Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva, Peter Troxler (eds.)
Digital Culture & Society (DCS)
Vol. 6, Issue 1/2020 – Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias
February 2021, 214 p., pb., 47 b&w ill.
29,99 € (DE), 978-3-8376-4955-0
PDF: 29,99 € (DE), ISBN 978-3-8394-4955-4
As DIY digital maker culture proliferates globally, research on these practices is also matu-
ring. Still, particular terminologies dominate beyond their Western contexts, and techno-
cultural histories of making are often rendered as over-simpliﬁed technomyths that render
invisible diverse local practices. This special issue brings together contributions that high-
light how historicising plays a role in mythmaking and the creation of social imaginaries.
The peer-reviewed articles present cultural-historical perspectives, technology and design
histories and historiographies, and alternative histories related to postcolonial resistance.
The contributions illustrate the relevance of craft to making as a reparative practice after the
Salvadoran Civil War and as a leisure activity to spark »innovation« in mid-century corporate
culture; the political-economic background to the diusion and dierentiation of communi-
ty workshops in contemporary Spain and post-war Germany; and the various aesthetics and
politics of technology culture manifestos over the years.
The issue features an interview with Peter Harper of the Alternative Technology movement
by Simon Sadler, as well as an interview with Felix Holm and Suné Stassen on the antece-
dents of making and design in South Africa. The special issue is rounded o with six short
alternative (hi)stories of DIY making including multiple practices, geographies and tempo-
Cindy Kohtala is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of design, Aalto Universi-
ty School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Espoo, Finland. Her research focuses on how
peer-to-peer communities in fab labs and makerspaces organize themselves and address so-
cio-environmental sustainability in their visions and practices. She also writes and lectures
on urban activism and sustainable design.
Yana Boeva is a postdoctoral researcher in the cluster of excellence on Integrative Computa-
tional Design and Construction for Architecture at the University of Stuttgart. She has stu-
died makerspaces and fab labs in Western Europe and Canada focusing on the sociopolitical
and historical dimensions of digital fabrication in design. Her research explores the trans-
formation of design, architectural practice, and dierent user perceptions with the inclusion
of active matter and automation in contemporary fabrication models.
Peter Troxler is a research professor at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Net-
herlands. He studies the impact of readily available direct digital manufacturing technolo-
gies as well as of the makers’ design and manufacturing practice on the creative and manu-
facturing industries; and the emergence of networked co-operation paradigms and business
models based on lateral governance and on open source principles.
For further information: www.transcript-verlag.de/en/978-3-8376-4955-0
© 2021 transcript Verlag, Bielefeld
DCS | Digital Culture and Societ y | Vol. 6, Issue 1 | © transcript 2020
DOI 10.14361/dcs -2020- 0102
Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
Digital maker culture is increasingly studied for its impact on production and
consumption patterns, technological innovation, educational potential and citizen
engagement in design and technology. As making practices proliferate globally
and begin to institutionalise, research on these practices is also maturing beyond
mere conceptual speculation and propositional dogma. Nevertheless, particular
terminologies tend to dominate beyond their Anglo-Saxon contexts (even the
term “maker” itself), and technocultural histories of digital making are often ren-
dered as over-simpliﬁed technomyths and hagiographies of selected gurus. Such
story-making reinforces a speciﬁc represented history in the maker imaginary:
typically, a white, male, well-educated (often engineering or computer science),
middle-class, Western-situated narrative.
This special issue presents a targeted examination of DIY maker culture that
profoundly acknowledges and investigates some of its diverse historical precedents,
which play an important role in present practices and strategic visions even if
unseen. Maker culture tends to refer to current communities, activities and projects
in shared community workshops (fab labs and makerspaces), and/or electronics
tinkering projects documented in online repositories and glossy magazines, but
these endeavours are informed by more diverse practices than are always recog-
nised (Richterich/Wenz 2017b). Activities considered “low-tech”, the non-digital in
DIY (Do-It-Yourself) cultures, are often pushed aside in the rush to promote the
most photogenic high-tech tools, such as 3D printers, laser cutters and computer
numeric-controlled (CNC) routers. Meanwhile, individual inventors are lauded as
solitary heroes belying the collective eorts underpinning “DIT” (Do-It-Together)
and “DIWO” (Do-It-With-Others). DIY stemming from former visions of self-
suciency, handiwork and technical skill in the home has been reframed as an all-
encompassing, all-embracing, universal, modernised and global “maker culture”.
Much is being written about maker culture as a phenomenon, its meanings
and possible future pathways, but discussion on its technocultural antecedents has
been highly limited. Often referenced are the Homebrew Computer Club and its
related garage tinkering cultures. Relevant counterculture movements that have
fed its development are not always brought into the conversation, from hacking
and community technology to DIY craft and building, media art and activist
publishing and much more (e. g. Atkinson 2006; Medina/Marques/Holmes 2014;
Krewani 2017). Moreover, the commonly espoused maker narrative frames Silicon
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
Valley as a geographical and metaphorical locale, as the culture centre of DIY maker
values, which radiate across the globe through commercial Maker Faires and the
growing network of Fab Labs and makerspaces. Maker practices in other contexts–
other continents than Europe and wealthy Anglo-Saxon nations, as well as the
forgotten, neglected cities inside them– manifest dierently, build on other local
industrial and technological histories, and use other terminologies for their endeav-
ours (Lindtner 2015; Usenyuk/Hyysalo/Whalen 2016; Braybrooke/Jordan 2017).
