Collaborative Confusion among DIY Makers

Ethnography and Expertise in Creating Knowledge for Environmental Sustainability

  • Eeva Berglund Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture
  • Cindy Kohtala Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Abstract

Eco-oriented makers and grassroots subcultures experimenting with digital fabrication technologies, and other activists designing sustainable futures, are increasingly the subject of research. As they address problems of environmental sustainability beyond institutional contexts, their work may appear vague, even confused, yet their activities are underpinned by intense and principled commitment. Working through their confusion, many maker communities build new understandings about what ‘sustainability’ could mean. We argue that herein lie important resources for new knowledge, and further that ethnography is the ideal way to track these processes of learning and knowledge production. The ethnographer participates in local confusion, over values and the definitions of sustainability, but also about what constitutes useful knowledge. Supported by STS (and other) literature on environmental expertise, we argue that maker communities' own acknowledgement of this vagueness actually makes possible a position from which epistemological authority can be reasserted.

Downloads

Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Cindy Kohtala, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Postdoctoral researcher

References

Abrahamsson S & Bertoni F (2014) Compost politics: experimenting with togetherness in vermicomposting. Environmental Humanities 4(1): 125-148.
https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-3614962

Arieff A (2014) Yes We Can. But Should We? The Unintended Consequences of the Maker Movement. Re:Form (blog). 15 September 2014. online https://medium.com/re-form/just-because-you-can-doesnt-mean-you-should-252fdbcf76c8 (accessed 10 February 2018).

Berglund E (2001) Self-defeating environmentalism? models and questions from an ethnography of toxic waste protest. Critique of Anthropology 21(3): 317-336.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0308275X0102100303

Berglund E (2016) Impossible Maybe, Perhaps Quite Likely: Activist design in Helsinki's urban wastelands. In: P Sparke & F Fisher (eds) The Routledge Companion to Design Studies. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 383-394.

Berglund E (2017) Steering clear of politics: local virtues in Helsinki's design activism. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 566–581.
https://doi.org/10.2458/v24i1.20893

Bomberg E & McEwen N (2012) Mobilizing Community Energy. Energy Policy 51: 435–444.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.08.045

Bowker GC & Star SL (1999) Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Collins HM & R Evans (2002) The third wave of science studies: Studies of expertise and experience. Social Studies of Science 32(2): 235-96.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312702032002003

de la Cadena M (2010) Indigenous cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond "Politics", Cultural Anthropology 25(2): 334–370.
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1360.2010.01061.x

de Laet M & Mol A (2000) The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology. Social Studies of Science 30(2): 225–263.
https://doi.org/10.1177/030631200030002002

Dickel S, Ferdinand JP & Petschow P (2014) Shared Machine Shops as Real-Life Laboratories. Journal of Peer Production 5.

Douglas M (1966) Purity and Danger: An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Escobar A (2018) Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham, US: Duke University Press.

Evans J & Karvonen A (2014) 'Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Lower Your Carbon Footprint!' — Urban Laboratories and the Governance of Low-Carbon Futures. Int'l Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(2): 413–30.
https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12077

Fortun K (2014) From Latour to late industrialism. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4(1): 309-329.
https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.017

Gibson-Graham JK (2008) Diverse economies: performative practices for other worlds. Progress in Human Geography 32(5): 613-632.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132508090821

Haraway DJ (2008) When species meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hess DJ (2005) Technology- and Product-Oriented Movements: Approximating Social Movement Studies and Science and Technology Studies. Science, Technology, & Human Values 30(4): 515–535.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243905276499

Hess DJ (2007) Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry: Activism, Innovation, and the Environment in an Era of Globalization, Urban and Industrial Environments. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Hess DJ (2016) Undone Science: Social Movements, Mobilized Publics, and Industrial Transitions. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Hielscher S, Smith A & Fressoli M (2015) WP4 Case Study Report: FabLabs, Report for the TRANSIT FP7 Project. Brighton, UK: SPRU, University of Sussex.

