Handmade Future: A Field-based Inquiry of Innovation through Making and Craft
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This project analyzes the impact of mediated discourse on the skills, materials, and tools of innovation through a multi-method, three-part study of “making” practices— a growing method of Do-It-Yourself technology design that engages students, hobbyists, and experienced engineers in the building of technological artifacts outside of corporate hierarchies. Making integrates material skills (e.g. sewing, woodworking) and digital fabrication tools (e.g. 3D printing, laser cutting) to produce physical prototypes. These hybrid forms of construction hold significant promise as an inclusive method of innovation, acting as a pathway for women’s participation in technology design. However, if public conceptions of making neglect the contribution of craft and handwork, the potential for innovation will be reduced. This project contributes to existing scholarship in communication and science & technology (STS) studies by elucidating the mechanisms through which media produce symbolic value for technology industries and technology practices. Across this three-part project, I argue that when we expand popular narratives about the tools and practices of technology production, opportunities are also expanded to recognize the diverse contributions—both presently and historically—of people on the peripheries of STEM communities. First, this project identifies the values and ideals of innovation that are created through public discourse about making; paying specific attention to the material practices that are framed as central to innovative work. In my thematic analysis of Make: magazine and its short-lived sister publication Craft: magazine, I identify both making and crafting as activities that are meant to transform the world through hands on, material engagement. However, I argue that makers and crafters take significantly different points of intervention – with makers innovating through disruptive products and crafters innovating through subversive processes. Second, this project identifies the influence of media discourse on the practices of makers through one year of field study in a university makerspace located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Through ethnographic observation, I develop an empirical understanding of how hands-on construction is leveraged as a wellspring of innovative thought. I describe two central ideals of maker learning – Doing It Yourself (DIY) and the power of tools – and how they contribute to idea generation, prototyping and technology design. However, I argue that there are limits to these ideals, especially when the power of tools fails to connect the practices of soft (textiles, fabric) and hard (electronics) materials. Third, this project uses a collaborative design workshop to intervene in media discourse and broaden public conceptions of innovation. Through exploring an understudied moment of engineering history, these workshops provide an opportunity for participants to build experiential understandings of technology production. I argue that through incorporating methods of design, communication scholars can build new, feminist histories of innovation—helping to address issues of representation in the absence of remarkable personal narratives.
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