ArticlePDF Available

Shared Machine Shops as Real-life Laboratories


Abstract and Figures

Our paper applies the concept of real-life experiments and real-life laboratories to shared machine shops. These workshops provide niches for experimental learning that expand the scope of established modes of research and development which are predominantly embedded in professional contexts of industry or science. Shared machine shops provide infrastructures for novel forms of collaboration as well as self-selected participation of heterogeneous actors. We will illustrate our concept with two examples of innovations in shared machined shops: low-cost-prosthesis and open hardware 3D printers. We will show that shared machine shops embody significant properties of a reflexive innovation society, and can be considered as real experiments in themselves in which new forms of inclusion, collaboration, and openness are tested.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
Shared Machine Shops as Real-life Laboratories
Sascha Dickel, Jan-Peter Ferdinand and Ulrich Petschow
Our paper applies the concept of real-life experiments and real-life laboratories to shared machine shops. These workshops provide niches for experimental
learning that expand the scope of established modes of research and development which are predominantly embedded in professional contexts of industry or
science. Shared machine shops provide infrastructures for novel forms of collaboration as well as self-selected participation of heterogeneous actors. We will
illustrate our concept with two examples of innovations in shared machined shops: low-cost-prosthesis and open hardware 3D printers. We will show that
shared machine shops embody significant properties of a reflexive innovation society, and can be considered as real experiments in themselves in which new
forms of inclusion, collaboration, and openness are tested.
Keywords: shared machine shops, real-life laboratories, niche management, distributed Innovation, peer production, experiments,
Sascha Dickel, Jan-Peter Ferdinand and Ulrich Petschow
1 Setting the Scene: the nature of networked
From its very beginnings modernity could be described as a social
formation which values innovation. It embraces the production of new
ideas, practices and technologies. The task of innovation, however, was
usually carried out by specialized experts (inventors, researchers, and
developers) in specialized areas (laboratories of universities, research
centers, and R&D departments).
As long as only a small sector of society engages in innovation it might be
an exaggeration to speak of modernity as an innovation society, but in the
light of recent developments the diagnosis of an innovation society is
gaining new plausibility. Innovation has become heterogeneously
distributed, ubiquitous, and reflexive: Innovation is increasingly produced
by decentralized networks which involve actors from divergent social
fields. Innovation therefore leaves the traditional sphere of the restricted
laboratory and is transformed into an ubiquitous practice which is also
adopted by non-professional as well as non-commercial actors like sports
enthusiasts (Baldwin, Hienerth & von Hippel, 2006), private tinkerers
(Baldwin & von Hippel, 2011), or „innovation communities” in general
(von Hippel, 2006: 96). Hence, the growing knowledge about innovation
also leads to a reflexivity of innovation itself (Hutter et al., 2011: 2),
extends the scope of innovative practices, and transforms the very
processes and structures of innovation: findings from the fields of open
source software (Raymond, 2001; Kogut & Metiu, 2001), crowdsourcing
(Brabham, 2008; Howe, 2010), or the modes of open-/user-based
innovation mentioned above show evidence for these broader
According to Østergaard et al. (2013) innovation nowadays is primarily
network-driven, structured by new modes of communication, interaction,
and production that have emerged from the internet. It is increasingly
acknowledged that innovation is not something that happens inside
organizational boundaries, but rather a complex social process that
transgresses the borders of labs and R&D departments. Since Castells’
description of the “Rise of the Network Society” (Castells, 1996) the
diagnosis of a transformation of social structures in reaction to the
emergence of new media of communication has become commonplace in
the social sciences (Baecker, 2007 & 2011). One important feature of our
innovation society is its hyper-complexity. Society has reached a stage of
complexity which makes it impossible to predict complex social
developments (like market developments). Inter alia, this is because of an
ongoing differentiation of individual values and preferences, the formation
of new forms of interaction and “crowd” behavior, and a growing
technological infrastructure that supports the rapid diffusion of ideas in an
unprecedented way.
These technological and cultural changes challenge the central role of the
organization as the center of innovation. In the economic literature, Coase
(1937) asked the question why firms exist in the first place (and not just
markets). He reconstructed the function of the organization in the
economic sphere as a medium to decrease transaction costs. Within the
boundaries of the organization complexity is reduced, and a common pool
of resources and knowledge is established. Innovation as a social process
is more likely if several experts with specialized skills come together
under the umbrella of an organization. Organizations allow for a
coordination of innovation practices.
With the rise of the Internet a different medium of coordination has
emerged. Not only has it become possible to interact with people across
the globe, but also to share ideas which might contribute to the emergence
of an innovation. To gain access to the expertise that is desired and needed
for innovation practices (but located outside of the organization) is much
easier nowadays (Lakhani et al., 2013). It has also become evident that
people without formal and certified expertise (Collins, 2002) might
contribute to innovations and that the “Schumpeterian momentum”
noticeably shifts from the producer to the customer (Grabher, Ibert &
Flohr, 2008: 255). All of these dynamics signify recent organizational
reactions to the network-based paradigm that, from the perspective of a
focal enterprise, is generally summarized as “open innovation”
(Chesbrough, 2011).
The “rapid increase in the number of citizen science initiatives” (Roy et
al., 2012: 9) demonstrates that, even in science, a social sphere that is
traditionally defined by a clear boundary between (organized) expert
knowledge and lay knowledge, the power of “boundary-spanning
processes” (Hoffmann, 2012) is increasingly recognized: On the platform
zooniverse alone over a million volunteers participate in scientific projects
via crowdsourcing. Other projects like foldit utilize the creativity of users
through an online game that encourages user to discover new protein
structures (Haklay, 2013). The International Genetically Engineered
Machines Competition (iGEM) – an important event in the field of
synthetic biology – is now even opening its doors for teams of do-it-
yourself biologists (
In parallel to (and partly in conjunction with) the opening of organizations
page 1 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
and expert communities, new figurations of actors have appeared who
share knowledge and information outside organizational boundaries. They
invent and create, first and foremost, without being motivated by money.
Open Source Software like Linux and novel modes of knowledge
generation like Wikipedia are the prime examples of this new mode of
decentralized and hierarchy free “peer production” which is defined as
“decentralized, collaborative, and nonproprietary; based on sharing
resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosely connected
individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on either
market signals or managerial commands” (Benkler 2006: 60; see also Al-
Ani, 2013). Peer Production depends on self-selected and heterachical
practices: People do contribute to platforms like Wikipedia because they
want to (for whatever reasons), not because of a hierarchical directive.
Decentralized peer production is nothing completely new. By drawing on
examples from the 19th century, Allen (1983) and Nuvolari (2004) coined
“collective invention” as a similar mode of commons-based collaboration
between companies who share their knowledge and expertise in joint
innovation processes. Also, “Science is built by many people contributing
incrementally – not operating on market signals, not being handed their
research marching orders by a boss – independently deciding what to
research, bringing their collaboration together, and creating science. What
we see in the networked information economy is a dramatic increase in the
importance and the centrality of information produced in this way”
(Benkler, 2006: 63; see also Gläser, 2006). What Benkler emphasizes with
his notion highlights the wider inclusion of actors, which is facilitated by
information technology that unleashes potentials of local, temporal, and
cultural diversity.
In this paper we will contribute to the discussion on new forms of
innovation and production by focusing on one further similarity of current
forms of peer production and science: experimental practices. Following
recent discussions on real-life experiments in science and technology
studies, we will argue that experimentation is an important feature of
innovation practices. Just like innovation, experimentation has also
become a ubiquitous, heterogeneously distributed and reflexive practice.
