Critical Kits and How We Use Them

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If there is a popular image of Maker culture at the moment, it is probably of men messing around with 3D printers, laser cutters and Arduinos. That will not do as a definition, if only because it leaves out, through no fault of the people who fit the description, all the people working with ceramics, textiles, jewellery-making and more, who also (with as much justification and longer history) call themselves makers. It might be more productive to talk about Makerspace cultures. There will be as many Makerspace cultures as there are spaces, defined by the people who set them up, go there regularly, and the wider social, political, economic and cultural contexts in which they are placed. There may though be a set of founding ambitions, principles and architectures (literally and in governance) that are shared and mutually recognisable from one makerspace to another, with a different emphasis in each depending on local cultures. The first of these, and less trivial than it sounds, is that it's a permanent physical space with regular and long opening hours, and a select group of regular users. This isn't only to do with access to materials and machines (whether 3D printing or weaving) but also the way regular users get to know things, and how that knowledge is shared. In Makerspaces, access to tools is combined with craft knowledge, learned by doing. It's assumed skills should be shared, and this sharing will be done by showing and talking. The second could be that all of the space and equipment is held in common. There might be different areas for different activities, but they are all equally open to everyone. And the third is that this communality extends to the governance of the space. It's more or less understood that in principle the running of a Makerspace is everyone's collective responsibility, even if in practice that is delegated to paid or voluntary staff – or more regular users. These recognisable ambitions of Makerspace culture could cover spaces with an emphasis ranging from bio-hacking to traditional craft skills, and they feel just different enough to make a distinction from collectively run artist studios, co-working spaces, and factories. Makerspace culture frequently overlaps with that of DIY Publishing. Kim Searle, an artist and maker with a background in textiles, has recently set up a monthly Zine Club at the Makerspace34 where I'm a member. Kim has a library of examples that she's picked up Kim Searle zine library 34 28