Accepted Paper:

Human agency in post-automation: an analysis into the appropriation of digital design and fabrication technologies by crafters and coders in non-industrial settings  


Cian O'Donovan (UCL)
Adrian Smith (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how non-industrial digital fabrication activities are opening up 'automation' technologies to 'post-automation' appropriations. We assess evidence for sociotechnical relations based in care for other people and materials, and discuss implications for human agency.

Paper long abstract:

Recent transformations of traditional production logics and processes into non-industrial settings such as makerspaces have been accompanied by the appropriation of tools such CAD/CAM, 3D printers, laser cutters and routers. Computer-controlled technologies that once deskilled and damaged manufacturing worker communities are now celebrated by enthusiasts as providing new skills and users with new capacities for human development. In this paper, we examine how non-industrial digital fabrication activities are opening up ostensibly 'automation' technologies (or not) to what we label post-automation appropriations. In these settings we seek evidence for sociotechnical relations based in care for other people, for materials, and for the consequences of manufacture, good and bad and ask what implications for human agency?

Q methodology is used to appraise differences in subjective user-experiences of individuals in two groups; 'crafters' who use digital technologies from a position rooted in working with materials, and 'coders' who come to digital fabrication from the realm of software and programming. The paper contributes a robust range of experience viewpoints that inform the future development of digital fabrication technologies and debates about automation, well-being and human development. Despite fears of automation threatening jobs and sustainability, we find evidence of the opening-up of technologically circumscribed human agency at the very sites of technological diffusion where we might most expect freedoms to be diminished. However, attention is drawn to limitations of this agency across a number of life and work domains and implications discussed.

Panel B03
Open design & manufacturing in the platform economy