Hi, my name’s Em O’Sullivan and I’m a postgraduate student at University College London. This talk will present some initial results of my Masters research into what being a maker means to people inside the maker movement, and also what people outside of the maker movement think we do. My research focuses on widening participation in makerspaces. I have been looking into what activities and values people associate with making, and how those associations affect people’s involvement (or lack of involvement) with makerspaces and maker events. This is an issue because makerspaces can provide their members with benefits like access to tools and to a knowledgable community of people who are able to teach them new skills, and people may not be utilising these possibilities because of the way the maker movement presents itself or is perceived by others.
About me: I&apos;m a member and former trustee of Build Brighton, the Brighton hackerspace. This photo is from back when I first joined Build Brighton in 2011 when we only had 3 walls and no heating. I was a trustee at Build Brighton for 3 years before stepping down to start this research project.
I&apos;ve also been a producer for the Brighton Mini Maker Faire for the past few years. Brighton was the first Mini Maker Faire in the UK and we&apos;ve had annual events with around 2,000 visitors every year for the past 5 years. This year we&apos;re taking a year off from organising the Faire.
Before starting my Masters I worked in IT as a software support analyst, and after witnessing the lack of women both within the IT industries and within makerspaces I became interested in the possibilities that the maker movement holds for making technology more engaging for women—a possibility that it is not currently maximising. This research from my Masters will therefore feed into a PhD project starting later this year where I will be looking specifically at ways of improving women’s relationships with technology in makerspaces.
Why is it important to look at what&apos;s going on in the UK maker movement at the moment? Firstly, because the maker community has grown massively: The number of makerspaces opening each year has steadily increased There are now 65 hackspaces listed with the UK Hackspace Foundation
The term “maker” is also generally becoming more wellknown. This and all following quotes are taken from interviews I conducted with organisers or members of maker groups.
There are also fears within the maker community about makerspaces becoming more corporatised. These include: Fear that companies see makerspaces as a way to make profit rather than to help local communities Fear that companies will put grassroots workshops out of business by providing better equipment and trained staff, or by providing free access Fear that the interest will be a fad and that corporate makerspaces will close down after the companies running them move onto other projects.
Alongside the growth in makerspaces there has also been a huge resurgence in the handmade / artisan goods and crafts markets. Online marketplaces such as Etsy have exploded in popularity and have opened up new markets for makers to make a living from their work. For example, the Brighton Etsy Christmas Market had over 7,000 visitors last year.
Lastly, there has been increased coverage of the maker movement in the press and mainstream media. This article, “Why I Am Not A Maker”, was published in the US magazine The Atlantic by Deb Chachra, a materials scientist. The article addresses a valid problem: the gendered history of manufacturing and the invisibility of the care and support networks provided by women that enabled those industries to function. It argues that the maker movement continues this bias by stressing the importance of artifacts over people. However, the article ignores the importance of non-making roles in the maker community, such as teaching and community management. What articles like this are really useful for is showing how people outside the maker community view us, and whether they feel like they&apos;ll be welcomed into makerspaces or maker events.
What do makers actually do? I asked my research participants to look through this list of activities and to tell me if there are any here that they don’t consider to be maker activities. Some people considered all of these activities to be maker activities...
...some excluded certain activities...
The conclusion was that there isn&apos;t a general concensus on exactly what makers make, though activities that produce physical things were included more often than activities that produce non-physical things like code or music.
After participants were asked to think explicitly about what activities they would class as “making”, several people found themselves reconsidering their answers and questioning their immediate reactions. Some participants found it difficult to reconcile a specific list activities with their more inclusive idea of what being a maker is. This suggested that there is a maker “ethos” which doesn&apos;t always match up with a specific set of making activities.
Rather than trying to define specific activities that makers do or specific things that they make, it could be more useful to look at recurring values that were mentioned when talking about making. These are four common themes that came up during my interviews, and which also come up regularly in other research and writings about the maker movement.
Knowledge & Skills Sharing Knowledge sharing takes place in maker communities in a very informal way. We see this a lot in makerspaces and hackspaces during open evenings and open access sessions. People offer their time and experience to help others to learn new skills. Being in a makerspace can be valuable for people because their mistakes get picked up very quickly and they can get advice from more experienced makers on how to do things differently.
Learning from others in an informal environment also provides an alternative learning method for people who don&apos;t get on with formal learning processes, or for people with dyslexia or autism. Participants said that they preferred informal, hands-on making because the teaching they received in formal education was too abstract or started at too high a level for them as beginners.