Such fragmenting of historical representations, even deliberate suppression, is
cause for worry in these turbulent times, when makers’ promises of empowerment,
agency, inclusion, democratisation and openness of apparently everything too easily
serve to render nothing as open or empowering (Powell 2012; Pomerantz/Peek
2016). The promises of making to ease the socio-economic ills of unfettered capi-
talism, not to mention environmental destruction, appear fragile and vulnerable to
enclosure, commodiﬁcation and colonisation (Fonseca 2015; Irani 2015; Lindtner/
Lin 2017). Current dominant narratives, apparently stemming from the grassroots,
are bloated with techno-optimism and techno-solutionism. They serve to shape a
hegemonic sociotechnical imaginary (Jasano/Kim 2015; Stein 2017; Turner 2018)
in ways that cause concern for researchers as to what is rendered invisible and
voiceless: we need to re-examine and re-focus on who and what is left out. If DIY
making is to be truly democratic and democratising, inclusive and equitable, acces-
sible, empowering and capacity building, there is a role for research to unmask
these alternative histories. We thus build on this journal’s previous special issue on
“Making and Hacking” (Richterich/Wenz 2017a) to place emphasis on legacies and
foundations: thinking in terms of history places the emergent and fast-changing
phenomena of DIY making practices into a broader and richer frame.
Our call for papers for this Special Issue “Alternative Histories in DIY
Cultures and Maker Utopias” aimed to elicit contributions from cultural-historical
perspectives, technology and design histories and historiographies, alternative
histories related to postcolonial resistance, and studies that highlight how histor-
ical elements and historicising play a role in mythmaking and the creation of
social imaginaries. In the following sections, we will review several key themes
with regard to DIY, tinkering and inventing, community technology, user inno-
vation, shared workshops and their histories and historiographies, as well as the
beneﬁts of learning through history and historicising. We then summarise the
contributions that appear in this special issue before concluding brieﬂy with some
considerations as to why historical knowledge matters.
Historicising as a Tool
Over several decades, researchers in Science& Technology Studies (STS) and
closely related approaches in feminist studies, indigenous and postcolonial studies,
design, human-computer interaction (HCI) and so on have sought to overcome
the broader image of science and technology practised exclusively by “white elite
groups” (e. g. Kline/Pinch 1996; Oudshoorn/Pinch 2003; Mavhunga 2017). Recent
contributions have emphasised the hegemony of Western technology design and
engineering cultures as not only driving the perception of who gets to deﬁne the
“future”, but also who from the past is to be revered. Anthropologist Art uro Escobar
(2018) asks us to reconﬁgure these dominant, colonialising models of technology
design by examining practices and movements among the indigenous and Afro-
descended people in Latin America. Ron Eglash and Ellen Foster (2017) emphasise
how ﬁxer practices and se débrouiller (making do) in African maker cultures are as
much about spiritual lineages, a collective ethos, creative play and subversive intel-
ligence, as they are about economic necessity. Cindy Lin Kaiying, Silvia Lindtner
and Stefanie Wuschitz (2019) demonstrate how Indonesian biohacker collec-
tives provide an alternative narrative of DIY making and hacking, by positioning
their practices in relation to distinctly Indonesian political, cultural and material
antecedents. Daniela Rosner’s volume (2018) challenges the dominant history
of computing innovation as well as design practice as being void of traditional
craftwork legacies. These examples and others make visible multifarious design
and technology practices and repressed or forgotten histories.
DIY making and hacking has also often purposefully presented alternatives
to the mainstream, which means individuals and groups are presenting coun-
ter-objects and “counter-contexts” where design, technology and engineering are
wrested from hegemonies and given new meaning (Pfaenberger 1992; Kohtala/
Hyysalo/Whalen 2020). People’s reasons for engaging in such making are
political, whether that means explicitly rebelling against “the system” (Cuartielles/
García 2020, in this issue; Foster 2020, in this issue); being compelled to invent to
meet needs (Jungnickel 2020, in this issue; Latouﬁs/Tympas 2020, in this issue);
taking on hobbies within a capitalist work ethic (Shorey 2020, in this issue; Stein
2020, in this issue); making do with what is to hand (Gibas/Nyklová 2020, in this
issue; Usenyuk-Kravchuk 2020, in this issue; Sipos/Franzl 2020, in this issue); or
ﬁnding solace and solidarity in handwork in conditions of adversity (Gowda 2020,
in this issue; Velis et al. 2020, in this issue).
