Seminar: Studying Fab Labs as an Industrial Transitions Movement

All welcome to the next STS Helsinki research collective spring seminar in March, where I’ll present my ongoing research on fab labs, maker culture and sustainability materialist activism.

9 March 2023 at 14.00 at the University of Helsinki. Details here.


DIY makers are grassroots translocal groups whose activities, strategies and visions are directed at localizing design, innovation and production. They develop their own open-source projects, products and inventions in shared spaces (fab labs, hacklabs and makerspaces); contribute to open software and distributed web development; and engage wider publics in material experimentation. Discourses and practices in maker culture are fragmented and shifting over the previous two decades, at times critiqued for being techno-utopian and at others explicitly oriented to environmental sustainability, material circularity and social justice. At the same time, European Commission funding calls are increasingly attracting fab labs and distributed manufacturing interests into strategic coalitions, design research and education is experiencing an identity crisis with regard to its origins in European and US “industrial design”, and the utopian promises of initial world wide web peer-to-peer culture are now being experienced as social media capitalist enclosure, mass surveillance and threats to democracy. In this talk I will discuss my experiences as a design researcher examining maker culture and sustainability material activism as an industrial transitions movement, after David J Hess’s framework bridging Science & Technology Studies, transitions studies and social movement studies.

In the photograph you can see a typical example. The Helsinki-based arts and new media association Pixelache has explored environmental sustainability, circularity and resource intensive consumerism in their Trashlab initiative for many years, through lectures, discussions, repair events and material experiments. In 2015 they held a workshop on DIY metal smelting where cast-off CDs and aluminium beverage cans that could not be returned for deposit in Helsinki’s take-back system for glass, metal and plastic beverage containers were melted and sand-cast into new objects. Experiments like this engage people in the very material realities of metal recycling and aim to demonstrate peer-to-peer DIY, low-tech alternatives to large-scale industrial and public sector infrastructures. Questions therefore arise, not just about metal material cycles, but about high impact lifestyles, rebound effects and preventing waste. Often these events attract a highly specialised audience, which in research terms means careful evaluation of the meaning and long-term “impact” of DIY communities’ activism.