Especially in the recently emerged community- and peer-based forms of
production, the freedom to experiment plays a major role. In contrast to the
limitations of experiments embedded in hierarchies and the imperatives of
formal organizations, peer communities provide settings where actors are
primarily intrinsically motivated and free to join and leave these
communities and this is likely to cause an increased freedom to
experiment. We suggest that experimental practices are not something that
happens in addition to other things going on in peer production contexts,
but that peer production itself is a real-life-experiment in societal
The transformation of society by means of peer production is a guiding
vision of some authors engaged with new forms of collaboration. They
suggest that the very logic of capitalism might be transformed by this
mode of coordination. However, so far the most notable success stories in
terms of transformation (Wikipedia and Linux) are limited to the digital
realm. One important precondition for the growth of peer production
beyond the digital realm is the connection of decentralized collaboration in
digital networks with material forms of production (Bauwens, 2005;
Zuboff, 2010). With the current focus on the importance of networks and
digital media it is easy to forget the relevance of physical spaces of
innovation. But, especially when the result of a coordinated effort is not an
immaterial good but something tangible (like a piece of hardware),
physical infrastructures and material resources beyond digital platforms
are necessary. The existence of science could be interpreted as a proof of
concept that the links between decentralized information networks
(publications) and sites of engagement with material objects (laboratories)
could be established. We therefore introduce the concept of real-life
laboratories as new places for experimental innovation practices in
contexts of peer production.
Shared machines shops (SMS) are a perfect example of these new
laboratory spaces. They embody the values of ubiquitous, heterogeneously
distributed and reflexive experimentation. They provide new laboratory
infrastructures outside of hierarchical organizations while being embedded
in the digital and fluid networks of a new experimental culture. However,
like social studies on laboratory life have shown, the boundaries between
the laboratory and the rest of society are not absolute (Latour, 1983). We
use two examples of innovations in shared machined shops (low-cost-
prosthesis and open hardware 3D printers) to demonstrate that peer
production as a new form of innovation is still in a fragile niche phase. It is
surrounded by an innovation regime that implicates commercial logics and
patterns of market regulation and thus reveals tensions with the particular
practices of experimental exploration which are constitutive for the open
and community-based approach of SMS.
2 Laboratories in the Wild
Shared machine shops like FabLabs, TechShops, maker- and hackerspaces
are relatively new phenomena. As this special issue demonstrates, these
workshops are currently a rather “hot” topic. They are framed as nuclei of
collaborative grass-roots fabrication that could revolutionize and
democratize manufacturing or may even replace capitalist patterns of
production and consumption (Smith et al., 2013: 4). But are shared
machine shops actually the constitutive elements of a new industrial
revolution (Anderson, 2012), or will they remain idiosyncratic niches? We
think that it is still too early to answer a question like this. Maybe the
question itself is wrongly phrased. In this paper we will offer a different
perspective on shared machine shops. These workshops can be taken as
experimental settings where new visions, practices, and technologies are
developed, tested, and refined. SMS are laboratories of a new kind. These
laboratories are neither detached from society, nor are they only accessible
for professionals. Instead, shared machine shops are real-life laboratories.
In the following section we will elaborate on this concept.
2.1 Real-life experiments as a feature of innovation
Experiments are a defining feature of modern science (Hacking, 1983;
Pickering, 1995; Rheinberger, 2002). In the scientific worldview, not the
study of ancient traditions, but the inquiry of nature by means of
experimentation is regarded as the most suitable path to knowledge. The
paradigmatic place of experimentation is the laboratory, a special setting
constructed for the performance of experiments. In the traditional, truth-
seeking form of knowledge production, labeled “mode 1” by Gibbons et
al. (1994), the function of the experiment was the construction of facts –
and the function of the laboratory was the “purification” of this
construction (Latour, 1993). Local observations in these controlled settings
form the basis for the generalization of facts which can be transferred to
the outside world. As long as the central goal of science was the pursuit of
truth, the boundaries of the laboratory could hardly be solid enough in
order to exclude outside influences which might contaminate the
experiment and would hamper insights into cause and effect relationships.
In innovation society this mode of knowledge production has been
displaced by more context-driven and problem-focused projects. In this so-
called “mode 2” (Gibbons et al., 1994) of knowledge production,
experiments often take place outside controlled settings – or even beyond
purely scientific contexts.
It might be wrong, however, to identify experiments with pure (or
purified) science in the first place. In his analysis of the relation between
experiments and modernity, Krohn (2007) has shown that the semantics of
experimentation can be found in heterogeneous contexts of modern life
such as experimental literature, wars (as contexts for the experimental use
of new weapons) and experimental forms of urban development. In all
these contexts the term “experiment” is used to designate systematic
learning practices by means of specific technical or social installations.
Learning is not used as a normative term here, but as an analytical concept.
Learning occurs if individuals or social systems break with established
routines and create something new. Learning makes use of “irritations”
that change the “usual way of processing information” (Mölders, 2014: 2).
page 2 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
In experiments, social, technical and/or natural conditions are ordered and
arranged in a specific way to encourage this kind of learning from
irritations, and hence the establishment of new routines.
It is this systematic approach to learning by means of remodeling (material
or immaterial) conditions that distinguishes experiments from those
practices of trial and error that occur in everyday life on a regular basis,
and sometimes even unintentionally. Experiments allow it to try something
new and risky, and to accept the occurrence of failure. Furthermore,
experimental settings make it possible to learn from those mistakes in a
systematic manner. Experiments, therefore, combine an amount of
freedom and control not usually found outside experimental settings.
Krohn notes that Darwin’s evolutionary theory of variation and selection
might suggest that nature itself is experimenting (Krohn, 2007: 346). This,
however, confuses the categories of evolution and learning. Evolution is
blind; learning is the result of reflection (Mölders, 2011). Evolution
produces variations bottom-up, without intention, planning, or control.
Learning can also occur spontaneously, but – especially in modern society
– we can observe the emergence of institutional orders that aim to
encourage learning, like laboratories or classrooms. While not only natural
change, but also social change is mostly the result of evolution, in
modernity learning has become an important alternative mode for the
production of variations, of new ways of doing things that break with
established routines. Also experiments, those special techno-social
arrangements for learning, now take place in many different social
contexts (Krohn, 2007).
In innovation societies the need for experimental learning has widely
increased. In cases like genetic field experiments, prototyping in research
and development, or beta releases of software products, experiments
become real-life experiments (Krohn, 2007; Groß et al., 2003): Real-life
experiments take place outside scientific laboratories. They don’t follow
the logic of isolation and purification of laboratory experiments and
typically include actors outside professional scientific contexts. Their
objective is not the generalization of natural laws but the exploration of
specific cases (Krohn, 2007: 349-354). Groß even suggests that nowadays
controlled laboratory experiments have become the exception, while real-
life experiments have become the norm (Groß, 2013: 196).
2.2 Real-life laboratories: Niches for real-life
While experiments might have left the closed spaces of scientific
institutions, the world outside these institutions is also changing. Krohn
and Groß suggest that society itself turned into an experimental setting that
itself begins to resemble laboratory life (Groß & Krohn, 2005).
Laboratories in contexts of research and development are institutional
spaces that create a boundary between science and society. What happens
in laboratories should not bother the rest of society – and vice versa the
outside world should not be bothered by the small socio-technical world of
laboratory life. The world inside the laboratory becomes “a world on
probation” (Krohn, 2007: 348, translated by the authors). But even in the
world of pure science this boundary between the inside and outside world
is fragile, as science studies have shown (Latour, 1983). On the basis of
the more general notion of experiment developed above, the concept of the
laboratory can also be expanded. Laboratories are not only closed rooms
detached from the rest of society, they can be all kinds of (more or less
protected) spaces in which the arrangements necessary for experimentation
can be installed. Hence, laboratories are not only places in which facts are
produced and reproduced but also – and maybe foremost – places that
facilitate installations and constellations which enable irritation and
learning (which again may or may not form the basis of new facts). This
more open understanding of laboratories can be traced back to the Chicago
School of Sociology and is currently revitalized in science and technology
studies as well as in environmental science (Latour, 1983; Groß & Krohn,
2005; Schneidewind & Scheck, 2013).