For historians of design, acknowledging politics and meanings entails exam-
ining not only consumption and production, but also mediation – the relations
between designer, consumer, use and meaning-making (Lees-Maei 2009), which,
in DIY making “prosumption”, shift ﬂuidly. Moreover, scholars of STS and material
culture have long argued that users are also innovators and have been more deeply
involved in technology production, and for much longer, than many have been will-
ing to give them credit for (Hyysalo/Jensen/Oudshoorn 2016). A history of inno-
vation and technology bound only to what is considered “high-tech”, is unmoored
from what people themselves do, design, innovate and make– which includes also
sewing and clothes, growing food, making furniture and even making and ﬁxing
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
As historians of consumer technology Ruth Schwarz Cowan (1987) and Joy
Parr (1999) point out, we can beneﬁt from shifting our focus from studying cele-
brated inventors and corporations to the practices of everyday life. Following their
recommendation, several historians of technology and culture have explored the
multiple paths and DIY practices of dierent user groups covering the develop-
ment of transportation, household and computation technologies over the 20th
century. These studies have captured the early automobile use and DIY tinkering
by car owners (Franz 2005) and vehicle convergence to meet local energy supply
needs and other farming necessities in the rural United States (Kline/Pinch
1996), through amateur ham radio hobby cultures in North America, Europe and
Japan and their intricate relationship to professional identity-shaping (Takahashi
2000; Haring 2007), to more general treatments of maintenance work of elec-
tronics and electronic-based technology (Orr 1996).
DIY Material Practice Before Stabilisation: On Car Owners and Hams
For historian Kathleen Franz, car tinkering empowered users, particularly
women, to minimise the imbalance between their desires and one standardised
technology – the early Ford Model T. Drawing upon various examples in the
contemporary popular literature, advice journals and travel logs, Franz reveals
that women in this period were encouraged and very determined to tinker with
their cars. Whether car owners had some previous mechanical know-how or not,
they “were eager to tinker with the new machine” (Franz 2005: 1), and the combi-
nation of hands-on work on the vehicles, advice literature and exchange with
others taught them to maintain and modify those. Women learned that in repair
shops, through experimentation or by recalling their observations of technicians’
work (ibid). Even the Ladies Home Journal published illustrated instructions on
car maintenance. Such approaches to repair and maintenance vividly bring to
mind how contemporary DIY making functions at times– by being messy, explor-
atory and to some degree sustainable (see Holm/Stassen/Kohtala/Boeva 2020, in
this issue). Yet, the connection to these historical precedents within DIY maker
cultures remains unaccounted. These ingenious DIY practices mostly disappeared
in Western countries with their growing automotive industries, especially once
vehicles were stabilised in terms of their design (ibid). Franz’s study presents a
limited perspective considering gender, race, class and geography, but her dedica-
tion to female car owners and their practices provides a glimpse of liberation and
system opposition similarly experienced by women through DIY and craft practices
in Kat Jungnickel’s study of Victorian female cyclists (2018; 2020, in this issue).
Whereas necessity, sustainability, resourcefulness and also counteraction were
associated with these previous examples, it was mostly hobbyism and pleasure that
initially determined the tinkering with electronics. With the growing economic
importance of electronic technology in the post-war period, it also gained signif-
icance for technical work. Both Haring and Takahashi describe tinkering with
ham radios as essential for the professional activity of technicians and in repair
work. The dierence between their studies, however, is that most Western
tinkerers were doing it from a hobbyist perspective, while Japanese tinkerers were
motivated by the economic conditions of occupation-era Japan. Western hams
often turned to their amateur personas at work to sustain professional success
(Haring 2007). Professional education and the industry during this period discon-
nected tinkering, DIY and material practice from (engineering) design, as Haring
indicates, the “advocacy of tinkering as opposed to research and design allied the
amateur and professional electronics communities with separate traditions of
practice” (ibid: 90). These activities took place in individuals’ private time and
space and often remained uncelebrated outside that. Maker culture, the fab lab
structure and contemporary STEM education, on the contrary, have been lauding
DIY, tinkering and the entire ecosystem around it for increasing creativity and the
potential of innovation. Moreover, this maker ecosystem has enforced a global,
entrepreneurial Silicon Valley culture of worship (Irani 2019). The prevalence of
entrepreneurial narratives around DIY making, however, fails to represent the
wider cultural history related with hands-on practices, whether that includes elec-
tronics, computational technologies or remains non-digital.
DIY Making as “Critical Fabulations”: On Gender, Race and Tech
The development of computer science as a discipline, computer engineering and
its aliated industry often portray their history by neglecting hands-on material
user practices and the people involved in them, as many computer historians and
HCI scholars have pointed out. There are multiple reasons for this. First and more
comfortably aligning with computer/tech cultures, hands-on experimentation is
dicult to structure and break down into discrete (binary) entities. Second, the
restructuring and renaming of computer-related jobs in wartime and in the post-war
period aimed at securing gender boundaries and ended up devaluing women’s
contribution to this ﬁeld (Light 1999; Abbate 2012; Hicks 2017). The exclusion from
historical memory, writes Jennifer Light (1999), further relates to implicit assump-
tions that the low status of women’s occupations in computing are not deemed inno-
vative. Many feminist scholars studying DIY, making and craft have noted a similar
trend in Maker Media’s disposal of Craft magazine and its relocation within a few
pages of Make:, suggesting that “feminised” craft is less worthy of attention.
Early programming, before being labelled as “software engineering”, resembled
telephone switchboard operations which made it “more handicraft than science
[and technology], more feminine than masculine” (Ensmenger 2010: 15). Program-
ming then began deploying textile-based manufacturing practices such as in the
core memory for NASA’s Apollo 8 mission by line workers (Rosner et al. 2018) or
the Fairchild semiconductor by Navajo women (Nakamura 2014), both executed
by women mastering the craft of weaving. While line workers were hired for their
particular textile craft skills required in the production of electronics, Navajo
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
women’s mastery of weaving served to support a racialised labour rhetoric based
“heavily on existing ideas of Indians as creative cultural handworkers” (ibid: 921).
