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Research Master Thesis - Maker movement in the new industrial revolution

Extract from my research master's thesis (last subcharter and conclusion) focused on the architecture, role of an architect under the influence of the maker movement in the new industrial revolution. You can find the full version in French in the link below.



Since the beginning of industrialization, society has been developing a consumerist culture, encouraging people to buy everything they need, leading to loss of “know-how". Before, a big part of people’s lives was dependent on doing things themselves, relying mostly on their skills and skills of people within their community. A growing absence of necessity to make leads to loss of knowledge and therefore a loss of the sense of value of things, creating an emptiness that some attempt to cure by consuming. Following the guidelines of marketing, the consumer is “liberated” from responsibility, and eventually to some extent, from control over his life. (Ars Industrialis, 2010)

The process of production and (not only wage based) work has been steadily taken over by automatization. First through machines in factories, machines at homes, later through the computers, internet and internet of things and soon enough through sensors and other devices in cities, habitats in clothes and even on or in bodies. Robots, artificial intelligence and various algorithms are not only replacing blue collar workers, they are taking over part of white collars jobs, and also big parts of entertainment and private life. 

It is not possible to say that technology is good or bad. True, the automatization and technological advancement are also allowing new ways of producing, working and living, but the struggle is to be found in who owns the technology, who controls it, who has access to it, who is serving it and who is controlled by it. 

In the current setting, the order of society is based on maximalization of consumption and therefore production. The measure of success is growth, and everything is subordinated to it. States are judged on their economic growth, companies and individuals on their ascending yearly profit. But every growth has its limits. And same as with energy27, the amount of what can be produced and transformed remains constant. Consequently, if everything gets transformed into trash, the environment suffers and the ascending line in the graph reverts. As the FabCity initiative observed, humanity finds itself at the moment in a state of “industrial hangover”, sobering up after a careless “produce-consume-throw away” party, starting to realize the consequences of their drunken actions. (FabCity, 2014)

Until the recent emergency of the environmental crisis, production-wise, relatively little thought has been given to the necessity of circularity, as an alternative to steep growth. In the capitalist profit-oriented world of seemingly limitless resources, circularity equals a cost and is therefore undesirable. Generic products are favored because it is more profitable to mass produce, than to create a genuine product adapted to specific needs. 

However, since the beginning of industrialization there has also been a strong resistance to these phenomena. It could be called a “search for an authenticity”. Various countercultures based their philosophy on a belief that doing things themselves, brings not only satisfaction and emancipation, but also results in a direct appropriation of knowledge. The religious community of shakers in the 18th century believed that making something of quality is an act of prayer. The Arts & Crafts movement on the edge of the 18th and 19th century considered generic objects unworthy of the attribute of beauty and they considered that working by hand with a genuine touch and individual skills could be a tool of transformative social change. 

The DIY movement that emerged in the second half of the 20th century continued in their footsteps. The act of making had become a tool for direct activism in order to ignite a societal change. Young people felt oppressed by the few who controlled the production of culture: governments, publishers and media were choosing what information to print and what music to play, what knowledge to share and what life to live. Using the technology of that time that was widely accessible, such as cassette recorders and copy machines, the DIY movement managed to spark a change in various causes such as rights for women, people of color, LGBTI, environmental policies and many more through the production of their own. Through the unrestricted production possibilities of DIY, this movement also accompanied the creation of various subcultures, such as punks, squatters, travellers and others. (Anderson, 2012) (Vergote, 2014)

As technology advanced, the ability of people to make and share more things grew along. The invention of computers created the first hackers, who enjoyed exploring the possibilities of coding and hardware. But it was the internet that truly started the digital revolution by allowing people to get connected and to share information. Continuing anti-consumerist efforts of previous subcultures, hackers found joy in understanding, exploring and inventing. They believed that only when information will be free, freedom will follow. On internet, they were free and fought to keep that freedom by preventing the knowledge being locked up in patents, copyrights and private systems. The open-source philosophy based on openness of code and world-wide collaborative digital invention was born. (Himanen, 2001)

HACK: 1) something done without constructive end; 2) a project under taken on bad self-advice; 3) an entropy booster; 4) to produce. 

Dennis J. & Samson P., Dictionary of the TMRC Language, 1959, p.3

Hack became a tool of innovation and DIY production. To hack something meant not only to penetrate illegally the system, but rather to create an ad-hoc tool, process or program in order to expose a problem, solve it, or create an improvement. Coding became new way of manufacturing. Due to the growing access to the network and to computers, everybody with determination was able to learn to produce code. The consequences were revolutionary. Thanks to the access to internet and knowledge, coding allowed an immense number of entrepreneurial activities. Many of them turned hackers into millionaires, such as Steve Jobs, others took path of life-long activism, like Richard Stallman who to this day preaches an open-source philosophy. (Anderson, 2012)

The activism led also to the creation of the first hackerspaces in the nineties. Spaces that allowed the local communities to meet, discuss and work together IRL28. It was there where the maker movement truly started. Hackers believed, that everyone should have a free access to these places and knowledge contained in them and their network, to learn new things and invent in the spirit of openness. Shortly after that, in 2002, the Fab Lab concept was launched by the Centre for Bits and Atoms at MIT, based on similar beliefs. Hackerspaces are militant, and even though they are open to everyone, their anti-establishment setting and total adherence to open source can be discouraging to many. (Maxigas, 2006) (Berrebi-Hoffmann, Bureau, & Lallement, 2018)

Fab Labs are offering a much less militant approach. They promote open source, but don’t impose it. They are open to cooperate with governments, cities, institutions and private companies. Therefore, they offer a more neutral environment and higher inclusivity, allowing their users to create (almost) anything with a range of tools covering everything from design, mechanical and electrical parts to programming. The projects can range from hobby activities, social innovation tools, entrepreneurial activities to full-on research and development. (FabFoundation, s.d.)