In environmental science the concept of real-life laboratories
(Schneidewind & Scheck, 2013) was recently developed to describe semi-
protected spaces that are established for experiments between knowledge
generation and knowledge application; where new kinds of socio-technical
practices are developed and tested. A real-life laboratory is neither a closed
room, designed to control all relevant experimental boundary conditions,
nor a borderless space like “society”, “the market” or the “internet”. Real-
life laboratories instead create a semi-open spatial and social microcosm,
where failures are allowed, irritations are welcome, and learning is
An important feature of real-life laboratories is their transdisciplinarity and
openness. Not only certified experts can gain access to these places. They
are rather spaces that encourage the interaction of experts and so-called
“lay persons”, who might indeed be (uncertified) “experts” as well and
who can contribute to ongoing real-life experiments. In the closed space of
traditional laboratories in universities and R&D departments of firms, the
presence of these non-certified experts would usually not be allowed (at
most as “subjects” of an experiment or “visitors” to the laboratory) and
their knowledge would be excluded from the processes of innovation,
experimentation and collaborative learning (Collins & Evans, 2002).
In their study of research “in the wild”, Callon and Rabeharisoa (2003)
have shown that there is no intrinsic difference between expert knowledge
and lay knowledge. “It would, for example, be wrong to say that the
former are explicit and codified while the latter are tacit, or that the former
are formalized while the latter are informal. Everything depends on the
equipment used on both sides and, more broadly, the conditions “in which
the expertise is produced” (ibid.: 196). Real-life laboratories can be
conceived as laboratories “in the wild” in which the boundaries between
expert and lay knowledge can get blurred even more, because real-life
laboratories might provide the equipment and conditions for knowledge
production typically associated with the world of scientific expertise.
Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that real-life laboratories are
not designed for purification purposes. They are laboratories with a
different function than traditional scientific laboratories: In the context of
innovation society real life-laboratories provide niches for path-breaking
innovations. The concept of niches was developed within an evolutionary
multi-level perspective on innovation and transition (Geels, 2011; Geels &
Schot, 2010). It highlights the importance of hegemonic socio-technical
regimes as selection environments for innovative variations. They
constitute stable and dominant ways of realizing societal functions. These
regimes form the ‘deep structure’ of socio-technical systems. They can be
understood as interrelated social rules and routines, cultural beliefs and
practices and technical infrastructures that guide the activities of policy
makers, market actors, and engineers alike (Geels, 2011: 27; Smith et al.,
2010: 441).
Regimes encourage incremental innovations along certain paths, but create
structural disadvantages for path-breaking innovations and therefore limit
forms of learning. Niches provide spaces where new ideas and
technologies are developed while being (partially) protected from the
dynamics of the current socio-technical regime: Niches shield path-
breaking innovations against the selection pressure of the regim, and they
nurture these innovations through the (1) articulation of expectations and
visions, (2) the building and expanding of social networks, and (3) the
encouragement of learning on technical, economic, political, and cultural
dimensions (Smith & Raven, 2012: 1026–1030; Geels, 2011: 28). The
more the focus of niches is on learning, the more the function of niches as
an experimental setting comes to the fore.
2.3 Shared machine shops as real-life laboratories
In the recent literature on real-life laboratories, those settings are typically
understood as rather large entities like cities, regions, or organizations
(Expertengruppe „Wissenschaft für Nachhaltigkeit“, 2013: 16). In our
paper, however, we apply the concept to places whose scope and design is
closer to traditional laboratories: shared machine shops like hackerspaces,
page 3 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
makerspaces, FabLabs and TechShops. Our understanding of SMS as real-
life laboratories is based on a document analysis of the self-descriptions of
different types of shared machine shops, interviews with participants and
exploratory field observations.
If applied to large and more or less unbounded areas like cities, the
concept of the real-life laboratory might remain a rather metaphorical
description. In contrast to this metaphorical usage, shared machine shops
are defined by specific locations. They are places with a distinct identity
shaped by experimentation, innovation, and learning. However, unlike
traditional laboratories, SMS are not integrated into an organizational
hierarchy and they embody the blurring of boundaries between experts and
lay persons (or – following Collins and Evans (2002) – certified and non-
certified experts). In the case of SMS the latter could, for example, be
students, hackers, makers, and hobby inventors.
Shared machine shops can be understood as real-world laboratories that
develop and test not only new technologies but also new practices in the
dimensions of creativity, sustainability, and inclusivity (Smith et al., 2013:
5–6). They are laboratories for (technical and social) innovations, where
design ideas can be shared, a hands-on mentality can be cultivated, and
new skills can be acquired. They might also be places of serendipity,
where experts and professionals meet with hobby enthusiasts and DIY
innovators and work together on new, unexpected projects. In some cases
sustainability is an explicit goal of such spaces. Technologies of digital
fabrication like 3D printing (which is constitutive for FabLabs and
TechShops and commonplace in maker- and hackerspaces) are often
framed as green technologies, because of the additive production process
and the possibility to produce goods locally. Furthermore, shared machine
shops might engage in recycling and upcycling of products, and subscribe
to post-consumerist values. Shared machine shops can also foster a more
inclusive form of innovation and production, and give marginalized parts
of the population access to tools and networks; hence, they are also
associated with hopes for user empowerment (Smith et al., 2013: 5–6;
Dickel, 2013; Walter-Herrmann & Büching, 2013).
It is still unclear which of these promises can really be fulfilled by shared
machine shops, but maybe this is not entirely the point. If we think of SMS
as real-world laboratories it is not so important if the shops themselves are
already decentralized factories of a new kind with perfectly sustainable
and inclusive modes of production that must only be up-scaled. If we take
a step back and view them foremost as real-world laboratories it is more
important to systematically learn from the practices in these workshops.
Learning from their successes can therefore be as important as learning
from their errors. The multidisciplinary communities and networks which
connect these workshops at local, national and transnational levels can
then not only be framed as an emerging (maker) movement but also as a
new “experimental culture” (Rheinberger, 2002: 149–150), a networked
community which inspires the ways in which new laboratories are
constructed, reflects on the experiments made, and may change and adapt
them if necessary. The creation and alteration of shared workshops can
then be understood as a second order experiment: a large scale experiment
where every real-life laboratory is itself a unit of experimentation.
How the results of these experiments are used, however, may easily escape
the sphere of influence of the laboratories. Will the ideas, technologies and
practices developed in shared machine shops be integrated in the existing
regime of production, or may they serve as blueprints for a new socio-
economic regime? This leads to the question of empowerment, a third
function of niches (besides shielding and nurturing) which was recently
analyzed by Smith et al. (2012). The authors understand empowerment as
practice that increases the competitiveness of innovations when they are
brought into the world outside the niche. Empowerment can be realized in
two ways: (1) by adapting the innovation in a way that conforms to the
rules of the regime, or (2) through a restructuring of the regime that
surrounds the niche.
3 From real-life experiments to real-life
Shared machine shops constitute a new environment for exploration in
various fields of technology- and design-related topics that, compared to
the mode-1-laboratories mentioned above, reveal unique properties: Since
these workshops are typically organized around community-based
principles (one has to consider TechShops as a commercial exception
here), participation depends rather on common interests, shared values,
and intrinsic motivation than on disciplinary boundaries and professions.
Following this approach, shared machine shops offer new opportunities for
collaboration and co-operation among heterogeneous actors that contribute
their particular expertise and visions to any given context of shared
interest. This often causes creative friction, which may either lead to small-
scale inventions that serve the personal needs of its inventors, but in some
cases also fosters solutions that could gain innovative momentum outside
the shared machine shop, and beyond the initial motivations of the actors
involved. Based on a secondary analysis of two different inventions which
have their origins in hackerspaces and FabLabs, it shall be shown how this
particular background has shaped the path for these inventions. Rather
than making strong empirical accounts, this analysis illustrates how the
notion of real-life laboratories serves as a fruitful concept to explain the
distinct settings and constellations in the sketched niches for innovation.
Both, the case of low-cost-prosthesis as well as the one of Makerbot
recently gained some broader public interest. They represent examples for
a whole bunch of inventions developed in SMS and show some of their
most significant material traits and organizational backgrounds.
3.1 The case of low-cost-prosthesis
The first case we want to introduce as an evidence for the conceptual aim
of this paper is the one of “low-cost prosthesis”. Building on a
collaboration between Amsterdam’s FabLab, the Indonesia-based House
of Natural Fiber (HONF), which is a media and art laboratory in
Yogyakarta as well as its associated FabLab (the “HONFablab
Yogyakarta”), this project incorporates the principles of the FabLab Charta
quite perfectly as it really draws on networking among different Fab-Labs,
open knowledge sharing, and free access to community resources
( The general aim of the low-cost
prosthesis project is to explore how a developing country like Indonesia
can become self-reliant in building prostheses for the cost of about $50.
