Around the world, diverse groups of people are making things together in community-based workshops and their networks. Equipped with versatile digital design and manufacturing technologies, global networks of workshops, like Hackerspaces and FabLabs, provide facilities for exploring ‘comons-based, peer production’ in practice; and they are spreading rapidly. Emphasis rests in bringing people into collaborative DIY projects where they innovate and learn together – from making toys and jewellery to solar panels and eco-houses – and use on-line social media to connect to open-source designs, tutorials, and workshops globally.
Excited claims are made about workshops transforming practices of design, innovation, production and consumption; ‘how you live, work and play in a world where anybody can make anything anywhere’. Excitement includes claims for a ‘third industrial revolution’ and post-consumer sustainable societies. Less evident, however, are social scientific analyses of the practices and governance arrangements actually emerging in workshop spaces and networks, and which could contribute to debate about their possibilities and limitations for sustainability. Some workshops do enable design and innovation for recycling, re-manufacturing, and feeding user-led prototypes into sustainable local enterprise. They might even reinforce virtues relevant to post-consumption societies through peer production, the sharing economy, and collaborative consumption. However, evidence also suggests a dispersal of production capacity, diminished (resource) scale efficiencies, and intensified consumption through the personalisation of manufacturing.
Our paper develops a conceptual framework for analysing workshop. Drawing upon science and technology studies, social movement theory, and material culture, we consider community workshops configuring and performing production and consumption across three inter-connected levels: networked-communities, local-workshops, and user-projects. Relationships across these levels are complex. When combined with contested ambiguities inherent to sustainable development, then static, life-cycle analyses or similar into sustainability potential is misplaced. Rather, workshops constitute dynamic spaces for experimentation, and it is the emerging capabilities and material cultures that are most significant for aspirations to post-consumer societies.
Read more about our project ‘Grassroots innovation in low energy digital fabrication‘.