Accepted Paper:

Technology Enthusiasts' Organizational Platforms of Innovation: Hams, Hackers, and Makers  


Sophie LeBlanc (University of Toronto)
Chen-Pang Yeang (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares the maker movement with radio hams in the 1920s and computer hackers in the 1970s. While the received view portrays the technology enthusiasts as free-spirited and loosely connected individuals, we argue that their organizations play an essential part in their technical innovation.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is a comparative study of the ongoing maker movement and two predecessors that manifested its deeper cultural and social roots in the twentieth century: radio hams in the 1920s and hackers craving for personal computers in the 1970s. These technology enthusiasts are often portrayed by media and themselves as mavericks, or free-spirited activists or entrepreneurs. Although social scientists and historians note the relevance of organizations to the enthusiasts' technical work, the scholarly focus is on their decentralized communities, commons, or assemblage comprising loosely associated individuals, who are united by their common interests and cultures but act independently. Here, we argue that the makers', hackers', and hams' technical explorations have been considerably more organized than what the received view acknowledges. Their major contribution to invention and innovation has been to experiment (try, tinker, extend, alter, recombine) with novel technologies. These experiments have often been done in a collective manner; and the technologists' organizations have played a crucial part in initiating, planning, coordinating, and promoting such experiments. To develop our argument, we examine three empirical cases: the American Radio Relay League's plan of long-range short-wave radio transmission trials in 1920-25, the Homebrew Computer Club's attempt to enact a standard for the personal computer Altair 8800 in the late 1970s, and the technical activities promoted by the Maker Festival in Toronto. While the ways of managing collective experiments are different in these cases, the three organizations all serve as technology enthusiasts' platforms of innovation.

Panel T107
Maker Movement, FabLabs, Hackerspace and improvisation: Science, Technology and Education by other means?