49DIeaDcb

iMAL, Brussels. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

iMAL, Brussels. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Symposium Day 1: Friday 3 November 2017, 10:00 – 18:30.

Lectures and Debates.
Programme: http://www.imal.org/en/more/swap-day-1

Opening the symposium: iMAL director Yves Bernard. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Opening the symposium: iMAL director Yves Bernard. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Keynote 1:
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation
How can the commons change society, the economy and democracy?
Institutional Design for Public-Commons Cooperation

Keynote by Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Keynote by Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-“The Place of the Commons in Human Evolution”: how we have moved from tribes that were commons-focused to states and markets.
-the natural commons includes e.g. agricultural commons or fishing;
-marked by a division between people who work and people who own;
-the commons have usually been social commons, cooperatives, mutuals, etc.;
-the third phase is the digital commons: with networks we start re-learning what the commons is, especially in the West.
-these are global communities, who recreate a new kind of commons.

slide: The Place of the Commons in Human Evolution

Michel’s slide: The Place of the Commons in Human Evolution.

 

-recently I did a project in Ghent, to re-imagine the city of Ghent as a commons.
-what I learned there: first, there is an exponential rise in urban commons;
-second, the structure is much like the digital commons;
-at the core, there is the constitution of the commoning of the community, a structure which is open;
-thereby a new urban commons – with the same attitude as the digital commons, everybody can contribute and everyone who contributes has a voice;
-one thing they do well in Ghent is temporary usage of empty spaces: whether empty factories or land, lots of projects have emerged on this land;
-they don’t tell anyone what to do, they create conditions where everyone can use the land;
-in order to survive, people try to do generative economic activities;
-they don’t want to rely on subsidies, they try to think about self-sufficiency over time;
-in Ghent, there is a group that is experimenting with mushrooms, taking toxic sludge out of the ground;
-three things to note, a for-benefit structure, an open community and generative economic activities (not extractive);
-we did a mapping of 500 projects.

-how do these global productive communities function? in a capitalist society, while maintaining the commons?
-note the booklet Values in the Commons Economy
-in the market economy, the change in accounting is a marker – double-entry bookkeeping marked the birth of capitalism.
-what marks the birth of the cooperative? commoning?
-e.g. FB does not recognize externalities;
-it is a new form of capital that is commons oriented in an extractive way.
-but biocapacity: we don’t take into account positive environmental constraints.
-if you want to survive, we need to integrate these externalities.
-this needs a different value regime;
-creating a membrane around their activities and then try to do it differently;
reciprocity-based licensing: knowledge should be free and shared, but commercialization can be conditional upon reciprocity.

-this is designed for commons-market cooperation.
-it is a move away from capital/state/nation, but not that everything we have now will disappear; these modes of exchanges have always existed in different combinations.
-how do we design a new combination? commons-partner-state regenerative.

-in Ghent, the city is incubating commons projects, the city and the region are supporting commons projects, supporting generative initiatives.
-but it is fragmented, e.g. you have permaculture east and permaculture west but they do not talk to each other locally;
-there is a renewable energy coop;
-they don’t have a joint language and identity.

-but note that every time a civilization has been in overshoot, there has been a return to commoning.
-from open source, free software, mutualization of knowledge;
-then the sharing economy, mutualization of infrastructure;
-then relocalization of production, cosmo-local production to a ‘biocapacity economy’.
-how do we de-fragment these processes, support them?
-a commons accord – an agreement between the city and the commons-oriented communities.
-a circle of finance – if you can determine a community can diminish ecological impact – things spent on negative externalities that the market economy does not recognize – use this to fund transition activities.
-how to manage the eco-social transition
-representative democracy, participative democracy, contributive democracy – we should know how these work together.
-participative logic is seen as top-down;
-contributive democracy can be elite – the city is forced to recognize those actions it claims it wants to do;
-the citizens are doing renewable energy and urban agriculture: if the city recognizes this is what it wants to do, it should recognize contributive logic.
-this is not working in Ghent yet.
-we want to create a narrative that permits alignment in the transition.
-about identity: I am a commoner, I contribute to the common good – this is not acknowledged or named.
-in working class history, farmers shift identity to being a worker.
-rather: we are contributing to the common good, I am a productive citizen, I build value.

-in the P2P Foundation, 12 people are working full-time.
-we have 5 (autonomous) streams and we use Loomio to come to legitimate decisions – projects have 1-3 coordinators who are responsible;
-we look after each other: when income comes in, we know who is in need, there is a difference between precarious workers and salary.
-all our knowledge is put in wikis and blogs.
-in society there is a shift to precarious, but there are also people who want to be autonomous, so it is not forced precarity.