The need for this endeavor is obvious (see: First, due to the increasing rate of
amputations, there is an ever-growing demand for prosthetic limbs
especially in developing countries where insufficient supplies of public
health services often leads to diabetes, gangrene, and infection. Second,
there are significant problems in providing prosthetics to people in need
due to the high cost for readily available prosthetic limbs, and the lack of
expertise, which is mandatory for proper constructing, fitting, aligning,
and adjusting of prosthetics.
To offer a solution for this pressing problem, the low-cost prosthesis
project started to develop a lower knee prosthesis by approaching an
inclusive open innovation process, where end users, designers, researchers
and manufacturers can contribute in a joint effort (Waag 2009). The
current state of the project is reflected by a prototype of the “$50 leg
prosthesis” (see fig. 1) which was developed in 2012 after several
workshops with experts from various related fields (e.g. rehabilitation,
biomechatronics, biomedical engineering, orthopedic technology, design
page 4 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
Fig. 1: protoype oft the “$50 leg prosthesis” (Source:
Since the development of the low-cost prosthesis is still in its experimental
phase, this solution is shielded in the niche of the FabLabs, which are
engaged in this project. Nevertheless, the potentials to spread the
orthopedic as well as construction-related knowledge and to empower the
locals by creating new jobs at the same time are already obvious. Besides
that, it also captures the very specifics of the experimental learning
processes which we consider to be constitutive for the concept of real-life
laboratories. Especially the documentation of workshops that were
conducted during the project reveals this evidence. As mentioned above,
these workshops were attended by experts from various professional
disciplines as well as people who got engaged because of their FabLab
background. This constellation apparently provided a fruitful setting for
e.g. “an exchange of experiences by users on the techniques and the use of
materials” or “the search for local materials, a number of design aspects,
and an inexpensive and efficient production of quality parts that could
raise the comfort of use” (Waag, 2009). This process of co-creation in
connection with a social approach to design and manufacturing probably
needs the niche of the FabLab, where failures are allowed, and visions are
welcome. Since the project also builds on low barrier technologies (like
digital fabrication), local materials, and DIY kits, the particular
characteristics of decentralized and hands-on innovation development
processes that are typical for shared machine shops also facilitated the
work and progress of the low-cost prosthesis project.
3.2 The case of Makerbot
The second case we want to draw on is the one of Makerbot, Inc., which
today is one of the leading companies for desktop 3D printing. Tracing
back the origins of Makerbot shows that the company’s roots are strongly
linked with the RepRap Project, which started in 2005, and was motivated
by the aim of developing self-replicating 3D printers that are able to print
most of their own components, as well as any other object that can be
represented in 3D modeling (see: From its beginning,
RepRap was intended as an open-source and community-based project that
tries to apply an evolutionary approach to the development and diffusion
of a technological device (Söderberg, 2013). It also aims to include as
many people as possible to spread the idea and the physical printers (Jones
et al., 2011). Although some online shops sell kits for RepRaps, usually
community members who already own a printer produce all the printable
parts for new members just for the cost of the raw materials. Open access
to any sources of knowledge that are required to rebuild and further
develop the RepRaps is thus the key condition of its diffusion.
Today, there are more than 400 derivatives of 3D printers that are
descended from the initial RepRap “Darwin”. Furthermore, the various
types of RepRaps together apparently represent the most common
application of desktop 3D printing. Both facts reveal the innovative
potential of RepRap as an open source hardware project that is driven by
the communal logic of shared values (i.e. the hallmark of open
knowledge), the common belief of being at the edge of a new
technological path creation, and a collective identity that is shaped by
various mailing lists, online forums and – last but not least – face-to-face
meet-ups at conferences, hacker-, and makerspaces.
To break this context down to the case of Makerbot, the Brooklyn based
Hackerspace “Resistor” was of major importance for the company’s
inception back then. In 2007, two years before the company was founded,
two of the three founding-members helped to organize and establish NYC
Resistor as “a place for hackers, makers, and likeminded tinkerers” (Pettis
et al., 2013: 4). In those days, the designated founders of Makerbot also
became engaged with the RepRap Project. The fact that the early RepRap
printers required a lot of tinkering and were also very prone to errors
fostered the initial motivation of creating an own, more reliable device.
Against this background, Makerbot’s current CEO, Bre Pettis, remembers
the beginning of the company as follows:
Zach, Adam, and I started MakerBot because we saw people
working on RepRaps, but very few of them worked. There were
maybe twenty people who put together a machine, and very few of
them actually worked with any semblance of repeatability.
Everybody’s machine was different, because we were all digging
motors out of old disk drives. Every machine was unique. So we
started MakerBot so that we could have a 3D printer that
everybody could own, so if somebody solved a problem, they
would solve it for everybody else, too. (Osborn, 2013: 247)
Building on the open knowledge ecology of the RepRap Project, Makerbot
started as an example of user entrepreneurship that tries to improve an
emerging technology to make it more user friendly and exploitable (Shah
& Tripsas, 2007). Since especially start-ups in hardware require some
considerable investments in scarce resources such as raw materials,
production facilities etc., the available structures at the hackerspace were
an important facilitator for the company in this early phase. This relevance
can be traced back in a blog on from March 2009, where
one of Makerbot’s founders stated the following post:
If you’ve been at NYC Resistor lately, you may have seen random
prototyped bits laying around. We’ve done pretty much all of our
R&D for this machine using our laser cutter and the other various
tools we have at the hack space here. I’m personally really happy
to see something like this blossom out of our shared space, and I’m
looking forward to hacking on this machine much more in the
future.“ (
Especially this early work on prototypes and design-iterations can be
considered as real-life experiments. This becomes even more obvious by
the description of the development process of makerbot’s first printer, the
so called “Cupcake CNC”: “At that point, very early on, within the first
month, we made a commitment to using the laser cutter we had at NYC
Resistor. What that allowed us to do was proto-type ultrafast. […] And we
could iterate as we learned. […] We weren’t engineers, but we iterated and
designed a 3D printer in less than three months and it worked, and so we
shipped it” (Osborn, 2013: 248). This hands-on approach of experimental
learning is one of the central impacts which can be enabled by real-time
laboratories and the particular resources they offer.
page 5 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
What followed to this early proof of concept with the “Cupcake CNC”
was an entrepreneurial success story that began with the move into an own
office, several new incarnations of the initial Cupcake CNC and a newly
developed 3D printer called “Thing-O-Matic,” which already triggered a
growing public interest. With the acquirement of $10 million in venture
capital from an investment group, Makerbot entered a second phase in its
evolution, one which was mainly affected by growth in organizational size
and increasing sales numbers. Supported by the monetary investment, the
company launched the 3rd generation printer “Replicator” with a huge
medial response that catapulted the company to the forefront of the 3D
printing industry. The increasing commercial success of Makerbot was
accompanied by a subtle de-coupling with the RepRap Community. This
process became definite with the product launch of the improved
“Replicator 2”: On the one hand, this new incarnation seemed to be the
logical next step in Makerbot’s rise, as it made 3D printing even more
accessible for users who don’t have in-depth technological expertise, but
on the other hand the Replicator 2 revealed the company’s decision to stop
sharing its design files for the printer anymore, that finally broke with the
core principle of the RepRap ideals. In June 2013, Makerbot was acquired
by one of the leading factories of professional, industry-based rapid
prototyping and manufacturing called “Stratasys” for more than $400
3.3 Discussion of case related findings
The two cases show how FabLabs (in the case of low-cost-prosthesis) and
hackerpaces (Makerbot) respectively provide niche protection by shielding
and nurturing novel designs or technological artifacts (Smith & Raven,
2012). As these environments offer a semi-open space for experimental
learning, people who share interests and/or visions about a specific context
for exploration can participate in a particular project, without being reliant
on the criteria for professional or commercial research and development
(like e. g. appropriate exploitation strategies, scientific standards etc.). But
even though the SMS-related processes often depend on semi-professional
tinkering and trial-and-error learning, it also becomes obvious that these
environments can foster the momentum for innovation paths that emerge
on the basis of their developments and also stimulate some considerable
impact when it comes to diffusion. What makes this linkage between
exploration and exploitation (or diffusion) special is that its dimensions
often resemble the heterogeneous constellations of the initial inception: in
most cases, they cannot be reduced in terms of commercial success since
they also refer to social and environmental ambitions as well. Referring in
this point to Smith and Raven’s (2012) notion that the empowerment of
niche-developments can be considered in terms of paths that either “fit and
conform” or “stretch and transform” existing regimes (ibid: 1030), the two
cases described above tend to emphasize this contrast.
