Accepted paper:

Structures of emancipation in design-centered makerspaces


Yana Boeva (University of Stuttgart)

Paper short abstract:

This paper asks how is the idea of social emancipation translated into the materialities and practices of open labs. Drawing on fieldwork in several makerspaces with a professional design focus, it unpacks three structural aspects following Star and Ruhleder's concept of infrastructure.

Paper long abstract:

Digital fabrication through its access within 'open labs' appears as a social emancipator. It promises to disorganize organization by reconfiguring categories like production and design, work and leisure, professional and amateur, and by blurring their boundaries. This paper broadly asks how this process translates into the materialities and practices of open labs. Specifically, it focuses on three structural aspects that emerged throughout my fieldwork in makerspaces and fab labs with a focus on professional design work. The first case examines the contradiction of work and leisure. Although making is widely popularized through the notion of leisure, open labs increasingly emphasize work-related objectives and professionalization. The second aspect looks at the visibility of financial arrangements, the governance of spaces, and the trend towards corporate partnerships. Finally, I analyze the emergence of professional associations and networks on making and digital fabrication aimed at providing support for open labs and their members. Drawing on my empirical data from several European and Canadian spaces, I unpack these aspects following Star and Ruhleder's concept of "infrastructure in relation to organized practices" (1996). The intertwinement of these aspects reveals that the idea of social emancipation of digital fabrication and making conveys frictions as is the case within my study of spaces catering facilities to professionals, yet promoting openness and inclusivity to 'everyone.' The paper argues that a proclaimed de-professionalization of design through digital fabrication and making is overthrown as traditional structures of organization shape its development.

panel B06
Collaboration in/with "open labs": studying the objects of boundary-making and crossing