Research during COVID-19

My postdoctoral research project “Making the Next (Sustainable) Industrial Revolution from the Grassroots” funded by the Nessling Foundation is coming to an end.

The project has examined maker and hacker technology subcultures, who experiment with new ways to design and make artefacts collaboratively which they espouse as more environmentally sustainable than conventional mass production/consumption. The studies focused on past and present, to shed light on future trajectories: current practices of European DIY digital-physical “maker culture”, as well as its various global technocultural histories. From the pandemic, which mobilized many makers into participatory, distributed manufacturing of protective equipment, to communities in the past who used materials and technologies to prototype more sustainable alternatives – activist makers have shown that their activities bring together people and organizations into participatory processes involving new roles. At times, this has meant greater social learning regarding environmental issues and even adapted or transformed social structures for collaborative problem solving or bottom-up knowledge generation. Often, however, the grassroots activities are short-lived or larger systemic questions related to material flows, webs of life and environmental protection remain unacknowledged. 

In April 2020, I wrote this post for the Nessling Foundation blog:

I led a guest editor team, myself, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler, to create this Special Issue of Digital Culture & Society on Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias, available on Transcript and De Gruyter.
The Introduction is open access: Kohtala, Cindy, Yana Boeva, and Peter Troxler. 2020. Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias.” Digital Culture & Society 6 (1): 5–34.
Yana Boeva and I also did an interview about the South Africa maker scene, with Felix Holm and Suné Stassen:
Holm, Felix, Suné Stassen, Cindy Kohtala, and Yana Boeva. 2020. “Makers and Design in South Africa: Technology and Craft Cultures and their Antecedents.” Digital Culture & Society 6 (1): 135–152.
We organized a launch event for the issue on 29 April 2021, with authors as speakers including Simon Sadler, Peter Harper, Kostas Latoufis, Ellen Foster, Regina Sipos, Suné Stassen, Felix Holm, David Cuartielles, Emilio Velis, Svetlana Usenyuk-Kravchuk, Samantha Shorey, Kat Jungnickel and Jesse Adams Stein.

I was invited into a guest editor team led by Emilio Rossi for a Special Issue of Strategic Design Research Journal on Design Contributions for the COVID-19 Global Emergency. There were so many submissions that we published them in two parts, Vol 13 No 3 (2020) and Vol 14 No 1 (2021).
The introduction editorial articles are Rossi, Emilio, Massimo Di Nicolantonio, Fabrizio Ceschin, Giuseppe Mincolelli, Aguinaldo dos Santos, Cindy Kohtala, Edu Jacques, Carla Cipolla, and Ezio Manzini. 2020. “Design Contributions for the COVID-19 Global Emergency (Part 1): Empirical Approaches and First Solutions.” Strategic Design Research Journal 13 (3): 294–311; and
Rossi, Emilio, Massimo Di Nicolantonio, Fabrizio Ceschin, Giuseppe Mincolelli, Aguinaldo dos Santos, Cindy Kohtala, Edu Jacques, Carla Cipolla, and Ezio Manzini. 2021. “Design Contributions for the COVID-19 Global Emergency (Part 2): Methodological Reflections and Future Visions.” Strategic Design Research Journal 14 (1): 1–18.

I finalized three articles that all touch on materiality, collaboration, design and sustainability from different perspectives:
Botero, Andrea, Sampsa Hyysalo, Cindy Kohtala, and Jack Whalen. 2020. “Getting Participatory Design Done: From Methods and Choices to Translation Work across Constituent Domains.” International Journal of Design 14 (2): 17–34.
Hector, Philip, and Cindy Kohtala. 2021. “Experimenting with sustainability education: The case of a student-driven campus initiative in Finland.” Local Environment. 
Niinimäki, Kirsi, Marium Durrani, and Cindy Kohtala. 2021. “Emerging DIY Activities to Enable Well-being and Connected Societies.” Craft Research 12 (1): 9–29. 

Doctoral researcher Goeun Park and I presented a paper called “Materiality in collective action: A review of material participation in energy transition” at the Nordic Science and Technology Studies Conference 2021 (“STS and the Future as a Matter of Collective Concern”) in May 2021.

And I collected data on a key study that I will continue working on, examining fab labs’ identities, alignments and roles in their local environs. The aim of the study is to delineate many of the various fab lab profiles in Europe, as the fab lab network and maker culture institutionalizes. How do fab labs relate to and operationalize sustainability in their practices and visions?