As an example of the “fit and conform” option, the rise of the Makerbot
3D Printer which was invented in a hackerspace and now has become one
of the most popular applications in the field of desktop 3D-printing clearly
indicates evidence for this. This becomes obvious when the market
strategy of the associated company, Makerbot Inc., comes into focus. In
the initial phase of the company’s entrepreneurial success, the Makerbot
Printers were open source devices in the sense that documentations about
their design specifics, list of materials and building tutorials were revealed
freely so that (in principle) anybody was able to build his own Makerbot
printer from scratch. In connection with referring to the company’s roots
in hacker communities, this unique approach of founding a business model
for a hardware-/tech-company on open source principles, on the one hand,
triggered a considerable medial response that catapulted the company to
the forefront of the 3D printing hype, and, on the other hand, made it
possible that Makerbot received much support from the open-source and
hacker communities, be it in the form of suggestions for further
improvements of their devices, or in the form of product purchases. It is a
matter of irony that this high extent of openness which led to the
company’s increasing commercial success became a problem at the same
time, as the free revealing of product blueprints apparently weakened
Makerbot’s competitiveness in the emerging market for desktop 3D
printers. As a consequence of this dilemma, Makerbot decided to break
with the principles of its former communities and respond to alleged
market pressures by closing the source for product-related knowledge and
switching to a more sophisticated style of manufacturing (which meant
that building Makerbot printers requested access to industry-like machine
tools). To summarize this switch in the path of the technological artifact as
well as the company’s strategy, it can be inferred that both reveal
ambitions of fitting and conforming the requirements of the market
regime, which favors a more commercial and competitive way of doing
business, even if this limits the openness and uniqueness of the associated
product and business model. The fact that Makerbot was acquired for a
large amount of money only a few months after this turn can be considered
as an endorsement for this decision, at least from a business point of view.
In contrast to the case of Makerbot, the low-cost prosthesis project
apparently aims to “stretch and transform” the existing regime for
prosthesis supply in developing countries. We have to admit that this
notion is rather speculative as the project still remains in its protective
nurturing phase. Nevertheless, there are already a couple of hints that this
transformative path can be expected. First, there is the constitutive aspect
of cost: as stated on the project’s homepage “A typical limb made in a
developing country costs approximately $125 to $1,875 USD. Our project
aims at cutting the costs to as little as $41 USD (well below the
$5,000-$15,000 USD average cost for a prosthesis in the western world)”
( It becomes obvious that the
main motivation for the low-cost prosthesis cannot be measured in terms
of business criteria like e. g. monetary revenues or margins, but rather
refers to ethical and social values which probably don’t reflect the
common references in established fields of medicine technology and its
distribution. Second, there is the strong ambition to spread orthopedic
knowledge and enable locals to become skilled actors when it comes to the
fabrication and adjustment of the prosthesis. This approach to knowledge
transfer is important for the empowerment and self-reliance of the
prospective users and blurs established boarders between experts and
laypeople (Middel, 2011: 218-219). Third, there is also a claim to
sustainability which shall be realized by using local materials like e. g.
bamboo instead of aluminum. These aspects show that the overall
approach of the project is strongly aligned with the needs of local
communities. In terms of conventional research and development, this way
of creating a novel prosthesis appears very unique. It is very likely that the
diffusion of the prosthesis will extend this path which may also stretch the
regime for medical health supply in a more general way.
4 Conclusion
Our paper applies the concept of real-life laboratories to SMS. These
spaces provide niches for experimental learning that expand the scope of
established modes of research and development which are predominantly
embedded in professional contexts of industry or science. As a specific
property, SMS have a capacity for inclusion because they provide
infrastructures for novel forms of collaboration as well as self-selected
participation of heterogeneous actors (in terms of expertise, disciplines,
backgrounds etc.) who can join the related endeavors.
The cases discussed also reveal an ambivalence of real-life laboratories
like SMS. One the one hand they provide a protective space for potentially
path-breaking innovations. On the other hand they aren’t closed spaces of
scientific purification but are linked to the “real life” – including its
economic pulls and pressures. This ambivalence between closedness and
openness can never be suspended in real-life laboratories. It is one of their
defining features.
Concerning innovative impacts that may emerge from the seedbed of
shared machine shops, we identify various aspects that can be inferred
from these particular settings and constellations.
First, SMS build more evidence for blurred organizational borders between
professional, semi-professional, and non-professional modes of innovative
action. They embody the values of ubiquitous, heterogeneously distributed
page 6 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
and reflexive experimentation and provide new laboratory infrastructures
outside of hierarchical organizations while being embedded in the digital
and fluid networks of a new experimental culture.
Second, the notion of real-life laboratories emphasizes the physical
characteristics of shared machine shops as real places where people can
join collaborative projects in person. Complementary to the innovative
modes of peer production that are embedded in the digital sphere, this
offers novel opportunities for the application of related principles in the
context of physical fabrication and tangible goods (Troxler, 2010).
According to this, SMS are also likely to become places of serendipity,
where experts and professionals meet with hobby enthusiasts and DIY
innovators and work together on new, unexpected projects.
Third, because of the different backgrounds that merge inside shared
machine shops, their innovative outputs also typically embody multiple
references which refer not only to economic success criteria, but also to
social and ecological issues. As shown in the case of low-cost prosthesis,
the empowering potentials for niche developments can also be considered
as possible incubators for societal or environmental solutions that prove its
concepts in the protected space of real-life laboratories and subsequently
gain momentum for the creation and diffusion of related paths.
Fourth, real-life experiments in SMS are not detached from the rest of
society. Hybrid organizations like TechShop or the ambivalent case of
MakerBot demonstrate that a decentralized innovation society is
increasingly willing to engage in those kinds of experiments for economic
innovations (that can also create tensions with more social or
environmental orientations).
Fifth, in connection with general narratives of openness, participation, and
empowerment, the whole phenomenon of SMS itself can be considered as
a real-life experiment for novel modes of distributed innovation. Shares
machine shops show how experimentation with new technologies and new
social modes of coordination lead to niche forms of technical and social
innovations. This meso-level of analysis focuses on the future impacts and
transformative potentials of shared machine shops as places that are
constituted through inclusive, non-hierarchical, and (at least to some
extent) non-proprietary modes of knowledge creation.
Sixth, the development of new technologies in real-life laboratories –
rather than in universities and R&D departments – show that “in the age of
technoscience” (Nordmann, 2010) not only the boundaries between
organizations and their societal environment, but also the boundaries
between science and society get blurred. As Nordmann and Bensaude-
Vincent (2011) have argued, it is indeed one of the defining features of
today’s technoscientific practices (compared to traditional science) that
purification is no longer pursued. Innovations in Shared Machine Shops
are congenial to citizen science, though their objective isn’t the
construction of truth, but the construction of technology. They can be
taken as a novel form of “Citizen Technoscience” (Conz, 2006), or, as we
prefer to call it, TechnoCitizenScience, to emphasize how technologically
enabled citizens – TechnoCitizens – can change the fabric of networked
Compared to visions that take SMS as forerunners of a new industrial
revolution (Anderson, 2012), our interpretation of SMS as real-life
laboratories offers a different framing. Innovations in shared machine
shops are a step closer to the laboratory “world on probation” (Krohn,
2007: 348, translated by the authors) than to the sphere of production. To
expect them to overthrow centralized forms of industrial production might
therefore demand too much of these still fragile niches which have to
handle the ambivalence between experimental freedom and socio-
economic pressures.
