Some Troubles with Making, thesis
"Making" is one of the latest buzzwords in education. It is a highly malleable a container term that travels between different disciplines in art, design, and engineering. Makerspaces carry quite a load of utopian promises: opening up technology, bringing (power) tools to the people, bridging the digital and the analogue, preparing the next generation for the future—nothing short of the next industrial revolution, with an emancipatory impulse to match it. But is this a real revolution, or just a new phase of capitalism, bringing new mechanisms of control and exploitation?
This project approaches these fundamental issues in a very particular context, based on six months of fieldwork at Bouwkeet, a socially engaged makerspace in Rotterdam for youth aged 10-15. Put simply: this makerspace is intended to be a tool of empowerment. I have closely observed the activities at Bouwkeet in order to pinpoint the main challenges and have developed a toolkit for the facilitator’s training.
If we mind the gap between what people say (the rhetoric of the maker movement) in comparison to what they actually do (the empirical practice), some basic issues arise in how to introduce ‘beginners’ who are unfamiliar with the practices and traditions of (digital) crafts. The pedagogical training program serves to match the practice with the central learning goals at Bouwkeet.
Dealing with complexity is always a specific affair, embedded in a concrete situation. But if we lean back far enough, a major question remains: if ‘making’ is a solution, what was the problem in the first place? How can we tap into the potential of ‘making’ as a toolbox to open paths that do not only reproduce the structures of the status quo, but also serve as support structures for critical, constructive, destructive engagement with the material world?
Some troubles do not start or end in Makerspaces, nevertheless causing a lot of problems as they and manifest in the microsphere—capitalism, rampant growth of technology, machine learning. Zooming out, scaling from the micro to the macro, from practice to theory, from the local to the global, I also explore the nature of wicked problems. Where the digital and the physical are mixed in education, the tentacles of wicked problems permeate to the very core of learning spaces. How to deal with these dynamics that are totally out of control? I provide the contours for a ‘tentacular pedagogy’ to navigate the terrain, drawing together a pool of tools and strategies to stay with the trouble, to face it, deal with it, to be smart about where to put the pressure and stupid enough not to adapt to market forces. To work with the centrifugal power of knowledge dissemination and the Janus-face of tools—simultaneously shaping object and shaping subjects. This requires a willingness to work with forces of resistance, to harness the powerful forces that tend to reproduce, exploit, preserve and destroy the existing world. Awareness of the trouble opens up the possibility of transforming ‘making’ into ‘futurecrafting’, that is, making trouble and taking collective responsibility for our influence on the shape of the material world yet to come.
The form of this project reflects its content: it is structured into three layers of complexity a) the main story, which jumps back and forth between the main points practice and theory b) the empirical microcosm of concrete learning situations at Bouwkeet makerspace c) digging deeper, with a layer of supplementary critical theory, unpacking concepts, links to further reading and mapping tools. Digging deeper means zooming into the messy details and conceptual underpinnings, connecting the particularities of this case study to a wider framework, showing the gaps, complexity and the remaining questions.
In order to build a bridge between the theoretical and the empirical, I work with conceptual persona of octopuses (the prime tentacular beings) and gnomes (the hidden forces at work), who guide us through the murky waters of the hidden forces in technology.