Holmes D & GE Marcus (2012) Collaborative Imperatives: A Manifesto, of Sorts, for the Reimagination of the Classic Scene of Fieldwork Encounter. In: Konrad M (ed.) Collaborators Collaborating: Counterparts in Anthropological Knowledge and international research relations. New York: Berghahn Books, 127-143.

Honkela N, Toikka A, Hukkinen J & Honkela T (2014) Coming to grips with scientific ignorance in the governing of endocrine disrupting chemicals and nanoparticles. Environmental Science and Policy 38: 154-163.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2013.11.006

Huutoniemi K (2014) Introduction: Sustainability, transdisciplinarity and the complexity of knowing. In: Huutoniemi K & P Tapio (eds) Transdisciplinary Sustainability Studies: A Heuristic Approach. New York: Routledge, 1-20.
https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203734834

Hyysalo S, Juntunen JK & Freeman S (2013) User innovation in sustainable home energy technologies. Energy Policy 55: 490–500.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.12.038

Jalas M, Kuusi H & Heiskanen E (2014) Self-Building Courses of Solar Heat Collectors as Sources of Consumer Empowerment and Local Embedding of Sustainable Energy Technology. Science & Technology Studies 27(1): 76–96.

Jamison A (2001) The Making of Green Knowledge Environmental Politics and Cultural Transformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511489143

Jasanoff S (2016) The ethics of invention: technology and the human future. London: WW Norton & Company.

Jasper JM (2016) Foreword. In: Fillieule O & G Accornero (eds) (2016) Social Movement Studies in Europe: the state of the art. New York: Berghahn Books, xiv-xviii.

Jencks C & Silver N (2013) [1972] Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation, Expanded and updated edition. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Kohtala C (2016) Making Sustainability: How Fab Labs Address Environmental Issues (Doctoral Dissertation). Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Design, Helsinki, Finland.

Kohtala C (2017) Making 'Making' Critical: How Sustainability is Constituted in Fab Lab Ideology. The Design Journal 20(3): 375–394.
https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2016.1261504

Konrad M (2012) A feel for detail: New directions in collaborative anthropology. In: Konrad (ed.) Collaborators Collaborating: Counterparts in Anthropological Knowledge and international research relations. New York: Berghahn Books, 3-39.

Kostakis V, Fountouklis M, Drechsler W (2013) Peer Production and Desktop Manufacturing: The Case of the Helix_T Wind Turbine Project. Science, Technology, & Human Values 38(6): 773–800.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243913493676

Kostakis V, Roos A, Bauwens M (2016) Towards a Political Ecology of the Digital Economy: Socio-Environmental Implications of Two Competing Value Models. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 18: 82–100.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2015.08.002

Latour B (2004) Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?: From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry 30: 225–48.
https://doi.org/10.1086/421123

Lave R (2012) Neoliberalism and the Production of Environmental Knowledge. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 3(1): 19–38.
https://doi.org/10.3167/ares.2012.030103

Light A (2014) Citizen Innovation: ActiveEnergy and the Quest for Sustainable Design. In: Ratto M & Boler M (Eds), DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 259–268.

Longhurst N (2015) Towards an 'alternative' geography of innovation: Alternative milieu, socio-cognitive protection and sustainability experimentation. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 17: 183-198.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2014.12.001

Manzini E (2015) Design, When Everybody Designs: an introduction to design for social innovation. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Marcus GE (2016) Jostling Ethnography Between Design and Participatory Art Practices, and the Collaborative Relations It Engenders. In: Smith RC, KT Vangkilde, MG Kjaersgaard, T Otto, J Halse & T Binder (eds) Design Anthropological Futures. London & New York: Bloomsbury, 105-119.

Marres N (2015) Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics. 2nd ed. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-48074-3

Martin E (1998) Anthropology and the cultural study of science. Science, technology, & human values 23(1): 24-44.
https://doi.org/10.1177/016224399802300102

Maxigas & Troxler P (eds) (2014) Journal of Peer Production 5 (special issue on 'Shared Machine Shops'). Available at: http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-5-shared-machine-shops/ (accessed 15.10.2018).

