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The Proper Care and Feeding of Hackerspaces: 

Care Ethics and Cultures of Making
Austin Toombs, Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell
Cultural Research In Technology (CRIT) Group
Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing
Motivations & Contributions
Much of the making research in HCI implicitly focuses on
individual makers and their skills
This espoused libertarian ideology does not explain the
everyday interactions required to sustain a community of
makers
Care ethics analysis of community maintenance work to
better understand the social environment of hackerspaces
Agenda
Overview of care ethics
Research approach and field site
Care in the hackerspace
Summary and conclusion
Care Ethics: Brief Primer
Care ethics is a moral theory that emerged from the
Kohlberg-Gilligan debate
Alternative ethical standpoint to justice ethics (abstract and
universalized principles of morality), focusing instead on
particular contexts and the interdependence of people
Our theoretical framing moves beyond universal / justice /
masculine vs. particular / care / feminine dichotomies
Care Ethics: In HCI and STS
Ethos of care in STS (de la Bellacasa, 2011)
Designers as “custodians of care” (Light & Akama, 2014)
Care ethics-based, emancipatory, utopian view of participatory
design and ubiquitous computing (S. Bardzell, 2014; 2015)
Care Ethics: Our Work
Maintenance work and care labor in 

maker communities
Striking a Balance
INTERDEPENDENT
COMMUNITY MEMBER
(recognize and respond to
the needs of others)
RATIONAL HACKER
(abstract, rule- and 

contract-driven)
Research Approach
A 19-month ethnography
(10/2012–05/2014)
A Midwestern US college
town hackerspace (Null Alpha)
250 total hours of direct
contact, including co-making +
over 15 hours of targeted
interviews
Data: Field notes, photos,
recordings of events
Care in the Hackerspace
Korth’s Typology of Care-In-Action
Overt-
Implicit
Covert-
Implicit
Overt-
Explicit
Overt-Explicit Care
Recognizable by the
participants present
for its enactment, and
responded to as an act
of careOvert-
Implicit
Covert-
Implicit
Overt-
Explicit
Overt-Explicit Care
“I really like to see someone be able to work on their own
after I’ve helped them […] I’m very glad that I’ve been able to be
helpful to a lot of people in a lot of different areas.”
-Andrew (M, mid-30s)
Recognizable as care,
but what makes the
action “caring” is NOT
foregrounded in the
interaction.
Overt-Implicit Care
Overt-
Implicit
Covert-
Implicit
Overt-
Explicit
Overt-Implicit Care
Karen [to Ben]: “You don’t realize how hard it is to run a
consensus organization, and we do it so well. So many
[other consensus organizations] fail early.”
—Karen (F, mid-30s); Ben (M, late-20s)
Mike [to Ben]:“And we’ve had a couple of tough votes too,
[we] haven’t just been coasting!”
—Mike (M, early-40s); Ben (M, late-20s)

Caring acts that “must
hide in the discourse
in order to avoid
undermining [their]
own caring potential”
(Korth, 2003)
Covert-Implicit Care
Overt-
Implicit
Covert-
Implicit
Overt-
Explicit
Covert-Implicit Care
“I’ve been impressed, and this has come to mind a couple times,
[with] how many questions I’m able to ask, and some of them
seem very very simple, and I’ve yet to have someone
look at me, like ‘you don’t know what that is?’
Everyone has been so willing to share what they know or help
me figure out how to find the answer that I’m looking for.”
— Justin (M, mid-30s)
Hacker Ethic and Care
Overt-Explicit

volunteering, teaching, donating time and resources
Overt-Implicit

welcoming, encouraging, empowering new members to
take charge
Covert-Implicit

listening, downplaying expertise, validating the hacker
identity of another, support
Negotiated Ethic in Tension
The ethos of this community complexly includes
both the explicit, hacker ideals of individualism
and the hidden-yet-enacted ideals of
interdependence, support, and community.
Being a “rational hacker” vs 

an “interdependent community member”
Everyday Tensions
“Anyone can be a maker” 

ethos of empowerment
helping visitors

patience with “simple” questions

playing down expertise
but this obscures the systematically excluded
Care in Service of the “Hacker Ethic”
“Our door is always open 

to anyone who wants to come”
espoused blindness toward gender and 

gender expression, race, sexual orientation, 

and other differences
Summary & Conclusion
An analysis of the care and care ethics involved in these
communities help make visible how they operate on the ground
The ethic at play in the hackerspace is one that negotiates
between the explicit, libertarian ideology of maker culture and
an implicit ethic of interpersonal care and community
Care ethics reveals barriers to be less about skills and
more about the social environment and interpersonal
differences innate to these communities
Acknowledgements
The following individuals:
Colin Gray, Gabriele Ferri,
Shannon Shenck, Shad Gross,
Nancy Smith, and our
anonymous reviewers
And the following organizations:
The National Science Foundation
Intel ISTC-Social Computing
Program
Austin Toombs, Shaowen Bardzell, and Jeffrey Bardzell



altoombs@indiana.edu | selu@indiana.edu | jbardzel@indiana.edu
The Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Group

http://crit.soic.indiana.edu
Thanks and Q & A

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The Proper Care and Feeding of Hackerspaces: Care Ethics and Cultures of Making