For many indigenous women, textile crafts are deeply entangled with cultural
values, traditions as well as forms of subsistence (see Velis et al. 2020, in this
issue). Their appropriation within tech culture narratives rarely serves to present
an alternative, more nuanced but also problematic history of material and DIY-
based shaping design and technology. Instead, as Nakamura argues, “[i]t posits
that indigenous design informed electronic circuit design– a kind of colonialism
in reverse– despite the lack of involvement of indigenous people in the company’s
research and development arm” (2014: 932). In other words, it becomes a white-
washing of historical accounting.
Lately, research in the history of computing informed by approaches and epis-
temologies in the study of women, gender and sexuality, of race, ethnicity and post-
coloniality as well as disability studies, has expanded the common trajectories of
the white male or Western institutions and corporations as those who have shaped
user practices and technological development. These projects combine digital
DIY making with research methods to write alternatives, not just as a gesture of
inclusiveness but as conceivably primary histories of technology and tech cultures.
Some of them look at how historical tools, crafts and practices inform interaction
design (Fernaeus/Jonsson/Tholander 2012); others take more exploratory and
playful approaches to question the dominant paradigms of what counts as scientiﬁc
and technical practice (Posch/Kurbak 2016; Boeva et al. 2017; Rosner/Bjørn 2019).
DIY Making’s Visible Histories and Hagiographies
DIY maker culture’s represented history within makers’ own narratives has been
limited to garage innovators such as the Homebrew Computer Club and oriented
mainly to engineering and computer science technical cultures. In pursuing an
imaginary that brings new forms and aesthetics to humanise– or even replace–
mass production and consumption, makers’ writings often also reference the Arts
and Crafts movement of William Morris, lending their cause a tie to craftsman-
ship and artisan production. Such techno-utopianism tends to overlook the luxury
of time and resources these objects and activities entail, and how the principles
behind the Arts and Crafts movement later became forgotten as its products
became commodiﬁed for wealthy, elite consumers (Sivek 2011; Cramer 2019).
Moreover, oering a consumerist view of DIY making and hacking as the most
valued – trajectories that end in best-selling products and multinational corpo-
rations – belies the very real traditions of many hacklabs and makerspaces in,
for example, squatter, anarchist and social justice communities (Oldenziel/Hård
2013; Costanza-Chock 2020).
Several historians have noted how alternatives get “written out” of history
unti l they are later rediscovered and become utopian– or re-utopianised. DIY ma ker
culture has built upon garage tinkering, but also upon traditions of community
organising and alternative value creation, whose terminologies, ideologies and
operating principles are easily “written out” (cf. Cuartielles/García 2020, in this
issue). In the case of cooperatives, for instance, as neoclassical economics became
the canon, discussion on cooperatives was dropped from economics textbooks;
this in turn meant cooperatives were overlooked for their potential to address
social problems (Kalmi 2007). Similar issues arise with documenting informal
economies and gift economies in many regions, where DIY making clearly resides,
not least with regard to repair, maintenance and material ﬂow networks (Ahmed/
Mim/Jackson 2015; Eglash/Foster 2017). In the same way, small craft produc-
tion was written out of the history of mass production– often in itself presented
as a linear trajectory – as if it never co-existed alongside globalising centralised
production (Carson 2010). For historians such as Charles Sabel and Jonathan
Zeitlin (1985), small ﬁrms and maker-craft production did not denote a traditional
or subordinate form of economic activity. Their visionary ﬁgures, such as French
philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, often inspired or even mobilised further
cooperative production projects, using ideas and a political vocabulary unknown
to the “well-schooled theoreticians of mass production” who thus rendered these
alternative idioms obsolete through neglect or outright scorn (ibid: 142–143). Redis-
covering technocultural phenomena may allow us to imagine new visions, recreate
utopias and remake narratives of how to act in the world and how to be embedded
in webs of life, in times of complexity and health, environmental and economic
crises. This is particularly pressing now when it is unimaginable to see outside of
capitalism and homo oeconomicus, and beyond ready-made solutions (Daily 2017).
Tool Domestication and Beyond: DIY and DIT
Numerous authors have summarised the histories of DIY as related to home
maintenance and handicrafts, while others have included later music and self-
publishing subcultures related to punk’s explicit use of DIY terminology and a
particular aesthetic. Florian Cramer (2019) assigns the roots of DIY culture to
the romantic reaction to alienating industrial or institutional production– such
as the Arts and Crafts movement, at least in Western cultures – which implies
that Do-It-Yourself as a term lacks sense for eras or regions that are pre-indus-
trial or less industrialised. DIY is thus both conservative and anti-conservative,
depending on what is rejected or preserved (Cramer 2019). Paul Atkinson points to
the “sometimes contradictory elements of need versus desire and creativity versus
assemblage” when one attempts to categorise DIY activities (2006: 2). Linking DIY
histories to “democracy” and people’s agency in dierent eras, Atkinson suggests
categories of “pro-active DIY”, activities that are self-directed; “reactive DIY”
which entails mediation through kits; “essential DIY”, that is, home maintenance
performed through economic necessity, and “lifestyle DIY”, where the motivation
for home renovation lies more in conspicuous consumption (ibid: 3). Historian of
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
technology Rachel Maines (2009) introduced the duo of utilitarian and hedonised
DIY, the former referring to activities done out of necessity and the latter out of
pleasure, to illustrate how under particular circumstances in Western countries
utilitarian DIY became hedonised DIY. One and the same DIY activity, for
example, needlework, could simultaneously be rendered utilitarian and hedonised
depending on when it is performed and by whom.