5 References
Al-Ani, A. 2013. Widerstand in Organisationen. Organisationen im
Widerstand. Virtuelle Plattformen, Edupunks und der nachfolgende Staat.
Wiesbaden: Springer.
Allen, R.C. 1983. Collective invention. In: Journal of Economic Behavior
and Organization 4 (1): 1-24.
Anderson, C. 2012. Makers. The new industrial revolution. New York:
Crown Business.
Baldwin, C., Hienerth, C. & von Hippel, E. 2006. How User Innovations
Become Commercial Products: A Theoretical Investigation and Case
Study. In: Research Policy 35 (9): 1291–1313.
Bauwens, M. 2005. Peer to Peer and Human Evolution. On “the P2P
relational dynamic” as the premise of the next civilizational stage. Online:
Baecker, D. 2007. Communication With Computers, or How Next Society
Calls for an Understanding of Temporal Form. In: Soziale Systeme 13
(1+2): 407–418.
Baecker, D. 2011. Layers, Flows, and Switches. Individuals in Next
Society. Online:
Benkler, Y. 2006. The wealth of networks. How social production
transforms markets and freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Brabham, D.C. 2008. Crowdsourcing as a Model for Problem Solving An
Introduction and Cases. Convergence: The International Journal of
Research into New Media Technologies 14 (1): 75–90.
Callon, M. & Rabeharisoa, V. 2003. Research “in the wild” and the
shaping of new social identities. In: Technology in Society 25 (2):
Castells, M. 1996. The Rise of the Network Society. The Information Age:
Economy, Society, and Culture Volume I. Cambridge, Oxford: Blackwell.
Chesbrough, H.W., Vanhaverbeke W. & West J. (Ed.) 2011. Open
innovation. Researching a new paradigm. Repr. 2011. Oxford: Oxford
Univ. Press.
Coase, R. 1937. The Nature of the Firm. In: Economica 4 (16): 386–405.
Collins, H. & Evans, R. 2002. The Third Wave of Science Studies: Studies
of Expertise and Experience. In: Social Studies of Science 32 (2):
Conz, D.B. 2006. Citizen Technoscience. Amateur Networks in the
International Grassroots Biodiesel Movement. PhD Thesis. Arizona State
Dickel, S. 2013. Von der Dynamik des Selbermachens. Nutzergetriebene
Innovationen für die Green Economy. In: Ökologisches Wirtschaften (3):
Expertengruppe „Wissenschaft für Nachhaltigkeit“ 2013. Wissenschaft für
Nachhaltigkeit. Herausforderung und Chance für das baden-
württembergische Wissenschaftssystem. Report. Ministerium für
Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Baden-Württemberg. Online: http://m
Geels, F.W. 2011. The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions.
Responses to seven criticisms. In: Environmental Innovation and Societal
Transitions 1 (1): 24–40.
Geels, F.W. & Schot, J. 2010. The dynamics of transitions in socio-
page 7 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
technical systems: A multi-level analysis of the transition pathway from
horse-drawn carriages to automobiles (1860–1930). In: J. Grin, J.
Rotmans, J. Schot & F. Geels (Eds.): Transitions to sustainable
development. New directions in the study of long term transformative
change. New York: Routledge: 445–476.
Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P. &
Trow, M. 1994. The New Production of Knowledge. The Dynamics of
Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage.
Gläser, J. 2006. Wissenschaftliche Produktionsgemeinschaften: Die
soziale Ordnung der Forschung. Campus Verlag.
Grabher, G., Ibert, O. & Flohr, S. 2008. The Neglected King: The
Customer in the New Knowledge Ecology of Innovation. In: Economic
Geography 84 (3): 253–80.
Groß, M. 2013. Keine Angst vor dem Unberechenbaren. Realexperimente
jenseits von Anpassung und Resilienz. In: R. von Detten, F. Faber & Ma.
Bemmann (Eds.): Unberechenbare Umwelt. Wiesbaden: Springer
Fachmedien Wiesbaden: 193–217.
Groß, M., Hoffmann-Riem, H. & Krohn, W. 2003. Realexperimente.
Robustheit und Dynamik ökologischer Gestaltungen in der
Wissensgesellschaft. In: Soziale Welt 54 (3).
Groß, M. & Krohn, Wolfgang 2005. Society as experiment. Sociological
foundations for a self-experimental society. In: History of the Human
Sciences 18 (2): 63-86.
Hacking, I. 1983. Representing and intervening. Introductory topics in the
philosophy of natural science. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Haklay, M. 2013. Citizen Science and Volunteered Geographic
Information: Overview and Typology of Participation. In: D. Sui, S.
Elwood & M. Goodchild (Eds.), Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge.
Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands: 105–122.
Hoffmann, E. 2012. User integration in sustainable product development.
Organisational learning through boundary-spanning processes. Sheffield:
Greenleaf Pub.
Howe, J. 2010. Crowdsourcing. Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving
the Future of Business. Online:
Hutter, M., Knoblauch, H., Rammert, W. & Windeler, A. 2011. Innovation
Society Today. The Reflexive Creation of Novelty. TUTS-WP-4. Online:
Jones, R., Haufe, P., Sells, E., Iravani, P., Olliver, V., Palmer, C., Bowyer,
A. 2011. RepRap – the replicating rapid prototyper. Robotica, 29 (Special
Issue 01): 177–191.
Kogut, B. & Metiu, A. 2001. Open?Source Software Development and
Distributed Innovation. In: Oxford Review of Economic Policy 17 (2):
Krohn, W. 2007. Realexperimente. Die Modernisierung der ,offenen
Gesellschaft’ durch experimentelle Forschung. In: Erwägen Wissen Ethik
18 (3): 343–356.
Lakhani, K.R., Lifshitz-Assaf, H. & Tushmann, M.L. 2013. Open
Innovation and organizational boundaries: the task of decomposition,
knowledge distribution and the locus of innovation. In: Anna Grandori
(Ed.): Handbook of economic organization. Integrating Economic and
Organization Theory: 355-381.
Latour, B. 1983. Give me a laboratory and I will move the world. In: Karin
D. Knorr-Cetina (Ed.): Science observed. Perspectives on the social study
of science. London: Sage: 141–170.
Latour, B. 1993. We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard Univ.
Liedtke, C., Welfens, M.J., Rohn, H. & Nordmann, J. 2012. Living Lab.
user-driven innovation for sustainability. In: International Journal of
Sustainability in Higher Education 13 (2), 106–118.
Mölders, M. 2011. Die Äquilibration der kommunikativen Strukturen.
Theoretische und empirische Studien zu einem soziologischen Lernbegriff.
Weilerswist: Velbrück Wiss.
Mölders, M. 2014. Irritation expertise. In: European Journal of Futures
Research 2 (1).
Nordmann, A. 2010. A forensics of wishing: technology assessment in the
age of technoscience. In: Poiesis & Praxis 7 (1-2): 5–15.
Nordmann, A., Bensaude-Vincent, B. & Schwarz, A. 2011. Science vs.
Technoscience. A Primer. Version 2.0. Online: http://www.philosophie.tu-
Nuvolari, A. 2004. Collective Invention during the British Industrial
Revolution: The Case of the Cornish Pumping Engine. In: Cambridge
Journal of Economics 28 (3): 347-363.
Osborn, S. 2013. Makers at Work: Folks Reinventing the World One
Object or Idea at a Time. New York: Apress
Østergaard, C., Rosenstand, C.A.F., Gertsen, F. & Lervang, J.U. 2013. Into
the Surge of Network-driven Innovation. Extending the historical framing
of innovation. XXIV ISPIM Conference. Innovating in Global Markets.
Helsinki, 16.06.2013. Online:
Pettis, B., France, A.K. & Shergill, J. 2013. Getting Started with
MakerBot. Sebastopol: O’Reilly.
Pickering, A. 1995. The mangle of practice. Time, agency, and science.
Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Piller, F. & Ihl, J.C. 2009. Open Innovation with Customers. Foundations,
Competences and International Trends. Technology and Innovation
Management Group: RWTH Aachen.
Raymond, E.S. 2001. The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and
Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Sebastopol: O’Reilly.
Rheinberger, H.J. 2002. Experimentalsysteme und epistemische Dinge.