Meyer M (2013) Domesticating and democratizing science: A geography of do-it-yourself biology. Journal of Material Culture 18(2): 117–134.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1359183513483912

Mitcham C (1997) Justifying Public Participation in Technical Decision Making. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine Spring 1997: 40-46.
https://doi.org/10.1109/44.584650

Morozov E (2014) Making It: Pick up a Spot Welder and Join the Revolution. The New Yorker, 13 January 2014. Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/13/making-it-2 (accessed 10.02.2018).

Nelkin D (1975) The Political Impact of Technical Expertise. Social Studies of Science 5: 35-54.
https://doi.org/10.1177/030631277500500103

Nielsen KH (2016) How User Assemblage Matters: Constructing Learning by Using in the Case of Wind Turbine Technology in Denmark, 1973-1990. In: Hyysalo S, Jensen TE & Oudshoorn N (eds.) The New Production of Users: Changing Innovation Collectives and Involvement Strategies. Routledge Studies in Innovation, Organization and Technology. New York: Routledge, 101–122.

Nowotny H (2003) Dilemma of Expertise: Democratising expertise and socially robust knowledge. Science and Public Policy 30(3): 151–156.
https://doi.org/10.3152/147154303781780461

Ornetzeder M & Rohracher H (2006) User-Led Innovations and Participation Processes: Lessons from Sustainable Energy Technologies. Energy Policy 34(2): 138–150.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2004.08.037

Paterson AG (2010) A Buzz between Rural Cooperation and the Online Swarm. Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action 4(1): 83–109.

Proctor RN & Schiebinger L (2008) Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Schlosberg D and Coles R (2016) The New Environmentalism of Everyday Life: Sustainability, Material Flows and Movements. Contemporary Political Theory 15(2): 160–181.
https://doi.org/10.1057/cpt.2015.34

Skjølsvold TM (2013) What We Disagree about When We Disagree about Sustainability. Society & Natural Resources 26(11): 1268–82.
https://doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2013.797527

Smith A (2017) Social Innovation, Democracy and Makerspaces. SWPS 2017-10 (June). SPRU Working Paper Series. Brighton, UK: University of Sussex.

Smith A, Fressoli M, Abrol D, Arond E & Ely A (2017) Grassroots Innovation Movements. Pathways to Sustainability series. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Smith TSJ (2017) Of Makerspaces and Hacklabs: Emergence, Experiment and Ontological Theatre at the Edinburgh Hacklab, Scotland. Scottish Geographical Journal 133(2): 130-154.
https://doi.org/10.1080/14702541.2017.1321137

Star SL & Strauss A (1999) Layers of Silence, Arenas of Voice: The Ecology of Visible and Invisible Work. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) 8: 9-30.
https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008651105359

Strathern M (1999) Property, Substance and Effect. London: Athlone Press.

Strathern M (2006) A community of critics? Thoughts on new knowledge. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12: 191-209.
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9655.2006.00287.x

Suchman L (2011) Anthropological Relocations and the Limits of Design. Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 1-18.
https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.041608.105640

Sørensen KH (2015) From "Alternative" to "Advanced": Mainstreaming of Sustainable Technologies. Science & Technology Studies 28(1): 10–27.

Turner F (2006) From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226817439.001.0001

Walter-Herrmann J & Büching C (eds) (2013) FabLab: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors. Cultural and Media Studies. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript.
https://doi.org/10.14361/transcript.9783839423820

Weingart P (2011) How robust is "socially robust knowledge"? In: Stehr N (ed.) Knowledge and Democracy: a 21st Century Perspective. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

White DF, AP Rudy & BJ Gareau (2016) Environments, Natures and Social Theory. London & New York: Palgrave.
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-52425-6

Yearley S (2005) Cultures of Environmentalism: Empirical Studies in Environmental Sociology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230514867

Åkerman M (2016) keynote Contested expertise in navigating through wicked problems, Symposium of the Finnish Society for Science and Technology Studies, 2.6.2016, Helsinki.
Published
2020-05-14