In a similar quest to avoid technological determinism and chronological
linearity when examining people’s DIY practices over time, Knott (2013) proposes
a taxonomy of prosumption that is not principally embedded in Western capi-
talism, as Toer had conceptualised it (having coined the term prosumption in
The Third Wave, 1980). Knott’s categories for prosumers are those who “follow”,
that is, “the prosumer who follows the rules” when provided with kits, toolkits
and instructions, such as paint-by-number kits; those who “reject” those provi-
sions of capitalism and “pursue self-suciency”, symbolised by the launch and
subsequent inﬂuence of the Whole Earth Catalog (further discussed below); and
those who “adapt” through hacking and ad hoc bricolage, such as “IKEA hacking”
(2013: 45). For Ruth Oldenziel and Mikael Hård (2013), active users have been
investing time, skills and resources as “consumers”, forming user movements,
“tinkerers” who appropriate technology and modify machines, and “rebels” who
protest technology introduction such as surveillance software and hardware. Such
DIY making and hacking includes computer tinkering, wind turbine and cargo-
bike building, and children’s engineering toy kits, which have shaped European
infrastructures and technologies (Oldenziel/Hård 2013).
Domestic and Public DIY
Within the broader set of historical examples, some of the cultural antecedents
of DIY making are squarely placed in the domestic sphere. The activities related
to early car owners, farmers and amateur radio hobbyists often took place within
the household confines, but they rarely addressed the needs of the home as
a place and building and its individual caretakers. The aftermath of the Wars,
especially in the United Kingdom, economic recessions but also the prolifera-
tion of hardware stores, manuals and instructions media, turned the house and
home into a DIY site (see Gelber 1997; Hackney 2013). In activities like home
renovations and repairs, homeowners engaged in utilitarian DIY activities out of
ﬁnancial necessity, household duty and an absence of qualiﬁed craftspeople; on
other occasions, hedonised DIY provided an opportunity for artistic self-expres-
sion and pastime (see Edwards 2006). Similar to feminised care-work, repair and
maintenance, however, utilitarian DIY gets limited attention from a historical and
contemporary perspective. The home with its actors and activities is often treated
as a marginalised space, placed out of the focus of collectively relevant attention
and productive inﬂuence, but mostly as the site of gendered work and homemaking
crafts that has little value to contribute (ibid). Besides, the ongoing hedonisation of
DIY practices and technologies connected to increase of wealth and resources in
predominantly Western countries enables individual expression and exploration
celebrated for its creative and libertarian attributes (see Gelber 1997; Powell 2012).
These diverse studies suggest that a closer analysis of the histories of domestic
and everyday DIY as a marginalised practice obscures present-day visions of DIY
making as the locus of creative tech innovation.
Utilitarian DIY making in an improvement sense has recently taken a more
political stance as cities and their residents feel pressure through ongoing gentri-
ﬁcation, the ramiﬁcations of de-industrialisation and the absence of municipal
support. In several cases, this has led to civic engagement through DIY actions
such as urban gardening, neighbourhood exchange of goods and services as well
as other forms of meaningful transformation of public space. Such examples have
their own antecedents dating further back than most contemporary DIY-related
activities, but tend to be overlooked once tech-based maker and hacker cultures are
presented as the answer to communal issues. Other renditions of these histories
such as the DIY revitalisation practices for “gray spaces”, that is, public spaces
forgotten or abandoned by municipalities, carried out by local Detroiters from
diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds get little credit and public attention, as
the study by geographer Kimberley Kinder (2016) illustrates. DIY revitalisation
practices of public space and community, based on self-provisioning, however,
lead to growth of local subcultures around common goals and methods (ibid).
Utilitarian DIY also characterised much DIY activity in regions such as the
Soviet Bloc, where the scarcity and low quality of goods met authoritarian regimes’
quashing of consumerism. A culture of craft, repair and bricolage developed,
enacted in private homes, summer homes and gardens, and shared public spaces,
and propagated through television programmes and DIY magazines (Gera-
simova/Chuikina 2009; Oldenziel/Hård 2013; Gibas/Nyklová 2020, in this issue;
Usenyuk-Kravchuk 2020, in this issue; Sipos/Franzl 2020, in this issue). At the
same time, Soviet teens performed their own rebellion during the Cold War
by appropriating blue jeans – a symbol of American capitalism – and making,
customising and personalising them (Oldenziel/Hård 2013).
DIY’s lineage can further be traced in the punk subculture of the 1970s/1980s
fostering the production of self-made media known as zines. Zines made with
1 One ﬁtting exa mple is the 2016 exhibit ion “Fix the City ” curated by London’s Machines
Room makerspace as part of the London Design Festival. Though many of the proj-
ects created by the designers and makerspace members showed good intentions,
only few embraced actual local craft and DIY traditions such as those required for
houseboat living and maintenance and combined them with the means of digital
fabrication (Foster/Boeva 2019).