If the Fab Lab 2.0 objective of creating machines that will create machines would be achieved, it could mean a heightened ability to free fab labs from the significant necessity of private funding, potentially turning them into a social service accessible to everyone, as hackerspaces originally intended. (Gershenfeld, 2005)

The maker movement is encompassing much more than the simple ability to make things and it’s not limited to activities within the makerspaces. Makers perceive themselves as a part of a revolutionary movement that is contributing to the transformation of everything in our daily lives. They inherited and developed many aspects from hacker culture. The freedom of information and the necessity of sharing, as a tool of collective invention occupy probably the most important place. Makers and hackers are both leading the movement of re-thinking of copyrights and patents. (Annexe : Questionnaire) (Berrebi-Hoffmann, Bureau, & Lallement, 2018) (Levy, 1984)

To them, work is not seen as a chore that person HAS to do, but should bring a passion and liberty that many of them practice through taking up work as freelancer or by trying to contribute to the local communities through working or volunteering in associations or various projects that contribute to society. They don’t have a passive approach to the problems, but act and make (change). (Annexe : Questionnaire) (Himanen, 2001)

Next to the open source philosophy, another important focus of the movement is on education that should be accessible to everyone in makerspaces in order to elevate the technological skills of the population, widen their horizons and let them experience the empowering effect of making something by themselves and understanding it. They also propose new models of institutionalized education for all ages based on a constructionist philosophy, anchored in a maker mindset and with multidisciplinary project-based approaches. Programs like SCOPES-DF and MakeEd are cooperating with schools and local governments to transform the education system in order to adapt it to current needs. 

There has been an exponential growth of hackerspaces, Fab Labs and other kinds of institutional or commercial makerspaces in the last 20 years. This combined with an improving international policy framework that include various parts of the maker narrative could serve as an indication that various grassroot activities previously limited to subcultures are finally entering the mainstream. Making, if truly democratized and localized as proposed by the FabCity Initiative, could cause a significant disruption in the global economic system and in the lives of every individual. Localized production from local sources could not only autonomize local communities (small urban units) but could also significantly help to reduce the environmental catastrophe that is looming over the humanity. With information travelling freely and local means of production there is no longer a necessity to move physical goods and raw materials around the world. Everyone will be able to turn bits into atoms. (FabCity, 2014)

With automatization covering an increasing amount of work, it might not be possible, necessary or desirable to maintain the classic cycle of production-consumption, because many consumers will no longer gain an income from production. With adapted laws for patents and copyrights, the continuing efforts of the open source movement could eventually turn into a contributive economy with a redefined meaning of work, where the competition for capital could be turned into a collective quest for invention in all domains of human existence, social, artistic and technical.

The future according to makers would also radically shake the world of architecture. If the economic model changes, the behavioral patterns of people would change too and that will influence everything, from urban structures and infrastructures, to the smallest architectural elements. For architects, it is necessary to be conscient of the changes currently happening so that they can widen their horizons beyond what is taught in traditional architecture education. 

Through making, the maker movement is teaching people to speak the language of invention, helping them to identify and see patterns through which they can create (almost) anything. With the automated tools that are able to replace an architect’s or engineer’s technical expertise and unlimited access to the knowledge and technology that allows them to make, the role of the architect will need to be redefined. Architects could valorize their ability to comprehend the wider context through the multidisciplinary nature of their field. In the spirit of contributive invention, they could collaborate with others, serve as a mediator between people and the design. Of course, they could also opt to concentrate on fundamental research. If architects fail to adapt, this evolution in combination with artificial intelligence and parametric design may risk reducing their role to data input and sculpting. 

This work describes the visions, philosophies, activities and objectives of the maker movement regarding the transformation of the society. Makers propose an alternative to the current system that is based on subordinating everything to the profit by maximizing production and therefore economic growth. Whether the world would change into utopia where everyone is working together towards collective good or technocratic dystopia where majority is controlled by rich minority, or something between is not possible to predict. 

However, this work is trying to map the transformative changes caused by the maker movement that transcended from the centuries of contracultural activities into a phenomenon that is finally reaching a point that is causing the significant effect, or rather disruption of the current status quo of very elementary components of the society, mainly on production, work, education, but also on life in general. It is very likely that maker mindset will continue positively influence the society and inspire more people to create a change and change their attitude from a mere consumer, to a maker. 

Field of architecture should try to stay ahead of these changes, trying to reform its attitude to conception in a world, where democratized invention and artificial intelligence are going to be able to perform many of the tasks, that were exclusively reserved to architects and engineers. This research is providing a complex look on the current evolution and glimpses into possible futures. The subject of the implications for an architecture and research for sustainable alternatives to the current status of the field deserve to be explored further in future research. 

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