  • 1. The Proper Care and Feeding of Hackerspaces: 
 Care Ethics and Cultures of Making Austin Toombs, Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell Cultural Research In Technology (CRIT) Group Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing
  • 2. Motivations & Contributions Much of the making research in HCI implicitly focuses on individual makers and their skills This espoused libertarian ideology does not explain the everyday interactions required to sustain a community of makers Care ethics analysis of community maintenance work to better understand the social environment of hackerspaces
  • 3. Agenda Overview of care ethics Research approach and field site Care in the hackerspace Summary and conclusion
  • 4. Care Ethics: Brief Primer Care ethics is a moral theory that emerged from the Kohlberg-Gilligan debate Alternative ethical standpoint to justice ethics (abstract and universalized principles of morality), focusing instead on particular contexts and the interdependence of people Our theoretical framing moves beyond universal / justice / masculine vs. particular / care / feminine dichotomies
  • 5. Care Ethics: In HCI and STS Ethos of care in STS (de la Bellacasa, 2011) Designers as “custodians of care” (Light & Akama, 2014) Care ethics-based, emancipatory, utopian view of participatory design and ubiquitous computing (S. Bardzell, 2014; 2015)
  • 6. Care Ethics: Our Work Maintenance work and care labor in 
 maker communities Striking a Balance INTERDEPENDENT COMMUNITY MEMBER (recognize and respond to the needs of others) RATIONAL HACKER (abstract, rule- and 
 contract-driven)
  • 7. Research Approach A 19-month ethnography (10/2012–05/2014) A Midwestern US college town hackerspace (Null Alpha) 250 total hours of direct contact, including co-making + over 15 hours of targeted interviews Data: Field notes, photos, recordings of events
  • 8. Care in the Hackerspace
  • 9. Korth’s Typology of Care-In-Action Overt- Implicit Covert- Implicit Overt- Explicit
  • 10. Overt-Explicit Care Recognizable by the participants present for its enactment, and responded to as an act of careOvert- Implicit Covert- Implicit Overt- Explicit
  • 11. Overt-Explicit Care “I really like to see someone be able to work on their own after I’ve helped them […] I’m very glad that I’ve been able to be helpful to a lot of people in a lot of different areas.” -Andrew (M, mid-30s)
  • 12. Recognizable as care, but what makes the action “caring” is NOT foregrounded in the interaction. Overt-Implicit Care Overt- Implicit Covert- Implicit Overt- Explicit
  • 13. Overt-Implicit Care Karen [to Ben]: “You don’t realize how hard it is to run a consensus organization, and we do it so well. So many [other consensus organizations] fail early.” —Karen (F, mid-30s); Ben (M, late-20s) Mike [to Ben]:“And we’ve had a couple of tough votes too, [we] haven’t just been coasting!” —Mike (M, early-40s); Ben (M, late-20s)

  • 14. Caring acts that “must hide in the discourse in order to avoid undermining [their] own caring potential” (Korth, 2003) Covert-Implicit Care Overt- Implicit Covert- Implicit Overt- Explicit
  • 15. Covert-Implicit Care “I’ve been impressed, and this has come to mind a couple times, [with] how many questions I’m able to ask, and some of them seem very very simple, and I’ve yet to have someone look at me, like ‘you don’t know what that is?’ Everyone has been so willing to share what they know or help me figure out how to find the answer that I’m looking for.” — Justin (M, mid-30s)
  • 16. Hacker Ethic and Care Overt-Explicit
 volunteering, teaching, donating time and resources Overt-Implicit
 welcoming, encouraging, empowering new members to take charge Covert-Implicit
 listening, downplaying expertise, validating the hacker identity of another, support
  • 17. Negotiated Ethic in Tension The ethos of this community complexly includes both the explicit, hacker ideals of individualism and the hidden-yet-enacted ideals of interdependence, support, and community. Being a “rational hacker” vs 
 an “interdependent community member”
  • 18. Everyday Tensions “Anyone can be a maker” 
 ethos of empowerment helping visitors
 patience with “simple” questions
 playing down expertise but this obscures the systematically excluded
  • 19. Care in Service of the “Hacker Ethic” “Our door is always open 
 to anyone who wants to come” espoused blindness toward gender and 
 gender expression, race, sexual orientation, 
 and other differences
  • 20. Summary & Conclusion An analysis of the care and care ethics involved in these communities help make visible how they operate on the ground The ethic at play in the hackerspace is one that negotiates between the explicit, libertarian ideology of maker culture and an implicit ethic of interpersonal care and community Care ethics reveals barriers to be less about skills and more about the social environment and interpersonal differences innate to these communities
  • 21. Acknowledgements The following individuals: Colin Gray, Gabriele Ferri, Shannon Shenck, Shad Gross, Nancy Smith, and our anonymous reviewers And the following organizations: The National Science Foundation Intel ISTC-Social Computing Program
  • 22. Austin Toombs, Shaowen Bardzell, and Jeffrey Bardzell
 
 altoombs@indiana.edu | selu@indiana.edu | jbardzel@indiana.edu The Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Group
 http://crit.soic.indiana.edu Thanks and Q & A