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
cut-n-paste techniques, photocopying and collages, as well as hand and typewritten
text not only created a particularly appealing subversive aesthetic that countered
the commercial style of popular culture, but aligned (youth) interests and practices
with direct action politics, feminism, anti-colonialism and more recently digital
production (see McKay 1991; Triggs 2006; Foster 2020, in this issue). While the
cultural histories of zine making and DIY print media with their idiosyncratic
aesthetics often get credited in maker and hacker histories to emphasise their
envisioned countercultural background, they have limitations in explaining the
rather standardised design of mainstream online DIY instructions and media
such as Instructables or GitHub. Instead, their current form puts these squarely
in the style and logics of technical writing and tech culture (Cole/Perner-Wilson
2019), thus neglecting the diversity of DIY practices and their needs for represen-
Interestingly, the word “punk” stems from the late 1800s and meant “inferior”
or “bad”, and it was slang for a “worthless person” or young hoodlum in the early
1900s (Online Etymology Dictionary n. d.). The punk aesthetic and ethos from the
hardcore music scene of the 1970s, with its imagery of hoodlums and rebellion
against commercialism, has later informed the more political and protest-oriented
subcultures in “craftivism” (Greer 2008). Craftivism entails handicraft performed
individually or in groups, such as knitting circles, but directed to political activism,
environmental advocacy, artistic protest and/or radical feminism (Minahan/Cox
2007). Particularly when connected to digital technologies, craftivism seeks to
resist narratives of traditional gender roles and how they are associated with utili-
tarian craft, as well as the exclusion of women from innovation and technology
imaginaries. Early craftivist communities were forerunners exploring novel
networked possibilities to use “Web2.0” as well as digital fabrication in creating
new material cultures and alternative maker practices. As with the other DIY
practices we have reviewed here, relationships of punk and protest-oriented DIY
with mainstream mass production and consumption structures are never straight-
forward – subject as they are to sanctioned marginalising and invisibilising, or
appropriation and commodiﬁcation (Hebdige 1979). Today, despite the many
espoused beneﬁts, DIY maker practices and spaces have potential to contribute
to neighbourhood gentriﬁcation and involuntarily to the more neoliberal sides
of a “participation society” (Kelty 2017; Cardullo/Kitchin/Di Feliciantonio 2018;
Cramer 2019); its punk, rebellious roots in protest and stimulating new politics
are too easily ignored.
Collective Tools and DIWO
DIY making and hacking encompass individually oriented, often domestic or
private, DIY, as well as socially oriented DIT– in public, private or third spaces,
or in virtual spaces via online sharing. In 2006, the art collective Furtherﬁeld
coined DIWO, Do-It-With-Others, to denote art projects that were collaborative
and distributed (Garrett 2006)– arguably more explorative, expressive and open-
ended than projects such as free/libre open-source software, which are typically
associated with maker culture by business analysts. Handicrafts have always
had their knitting circles and common workshops, while communities have long
established alternative spaces for new materialist and peer-learning pedagogies
or workshops for self-suciency and autonomy. Where motivations multiply, so
does the variety of DIWO spaces, as Regina Sipos and Kerstin Franzl illustrate
in their examination of Germany’s Open Workshops (Sipos/Franzl 2020, in this
While there is not space in this Introduction to elaborate on the histories of
hacklabs and hackerspaces, they have clearly contributed to global maker culture
evolution and diversity, particularly with regard to bringing media activism litera-
cies, as well as surveillance and privacy issues into the realm of concerns and
practices. Hacker cultures and their histories in Europe and the United States
have been covered by Maxigas (2012), Jordan (2016), Autistici/Inventati (2017)
and others, while Sasha Costanza-Chock (2020) summarise further examples of
hacklabs in the Global South. Some technology collectives emerged from clearly
anti-authoritarian social movements such as squatting; others were inspired by
and worked in “participatory culture” (Jenkins 2006): alternative media and tele-
communications, net art, fanzines, etc. Still others (and obviously these groups
overlap) gelled around computer geek culture, such as the demoscene, which
gave birth to several hacklabs especially in Europe, such as Bitraf in Oslo (Silvast/
Reunanen 2014; Autistici/Inventati 2017).
Scholars have also noted that paying attention to histories of making activi-
ties and shared artisan workshops contribute more to our understanding of local-
ised and low-tech innovation patterns that do not conform to the Silicon Valley
corporate model. Shadreck Chirikure (2017), for instance, questions why scien-
tiﬁc research and technological innovation are regarded as more legitimate when
done in giant, high-tech laboratories funded by global capitalist regimes, as “mass
production” for mass markets. (See Figure1 for an example of a grassroots tech-
nology park in India.) Chirikure (2017) compares the Western notion of progress
to the knowledge production accomplished through craft and making in ﬁelds
and houses for small, local communities in the precolonial history of African
technology– and their spiritual and cultural signiﬁcance beyond their innovative
capacities. For Chirikure, places for pottery and metallurgy were “sites of work and
knowledge production”, which were “often embedded in, and were eschewed for
being in, the living space and the natural world” (2017: 73). Chirikure asks directly,
should Western concepts always have African equivalents? (2017: 73). What is a
fabrication laboratory for, and for whom?
