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


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.


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Author Biography

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

Postdoctoral researcher


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