Eine Geschichte der Proteinsynthese im Reagenzglas. Göttingen: Wallstein-
Roy, H. E., Pocock, M.J.O., Preston, C. D., Roy, D. B., Savage, J.,
Tweddle, J. C. & Robinson, L.D. 2012. Understanding Citizen Science and
Environmental Monitoring. Final Report on behalf of UK Environmental
Observation Framework: NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology &
Natural History Museum. Online:
Schneidewind, U. & Scheck, H. 2013. Die Stadt als „Reallabor“ für
Systeminnovationen. In: J. Rückert-John (Ed.): Soziale Innovation und
Nachhaltigkeit. Perspektiven sozialen Wandels. Wiesbaden: Springer:
page 8 / 9
Journal of Peer Production
ISSN: 2213-5316
Schrape, J.F. 2012. Wiederkehrende Erwartungen an interaktive Medien.
In: Mediale Kontrolle unter Beobachtung (April 2012). Online: http://ww
Shah, S.K. & Tripsas, M. 2007. The accidental entrepreneur. The emergent
and collective process of user entrepreneurship. In: Strategic
Entrepreneurship Journal 1 (1-2): 123–40.
Smith, A., Hielscher, S., Dickel, S., Söderberg, J. & Van Oost, E. 2013.
Grassroots Digital Fabrication and Makerspaces. Reconfiguring,
Relocating and Recalbirating Innovation? In: SPRU Working Paper Series
(2013-02). Online:
Smith, A. & Raven, R. 2012. What is protective space? Reconsidering
niches in transitions to sustainability. In: Research Policy 41 (6):
Smith, A., Voß, J.P. & Grin, J. 2010. Innovation studies and sustainability
transitions: The allure of the multi-level perspective and its challenges. In:
Research Policy 39 (4): 435–448.
Söderberg, J. 2013. How open hardware drives digital fabrication tools
such as the 3D printer. Internet Review Policy 2 (2).
Troxler, P. 2010. Commons-Based Peer-Production of Physical Goods: Is
There Room for a Hybrid Innovation Ecology? 3rd Free Culture Research
Conference, Berlin, October 8-9, 2010. Online:
Von Hippel, E. 2005. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press.
WAAG Society 2009. Fablab prosthetics programma. Online: http://waag.
Walter-Herrmann, J. & Büching, C. (Ed.) 2013. FabLab of machines,
makers and inventors. Bielefeld: transcript.
Zuboff, S. 2010. Creating value in the age of distributed capitalism.
Powered by TCPDF (
page 9 / 9
... Franke, von Hippel & Schreier, 2006). The shift to distributed systems was anticipated over thirty years ago (Toffler, 1980), and in essence blurs the boundaries between producers and consumers (von Hippel, 2005;Leadbeater & Miller, 2004) to reshape conventional approaches of centralised production and innovation generation (Dickel, Ferdinand & Petschow, 2014;Fox, 2013;Hoftijzer 2009;Srai et al 2016). ...
... Local makerspace resources, including machines and competences, are at present insufficient to address the range of repair journeys that can be envisioned, a limit that can be overcome by connecting with a wider network of partners, through their information, data and knowledge. Therein, we envisage potential in "the connection of decentralized collaboration in digital networks with material forms of production" (Dickel et al., 2014). ...
... This means that while systematically introducing repair in makerspaces could extend the range of activities carried out, the promotion of self-repair today hinges on a number of aspects, including promotion of this facility by the makerspace itself. Because makerspaces have diverse orientations in terms of environmental sustainability commitments (Hielscher & Smith, 2014;Prendeville, 2014;Dickel et al., 2014), over the coming years, some makerspaces may opt to pursue more-orless environmental and social sustainability, which could influence its decisions towards supporting more systematic repair activities. Importantly, today self-repair is not systematic, universally understood nor strategically endorsed (for instance through government financial support and policies). ...
The Circular Economy (CE) is attracting business, policy and academic interest through potential monetary and environmental savings, by material and product lifetime extension. However, it overlooks the role of consumption in achieving its goals, posing less emphasis on reuse and repair for instance. Focusing on the ‘inner’ CE loop of repair could unlock underaddressed potential, especially if developed in conjunction with emerging sociotechnical changes of distributed production. These are considered adaptable, flexible and resilient which exploit the power of networks. In this paper, we propose that distributed production (through open design) can be leveraged to foster the wider uptake of repair practice and business. To this end, four scenarios are represented in which design is a strategic tool to foster repair, at different scales and level of peoples’ engagement.
... A typical makerspace like the feminist creativity centre Mz* Baltazar's Lab in Austria, for example, provides tools (from3Dprinters to sewing machines), community support (from digital learning courses to small business funding), and a sense of shared belonging (such as lifelong membership) to its participants (Braybrooke and Smith 2021). Makerspaces also facilitate new sociotechnical arrangements, and ethnographic accounts have depicted them as grassroots innovation movements (Smith et al. 2017), as real-life laboratories that craft entrepreneurial subjectivities (Dickel, Ferdinand, and Petschow 2014;Lindtner 2017), and as symbols of socioeconomic transformation (Shea and Gu 2018). ...
Full-text available
Creative commons (CC), open access (OA), and free/libre open-source software (FLOSS) are three examples of how commoning, or the social practices of producing, using, and maintaining a public resource for collective benefit, can proceed in digital terrains. Commoning is historic and rooted in ancient traditions, and there are many different kinds of commons, from common-pool resources such as oceans, air, and land to knowledge commons, which consist of data, content, and other intellectual property that has become digital, such as paintings, photographs, and publications. CC, OA, and FLOSS offer different kinds of commons-based license frameworks that enable creators to make their work freely available on the web. They are also commons-based movements, consisting of diverse virtual communities of hackers, makers, scholars, developers, volunteers, and advocates around the world who believe universal access to knowledge should be a public right—the critical dynamics of which anthropology is especially suited for examining.
... In den "Sustainability Studies" wird die Rolle von offen zugänglichen "Fab Labs" ("Fabrikationslaboratorien") für die lokale Nachhaltigkeit erörtert (Smith et al. 2017(Smith et al. und 2016. Schließlich werden soziale Inklusions-und Partizipationspraktiken identifiziert (Fleischmann et al. 2016), die beispielsweise von den "Fab Labs" in ihrer Eigenschaft als gemeinschaftsorientierte Produktionseinrichtungen ("Community-based Fabrication Workshops") gefördert werden (Dickel et al. 2014). Das große Interesse mehrerer Forschergemeinden an einer konzeptionellen Verortung dieser Phänomene steht derzeit in einem Missverhältnis zu den vorliegenden uneinheitlichen Forschungserträgen. ...
Current debates on degrowth processes have come to deal with small urban places of innovation that formerly remained unnoticed. A plethora of new forms of producing and working recently emerged in unplanned and uncoordinated ways, bearing odd names such as FabLabs, Open Worklabs, Living Labs, Techshops, Repair Cafés and more. Standard epistemic tools of the social sciences have been rendered unfit. New, non-linear analyti- cal reconstructions are needed to adequately capture the variety and complexity of these “labs”, their heterogeneous causation, their contingent proceedings, and their hybrid working processes. The aim of this contribution is to reconstruct processes of spatial contextualisation and attribution on the basis of practical descriptions of these working activities. This is done on the basis of the leading question to what extent new forms of work are accompanied by specific spatial references that require a differentiated view of different processes of spatial formation. As an analytical reference case, Open Worklabs and the forms of work they host will be examined more closely.
... Such conceptions of makerspaces foresee their potential to interrogate more complicated sociotechnical dynamics through material experimentation that elicits wider socio-cultural transformations. In this framing, makerspaces can be understood not only as educational environments where people can learn digital fabrication skills, but also as "real-life laboratories" (Dickel et al., 2014) where new ways of working and interacting within civil society can be experimented through what the craftivist Sarah Corbett has called "slow and mindful activism" (Corbett, 2017, p. 2). These possibilities have led to some pundits going so far as to laud makerspaces as harbingers of a "fourth industrial revolution" (Anderson, 2012) which is claimed to have originated from the examples of a few influential ventures in North America, like the newly-defunct Make Magazine. ...