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
Tool Citizenship: When “Sustainability” Arrived
One of the most popular references in DIY historiographies is Stewart Brand’s
Whole Earth Catalog, ﬁrst issued in 1968, which took DIY out of the home and
into the sheds, shacks, barns, ﬁelds and even domes of a counterculture, energy-
conscious, self-sucient utopia. The Catalog featured merchandise and plans for
self-reliance, from building to agriculture– small-scale tools for an individualist,
autonomous citizenship– targeted to the back-to-the-land commune movement
of California in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Turner 2006; Sadler 2012; Turner
2018). Brand envisioned the Catalog also as a research tool, networking people
and their stu in a way that clearly brings to mind today’s maker repositories:
“nifty projects everywhere, earnest folk climbing around on new dome designs,
solar generators” (cited in Turner 2006: 79). The network would be designed as a
learning system steeped in the cybernetics movement that Brand both moved in
and was instrumental in kindling, while the Catalog also inspired environmen-
talists worldwide (Boyle/Harper 1976; Turner 2006; Sadler 2012). (And domes
persist in maker culture; see Figure2.)
The milieu in California’s Bay Area in the 1960s, its movements and countercul-
ture, evolved into the globally inﬂuential, individualist and libertarian capitalism
we see today. Fred Turner, Simon Sadler, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron,
among others, observe how a heady mix of McLuhan-inspired community media
activism, hippie ecotopia and free market ideologues formed a “bizarre hybrid”
only made possible “through a nearly universal belief in technological deter-
minism” (Barbrook/Cameron 1996: 50; also Turner 2006; 2018; Sadler 2012).
Pragmatic tool-making, prototyping and networked information sharing birthed
mythical artefacts of California innovation and making such as the “virtual
community” and WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), and garage tinkering such
as the Homebrew Computer Club (Wozniak 1984; Rheingold 1993; McGetrick
2017). Decades later, Chris Anderson, one of the editors of Wired magazine,
published the capitalist maker bible Makers (Anderson 2012) and O’Reilly Media
began publishing Make: magazine in 2005– critiqued by some for representing
and reproducing maker culture as hyperconsumerist technomyth (Sivek 2011;
Shorey 2020, in this issue).
The Whole Earth Catalog connected to and had an inﬂuence on movements
beyond California emphasising ecology, environmentalism and community tech-
nology. The (Anglo-Saxon) 1970s saw the rise of the appropriate technology and
alternative technology movements, both of which sought to “devise technologies
which oer genuine alternatives to the large-scale, complex, centralized, high-
energy life forms which dominate the modern age” (Winner 1979: 80). The Appro-
priate Technology movement was conceptualised and popularised through E. F.
Schumacher’s inﬂuential book Small is Beautiful (1973) – and is a framing that
many makers and maker-researchers adopt today for their work, particularly in
emerging economies reﬂecting its early focus on development (e. g. Pearce 2012;
Guzmán/Reynolds-Cuellar 2018). Alternative Technology groupings conducted
hands-on experiments with and provided information on renewable energy, eco-
building, organic food production, water and sanitation, and cooperative ways
to develop and use useful technologies by people and for people (Smith 2005;
Harper/Sadler 2020, in this issue).
“Science and technology for the people” movements also unfolded in, for
example, France, Latin America and India (Quet 2013; Smith et al. 2017). In India,
People’s Science Movements set the stage for the later incarnations of fab labs
and hackerspaces to develop alternative technologies (Smith et al. 2017). Vigyan
Ashram, for example, has been involved in education as well as the development
of rural technologies since the early 1980s and established a Fab Lab in 2002
(Kulkarni 2016). (See Figure1.)
Figure1: Technolog y Demonstration Park, Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, India, 2017.
Photographs: Cindy Kohtala.
Figure2: Dome demonstrator (left), Vigyan Ashram, Pabal, India, 2017. Hacker
dome (right), Koppelting maker festival, Amersfoort, the Netherlands, 2016.
Photographs: Cindy Kohtala.
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
Anti-capitalism and Anti-design
DIY counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s presented pragmatic-utopian visions
of shared machine shops, community technology workshops and “laboratory situ-
ations” that drew their inspiration from Ivan Illich, the Situationists and anarchist
writers such as Murray Bookchin, Pyotr Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
(Boyle/Harper 1976; Hess 1979; Borgonuovo/Franceschini 2018) – distinguish-
able from current maker hagiographies that espouse the sole-genius-inventor
narrative. Especially beloved are anarchist illustrator Cliord Harper’s utopian
“visions” in the Alternative Technology publication Radical Technology (Boyle/
Harper 1976), of shared workshops for handicraft and small-technology produc-
tion, community workshops for larger projects, and others (Figure3).
Some visions were actualised, such as the Centre for Alternative Technology
(CAT) in Wales, now an educational centre on sustainability, and the Austra-
lian CERES Community Environment Park established in 1982, which was
promoted as a “vision for Brunswick (called ‘The People’s Republic of Brunswick’
in the press) as a decentralised/distributed DIY neighbourhood” featuring “local
community sharing systems that included tool libraries, community gardens;
fruit trees in streets, worm production, plant nurseries; and much more”. CERES
had an impact on later formal design education in Australia. The early counter-
culture visions particularly heralded later initiatives that were informed by and
more explicitly aligned with anarchism, feminism and ecosocialism as a reaction
to neoliberal austerity politics, such as New Municipalism (Roth/Russell 2018;
Thompson 2020). These translocal movements also call attention to compelling
new practices for developing the digital tools for solidarity organising and partici-
patory democracy, which become entangled with the material tools for making,
living and working together in cities.