-in the anarcho-capitalism model, using e.g. blockchain, they are not about the commons: they use it so that everyone can be a mini-capitalist;
-it is extractive – Bitcoin – to make money; it is not generative.
-blockchain is trustless machines, trustless algorithms – because no one trusts anyone;
-it is also very hungry for energy;
-we could use blockchain for e.g. shared supply chains.
-we already have mutual coordination in the software industry
-I want to have that in the production industry;
-create a biocapacity framework and within that framework, decide on what we can do.

http://commonstransition.org/commons-transition-plan-city-ghent/

*

Saya Sauliere, Medialab-Prado/ParticipaLab, Madrid, Spain
Understanding participation in Decide Madrid, an e-participation platform

Saya Sauliere on Decide Madrid. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Saya Sauliere on Decide Madrid. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-DecideMadrid software: open source, now in 16 countries, 60 cities, replicable, free, transparent;
-CONSUL platform.
-for example, City Hall asked the citizens of Madrid if they were willing to reform a key square, what kind of reform they wanted to have, then citizens chose among many projects, and then they decided between two projects.
-also Participatory Budgeting and Citizen Proposals
-participants are citizens as well as NGOs and neighbourhood associations

https://decide.madrid.es

*

Sanna Gothbi, DigidemLab, Göteborg, Sweden
Bringing together hackers and activists for social change

Sanna Gothbi on DigidemLab. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Sanna Gothbi on DigidemLab. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-a non-profit ‘lab’ – an open space for experiments;
-started this year, February, inspired by Medialab-Prado.
-Sweden does not have a large hacker or civic tech community, and there is a growing wave of racism and right-wing nationalism.
-three principles for the Lab: building participation from below; dialogue is not enough – we have to do more; tools for democratic participation need to be developed and controlled by the citizens.
-using the G1000 as a citizen summit as an alternative to the G20.
-working with MedialabPrado on the Democat platform.
-fostering a local civic tech community.

*

Emmanuele Braga, Macao, Italy
Macao and its Commoncoin: the question of value

Emmanuele Braga on Macao. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Emmanuele Braga on Macao. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-Macao is an organization of 100 people from the cultural sector, also a space, a squat: people working for their own projects as well as the organization;
-self-managed;
-members use crypto currency between them.
-as an organization we provide monthly the power for commoncoin to buy in the system – e.g. a collective order from farmers as an association in euros, then in the organization the goods are bought with commoncoin.
-euros come from events, donations, co-production of work.
-the organization does not pay a wage, 20% of the general income goes to the members as basic income.
-started in Nov 2016.

http://www.macaomilano.org/IMG/pdf/commoncoin-2.pdf

*

Lieza Dessein, Smart, Brussels, Belgium
Technology geared towards solidarity

Lieza Dessein on Smart. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Lieza Dessein on Smart. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-an independent cooperative that works as an intermediary supporting creative industry and other autonomous entrepreneurs;
-founded in 1998 in Belgium as a social enterprise – with the aim to take over paperwork linked to creative entrepreneurship: we take on the role of the employer for the time of the freelancer’s mission.
-mutualized services: payroll, VAT declarations, salary guarantee, debt collection, microfinancing, personal and legal advice…
-also investing in workspaces;
-grew organically and rapidly scaled up.
-90 000 members in Belgium, changing to a coop structure in Belgium as the structure is a coop in other countries: a long, important transition;
-this is in constant progress, in constant dialogue on what tools to use, how to use them, on transparency, ethics.

*

End of Part 1.

Meeting places for researchers

There is more and more research interest in FabLabs and makerspaces but it seems we are still divided by disciplinary borders. We have a small research stream connected to the annual FabLab meetings (FABx) coordinated by Peter Troxler (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences), where paper submissions range from engineering experiments to qualitative sociological studies. There is a lot of activity in ‘FabLearn’ topics and conferences, as well as CHI conferences. In Europe some of us focus on socio-environmental sustainability and others meet at Participatory Design conferences or commons-focused events (e.g. members of the P2P Foundation). Still others are interested in organizational studies, entrepreneurship and/or industrial innovation. But we haven’t yet had too much common discussion, and discussion groups on e.g. Loomio or Slack are often by invitation only.

If you want to join the discussion, here are a couple of possibilities:
-on Facebook the FabLab Research International Group (request to join): https://www.facebook.com/groups/515636901833580/

-on ResearchGate (an academic social media platform), Howard Aldrich’s project page on makerspace research: https://www.researchgate.net/project/The-maker-movement-makerspaces-and-makers-hackers-their-association-with-innovation-and-entrepreneurship

Let me know if there are others.

A song for tech determinists

Hello out there, all you tech determinists, all you people with “technology is neutral” on your T-shirts! And those of you with a “technology will save the world” bumper sticker on your self-driving car! Yeah, guess what? I wrote a song! Just for you!

After all, if you didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have a job!

Feel free to sing along. You’ll know the tune. I call it –

A Ditty for the Tech Utopians.

Here we go:

Blockchain and printers and circuits and power!
Teach children coding, forget reading hour!
They will start startups, the value that brings!
These are a few of my favourite things!

Mining the moon while the earth is left pretty,
Let’s put our money in space and Mars City!
Surely we prosper when new worlds we seek,
History tells us that we’ll never peak!

When the smog quells,
And the sea warms,
And I’m feeling sad…
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Self-driving autos and more roads and parking!
Smart City sensors and robot dogs barking!
Walking is silly and so out of date,
Bodies need augmenting – that is our fate!

Employees in hotels and shops are for gluttons!
Keypads and screens, oh, I do like those buttons!
Humans are costly and I need the dough,
I need to spend it on screens and on blow.

When the flesh aches,
And the heart yearns,
And I’m feeling sore…
I simply go into my white privilege cave
And then I don’t feel any more!

GM technology! Hunger will vanish!
Insects and poor soil – oh, all will be banished!
All of the world will eat beef and eat corn!
These are the reasons why I’m glad I’m born…

Up in the north where we have so much water!
GMO crops will be saviours of bother.
Seeds are for companies, not for the poor,
They need to recognize markets are core!

When the shares slump,
And my kids stare,
And I’m feeling scared…
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so aware!