Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias

Please join us for a special event on alternative maker histories, Thursday 29 April 2021, 18.00-19.45 CET, online.

Register here to get the zoom link:
The event will be recorded.

The programme (subject to changes):

18.00 INTRODUCTION (18.00 Amsterdam, Cape Town; 13.00 Rio de Janeiro; 12.00 New York; 0.00 Hong Kong)
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva, Peter Troxler

Chair of theme: Cindy Kohtala
Simon Sadler, Peter Harper in conversation with Cindy Kohtala and Yana Boeva on Alternative Technology and the Exhibition of People’s Technology, Stockholm, 1972
Kostas Latoufis on Alternative Technology in the UK.

Chair of theme: Peter Troxler
Ellen Foster on the history of Maker manifestos.
Regina Sipos on the history of Germany’s Open Workshops.
Suné Stassen and Felix Holm on Making and makerspaces in southern Afrika.
In absentia: David Cuartielles, Cesar Garcia on the history of Spain’s maker communities.

19.00 BREAK (19.00 Amsterdam, Cape Town; 14.00 Rio de Janeiro; 13.00 New York; 01.00 Hong Kong)

Chair of theme: Yana Boeva
Emilio Velis on the Meaning of craft during the San Salvadoran civil war.
Svetlana Usenyuk-Kravchuk on Arctic inventiveness and “cosmic conversion”.
In absentia: Petr Gibas, Blanka Nyklova on Czech DIY.
Anupama Gowda on Making with and for marginalized children in India.

Chair of theme: Yana Boeva
Sam Shorey on Corporate DIY, ‘then and now’.
Kat Jungnickel on discovering women’s Inventions in patent registries.
Jesse Adams Stein, by video, on the Meaning of manufacturing expertise.




This event is to mark the launch of a Special Issue of Digital Culture & Society, guest editors Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler.

If you have any questions about the event, please email me directly or our editors’ email < (at)>. We are also collecting questions for the presenters in advance!

The study was supported in part by the Nessling Foundation.

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:

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.

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.


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.)


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

Location: Montreal, Canada


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



Location: Lancaster, UK

Deadline for submissions: 14 February 2018


Technoscience from Below 7th STS Italia Conference

Location: University of Padova, Italy


Deadline for submissions: 10 February 2018

Dates: June 14–16, 2018


Journal of Peer Production “OPEN” CFP ISSUE #13


Deadline for submissions: 15 January 2018