Knowledge sharing can also happen in makerspaces in a more organised way through training courses and workshops. A few organisations in the UK are focused on providing education and training in practical and digital skills, such as: Maker Club University makerspaces The Factory at Knowle West Media Center Handmade Alliance There is a question around whether these problem-focused teaching methods can be more effective than the theoretical or rote learning that happens in schools.
Community Makerspaces can also provide a community for hackers, geeks, and like-minded people with similar interests to meet in real life and to make friends and socialise.
For some organisations, the community and socialising aspect is their main reason for existing. For example, Men&apos;s Sheds battle social isolation and depression in older men, and their main purpose in providing a workshop is for the social elements rather than to specifically enable their members to make things. The social aspect of makerspaces also leads to a lot of collaborative projects. These projects can be informal collaborations between members, or can be more formalised sub-contracting arrangements. There are also examples of members of a makerspace forming a collective and going into business together.
Solving Problems Makerspaces can enable people to: Make something to solve a particular personal problem, such as a storage solution need for someone’s house or a lightweight camping stove needed for a hiking trip Make something to solve a community problem, such as reducing local waste going to landfill by upcycling items. People don&apos;t need to be solving big problems in makerspaces: they can be useful for solving specific “low-hanging fruit” problems.
This problem solving is achieved by providing people with access to tools and machinery and with access to knowledge (and potentially informal training). This is the main purpose of charitable organisations focused on making, but many other makerspaces also want to apply their skills to help people in their local communities. Some example projects are: Creating low-cost 3D printed prosthetic limbs Creating a library box for the local community Helping people who come in to a makerspace’s open evening needing a bespoke item made.
The Benefits of Making The act of making can be a source of pride and wellbeing by: Creating something that didn&apos;t exist before Learning and applying a new skill Feeling empowered to control your surroundings and environment The therapeutic act of doing something physical and seeing the results of your work Providing a community where your knowledge can be validated by others.
However, my participants also said that there were various reasons why they didn’t consider themselves to be a maker: Because they don’t make physical artefacts (they are a programmer, or they prefer the design process to the construction process) Because they don&apos;t make a living from making (they consider makers to be professionals) Because they are more involved with community management rather than constructing things (they do not consider people in support and care roles to be makers) Because their practical skill levels aren’t as high as other people around them Because they think that other people wouldn’t recognise them as a maker (the classic imposter syndrome!) This is a shame, because within those 4 values of making all of these people can be considered makers. I&apos;d therefore like to see a shift from thinking about what makers make to thinking about what makers value, and a shift towards focusing on those shared values to foster a more inclusive community.
Thank you for listening!
What Even Is A Maker?
What Even Is A "Maker"?
How we see ourselves and how other people
Electromagnetic Field, Guildford, England
5 August 2016
1. Knowledge & Skills Sharing
“A lot of people who come back each
week don't really make stuff for
themselves, they just enjoy hanging
around, being part of the conversation
and collaborating when other people
1. Knowledge & Skills Sharing
“This is one of the only ways that I think
[learning] might be accessible to me.
1. Knowledge & Skills Sharing
“If someone gives you a problem and you
can envisage a solution and work your
way towards that and fix problems along
the way to getting to that solution, it feels
that humans are predisposed to that level
of problemsolving and I think it's sensible
to encourage that instead of the rote
learning that you get in the traditional
“I didn't so much join a hackspace as
support a peer group, because it's
basically a private members club for
people like us... It's a safe space that never
existed for the likes of us before. Normally
these kinds of place are for other people.
This movement has given us our place.”
“A lot of us work alone at home and it's
their one chance in a week or a month to
get out of the house and have a chat with
somebody else who does a similar thing to
them. It brings people together.”
3. Solving Problems
“[All the projects are] interesting because
they solve problems. It always comes back
to 'is it solving a problem'? I don't care
about scale. And if it solves a problem get
on and build it.”
3. Solving Problems
“I want to have access to these things. I
want to have access for myself and I want
to have access so I can help other
people... I really think that a place like this
could, if it was competent, massively help
4. Benefits of Making
“Looking back at something you've made
and reflecting that you didn't know how to
do that a week before, that sense of pride
is definitely rewarding.”
They do specific activities
They don't make a living from making
They don't have a certain skill level
They think other people wouldn't recognise them
as a maker
Why might someone not think they're a