Panel : Tinkering with sociotechnical worlds

On Thursday 9th November, we were invited to present some early results at the annual congress of the Scientific Commission of the Swiss Anthropological Association (SSE-SEG-SAA). This edition was under the theme : Norms and Alternatives - Anthropological approaches to practices and narratives of change.

We were part of a panel named Tinkering with sociotechnical worlds: “hacking” as locales, practices and narratives of change - read the abstracts (PDF).

Here is an abstract of our contribution.

Integrating alternatives: maker movements in China

by Monique Bolli, Clément Renaud, Marc Laperrouza and Florence Bideau Graezer, EPFL

New narratives of empowerment and integrative economic transformation through a more socially inclusive practice of technology have recently developed under the name of maker movement (Dougherty 2016). A heterogeneous group of people and organizations have found a common ground in the definition of different logics for creativity and innovation at the margin of traditional working system. In numerous cities, an array of new places such as makerspaces, hackerspaces, fablabs and events such as fairs promote these new ways of producing, working and thinking. In China, makerspaces represent an accepted disruption of the traditional fabrication ecosystem and have partly been coopted by the state. With 30 policies such as “made in China 2025” or “mass makerspaces” released since 2015, the government is aiming to transform China’s image from “the world’s factory to a creative powerhouse” to be recognized as an “innovation-oriented nation” (Wang 2016).

This scene of “top-down grassroots innovation” (Wen 2017) crossroads with a global maker movement rooted in US counterculture and the manufacturing industry in China. These various encounters create unique movements in China. By looking at makerspaces in China, we examine the nexus between society, technologies and politics through rapid transformations in policies, spaces and communities.

These semi-autonomous spaces supported and partly shaped by national policies act as representatives of wider networks, urban, industrial and cultural transformations. Beyond national discourses of a “Chinese dream” made of “mass innovation and entrepreneurship”, we give a detailed account of the practices within different spaces located in five cities across the country (Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong-Kong, Beijing, Chengdu). We observe relationships between different layers of organizations, communities and individuals globally and locally to understand how larger discourses and narratives are actualized into different local forms.

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