Raw Data
this was made by an algorithm, who won't let us delete it, so pls ignore ;)
... Such conceptions of makerspaces foresee their potential to interrogate more complicated sociotechnical dynamics through material experimentation that elicits wider socio-cultural transformations. In this framing, makerspaces can be understood not only as educational environments where people can learn digital fabrication skills, but also as "real-life laboratories" (Dickel et al., 2014) where new ways of working and interacting within civil society can be experimented through what the craftivist Sarah Corbett has called "slow and mindful activism" (Corbett, 2017, p. 2). These possibilities have led to some pundits going so far as to laud makerspaces as harbingers of a "fourth industrial revolution" (Anderson, 2012) which is claimed to have originated from the examples of a few influential ventures in North America, like the newly-defunct Make Magazine. ...
Full-text available
Makerspaces are open community workshops for peer production which provide people with technical tools and training to experiment with making, learning, and hands‐on participation around material cultures. These workshops come in a variety of forms, and they are called by many names, including shared machine shops, hackerspaces, fab labs, digital studios and many other labels – including makerspace, which we will use as an umbrella term to keep things simple. What they have in common, however, is a commitment to providing people with the skills and means needed to access versatile design and fabrication technologies, and to fostering communities that share an open and collaborative ethos regarding the possibilities that democratized design and fabrication technologies might offer personally, socially, economically, and culturally. In this chapter, we discuss the diverse dynamics of maker- spaces, and how encounters between makerspaces and institutional interests in particular are shaping what is possible. We also ask what is gained from the radical redistribution of prototyping capabilities in societies that makerspaces represent, and what is diminished.
... Le principe central de la production par les pair-e-s est la coopération mutuelle au lieu de la quête d'efficacité, de profit et de compétitivité (Troxler 2010 ;Moilanen et Vadén 2013 ;Troxler 2013 ;Dickel, Ferdinand, et Petschow 2014 ;Nascimento 2014 ; Kostakis, Niaros, et Giotitsas 2015). Quelles que soient les raisons qui les justifient, les pratiques de peer-production sont forgées dans les pratiques de contribution en ligne et les contenus et les contenus générés par les utilisateurs et utilisatrices. ...
Full-text available
Over the last decade, many Western countries have seen their public spheres populated by the collaborative, open and shared manufacturing spaces, broadly known as makerspaces. Often described as vehicles of social change and industrialization, the idea of makerspaces has been rapidly exported from the West to the rest of the world and in Africa specifically. Regarding this expansion, I wondered about the societal purposes and neutrality of these collaborative spaces in the African context. Prior to address these questions, it is important to establish a common framework understand the socio-historical and economic context of Africa. That is why, inspired by decolonial studies, I have drawn a conceptual framework consisting of technocoloniality and sustainable local development. In order to do so, I first deconstructed the current dominant paradigm of development approaches, namely the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Then, in the light of the work on cognitive justice, I reconstructed and presented the idea of sustainable local development as relevant for Africa, and as an alternative to SDGs. The dimensions of sustainable local development are : the quest for cognitive justice, the informal economy, common goods, inclusion and empowerment, African alternative thinking and social innovation. Then, on the basis of coloniality and the colonial matrix of power, I presented the idea of technocoloniality and its dimensions which are: techno-utopic discourse, neo-capitalist practices and the coloniality of knowledge linked to technology transfer. This conceptual framework allowed me to refine my questioning in the following research question: to what kind of development do makerspaces contribute in Francophone Africa? Specifically, the question is whether collaborative spaces can really contribute to sustainable local development in Africa or whether they contribute to strengthening technocoloniality. To answer these questions, I conducted three case studies in Francophone Africa: the Ouagalab in Burkina Faso, the Ongola Fablab in Cameroon and the Defko Ak Niep Lab in Senegal. For each case, I collected data using a combination of three methods: participant observation, semi-structured interviews with makerspaces members and promoters, and content analysis. After processing data, I conducted a qualitative analysis using Nvivo software. The different categories of my analysis were then compared and interpreted using the previously constructed conceptual framework. My study revealed that makerspaces are commons that fight against cognitive injustice, ensure the flowering of knowledge, promote inclusion and empowerment of members, and catalyse social innovation. In other words, the dynamics within collaborative manufacturing spaces are highly conducive to sustainable local development. Above all, makerspaces display women's dynamism and leadership, since they allow them to fight injustices and biases they used to face in the society and places related to STEM (Science-Technology- Engineering and Mathematics). However, the management of makerspaces as an entity is highly exposed to technocoloniality. This severely hinders the internal dynamics and thus their contribution to sustainable local development. But if the different actors involved in the makerspace ecosystem take into account some factors, makerspaces would bring a lot of benefits to sustainable local development of Africa. That is why at the end of this thesis, we made some suggestions. Keywords: Makerspaces, technocoloniality, appropriation of technology, decolonial studies, cognitive justice, open science, local sustainable development.
... Fab lab workshops are one example. They have been characterised as "real-life laboratories" for experimenting together, with activities less judged by commercial success than social and ecological orientation (Dickel et al., 2014). Playful experimentation and the possible ways to fail that it entails, appear virtuous (Smith TSJ, 2017: 135). ...
Full-text available
Eco-oriented makers and grassroots subcultures experimenting with digital fabrication technologies, and other activists designing sustainable futures, are increasingly the subject of research. As they address problems of environmental sustainability beyond institutional contexts, their work may appear vague, even confused, yet their activities are underpinned by intense and principled commitment. Working through their confusion, many maker communities build new understandings about what ‘sustainability’ could mean. We argue that herein lie important resources for new knowledge, and further that ethnography is the ideal way to track these processes of learning and knowledge production. The ethnographer participates in local confusion, over values and the definitions of sustainability, but also about what constitutes useful knowledge. Supported by STS (and other) literature on environmental expertise, we argue that maker communities' own acknowledgement of this vagueness actually makes possible a position from which epistemological authority can be reasserted.
User Labs (wie Usability Labs, Living Labs oder Makerspaces) stehen für eine soziale Öffnung zeitgenössischer Innovationsprozesse. Durch diese Labs werden neue Akteursgruppen in die Konstruktion, Evaluation und Demonstration von Prototypen involviert. Der Beitrag beschreibt zunächst die Erwartungen dieser sozialen Öffnung. Danach werden verschiedene Typen von User Labs vorgestellt. Das Kapitel schließt mit Überlegungen zur Vergesellschaftung des Prototypisierens, die in diesen Labs zum Ausdruck kommt.
Research on university-based venture development organizations is important to better understand how universities can provide an environment promoting entrepreneurial activity. However, there is a new infrastructure potentially of great relevance to the entrepreneurial eco-system of universities: makerspaces. Makerspaces provide important support and resources that are known to promote learning, innovation and venturing activity. I highlight the characteristics and effects of makerspaces and point towards potential areas for future research. In concluding, it appears that makerspaces can be a valuable part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in university-based venture development organizations.
Full-text available
p>A case study of hobbyists developing a desktop 3D printer, indicative of a broader movement around open hardware development, is used to advance a theoretical apparatus drawing on social movement research. This is proposed as an alternative to how innovation by users is typically studied in innovation studies literature, namely, as discrete, isolated cases. Open hardware development projects make up a larger ecology, held together by common ideas, a shared communication infrastructure, conferences and licenses, among other things, and it therefore makes sense to look at them as part of a single movement.</p
Durch neue Technologien der Vernetzung und Produktion zeichnet sich ein Regime nutzergetriebener Innovation ab. Es bietet einen neuen Ansatzpunkt zur Genese und Diffusion nach haltiger Produkte und Dienstleistungen. Ob diese Potenziale ausgeschöpft werden können, ist jedoch eine Frage der Gestaltung.
Neben der Anthropologie mit dem Fokus auf „traditionelle“ Gesellschaften zeichnen sich einige sozialwissenschaftliche Forschungsströmungen innerhalb der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung sowie der Kultur- und Umweltsoziologie dadurch aus, in den letzten Jahrzehnten die Bedeutung der materiellen Umwelt in der sogenannten westlichen Welt als Teil von Alltagspraktiken ins Blickfeld gerückt zu haben.