We have addressed the problems of definitions in blog posts past; while we are currently accumulating data that will hopefully help us define aspects of the makers movement, we have been thinking about how makers and making fits into the social and economic landscapes of cities. Making, as Chris Anderson somewhat famously put it may indeed (albeit arguably) be “democratizing the means of production.” To be sure, there are some uplifting stories about increased access to manufacturing equipment and artisan tools, particularly through makerspaces and FabLabs such as ADX Portland and TechShop.
So what are these makers making? Well, it turns out they are making everything. In Portland we have seen everything from homemade DIY cheese kits to lamps; even urban space is being remade (or reclaimed) by such groups as Depave and City Repair. Nationwide, it seems that there is a DIY kit for anything all of a sudden. Certain cities are playgrounds for DIY culture; Detroit, for example, has so much DIY stuff going on that Andrew Herscher of the University of Michigan recently released a 300-page book documenting Detroit’s various DIY projects (a fascinating book, btw). But alas, making is everywhere: Outpost Journal, for example, regularly focuses on artist and DIY culture in cities – Providence, Kansas City, Baltimore – that many would assume have little DIY or maker culture at all. And it is not just a North American phenomenon: we have been in conversation with academics in Japan, France, and Australia that are interested in similar happenings in their countries.
Here in Portland, we see our city as an exemplar for the maker movement. And yes, we are probably biased; but maker and DIY culture is huge here, and it seems to be a magnet for the young and mobile. As mentioned in other posts, we have tasked ourselves with the daunting chore of somehow defining what a “maker” is in order to analyze their economic impacts on Portland’s overall local economy. It seems that for now we are stuck with Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” definition, despite various claims that “anyone that creates things can be considered a maker.” Both definitions are problematic for our purposes; going with the first would lead to an arbitrarily subjective result, while going with the second would lead to the conclusion that the impact of makers on the overall economy is pretty large, like, just about everything. Even service people are in the business of making relationships, making experiences, making money. After all, everybody “makes a living.”
So we have to do better than that. It might be tempting here to say something like: “Why force a definition?” And there’s definitely merit to the idea that defining anything inherently draws boundaries that become the basis for privilege and exclusion. This is not something we aren’t aware of or take lightly. But how do we appraise the efforts of makers and artisans in such a way that we can push for new policies (or elimination of harmful policies) that protect their spaces and places – and reduce their precarity – without fashioning a definition?