DIY countercultures also entailed the “adhocism” of self-built architecture,
Drop City domes and projects built from waste materials (Jencks/Silver 2013
; see also Balkin/Harbison 1990). The radical technology groupings’ focus
on ecological solutions was labelled as anti-design and practitioners as “design
outlaws” (Zelov/Cousineau 1997). North Italy too saw alternative Radical Architec-
ture and Radical Design movements such as Global Tools that rebelled against the
capitalist orientation of industrial design by promoting embodied peer learning
about craft and materials, survival, the human body and philosophy in designated
“laboratories” (Borgonuovo/Franceschini 2018). The collective sought to redress
design’s indierence to the political economy of the day, rife with the threat of
nuclear war, racism, pollution and consumerism, by adopting an “anti-design”,
“anti-school” approach to design and pedagogy that– while avant-garde, provoca-
tive and speculative– contributed to later Environmental Design curricula in Italy
2 Chris Ryan, founder of CERES and professor of sustainable design, personal cor-
respondence with Cindy Kohtala, 27 April 2020.
(Formia 2017). These rebellious acts from the periphery have thus had lasting
impact on the ﬁeld of sustainable design and how formal design education has
incorporated elements of 1960s/1970s counterculture making.
Figure3: Vision 5/Community Workshop illustration by Cliord Harper, pages 200–201
of Radical Technology (Boyle/Harper 1976).
Anti-militarism and Protest
Another characteristic marking DIY countercultures was protest: many groups
were active in demonstrations denouncing the Vietnam War, for instance. Peter
Harper from CAT collaborated with a Stockholm activist group called PowWow to
organise the Exhibition of People’s Technology in Stockholm, to take place during
the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE)
(see Simon Sadler’s interview with Harper, Harper/Sadler 2020, in this issue).
PowWow also organised protests against the Vietnam War during the spring
and summer months of 1972 and aimed to challenge the governments attending
UNCHE in what they saw as centralised environmental decision-making far
from citizens and highly impactful techno-solutionism, what we would call
ecomodernism today (Björk n. d.; Scott 2016). In fact, Stewart Brand shows up
even here, bringing the activist group Hog Farm with him to stage an initiative
called Life Forum– a performative act that many members of PowWow resented
as American interference and an attempt by Brand to detract attention from the
Vietnam protests (Björk n. d.; Scott 2016).
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
In 2015, two European initiatives (OuiShare and Open State) collaborated
on a circularity- and open-source-oriented maker camp called POC21 (Proof of
Concept), in anticipation of the UN Conference of the Parties assembly COP21
in France the same year. Inventors prototyped their solutions using a temporary
fab lab, while eating, sleeping and working together in a commune-like environ-
ment (Conrad 2016). The materiality of the camp, commune and demonstrations
of inventions respond to the aesthetics of the 1970s counterculture at the same
time as bringing in Silicon Valley rhetorics and practices such as mentoring and
pitching (Berglund/Kohtala 2020). Like PowWow and the Exhibition of People’s
Technology, POC21 aimed to draw attention to grassroots solutions by connecting
to high-level summitry (Smith et al. 2017). Unlike PowWow, however, POC21 did
not seek to protest elite environmental decision-making nor question the processes
of how the UN deﬁnes sustainability for the people of the world. Indeed, in many
maker subcultures, explicit protest and political critique are relatively rare. Beliefs
that “science is neutral” and “technology is neutral” are remarkably tenacious, and
pragmatic prototyping is clearly emphasised even in initiatives explicitly oriented
to environmentalism and/or social good.
That said, critiques do arise regarding maker culture’s apparent determi-
nation to remain depoliticised. Aligning with military partners and the petro-
chemical industry has been contested in maker and fab lab subcultures, even
when the funding is earmarked for “good” educational initiatives (Altman 2012;
Troxler 2014). The legacy of radical technology’s alternative milieu – particu-
larly its readiness for protest and critique– is thus most visible in today’s most
overtly political spaces, such as DIYbio and biohack labs; alternative spaces such
as feminist hacklabs and Green Fab Labs; and Critical Making projects, some of
which address privacy, anti-surveillance and sousveillance (Ratto 2011; Hertz 2012;
Toupin 2014; Delgado/Callén 2016). Boston’s South End Technology Center, for
example, was initially established in the milieu of the civil rights struggle, as a tech-
nology training site for black Boston youth. Founder Mel King moved from protest
and activism to political strategy, aligning with MIT, a predominantly white, elite
institution, to connect a Fab Lab with the existing SETC, thus also enabling MIT
to enact objectives aiming at diversity and inclusion (McIlwain 2020).
DIY Geographies: On Peripheries and Centres
One of our desired results has been to include geographical and spatial contexts
of DIY maker practices beyond the well-represented ones in the Global North.
However, the attempt to represent a “global” or in other terms world history of
making within the limited scope of this special issue as well as from our own
positionality (in northern/western Europe) further problematises this endeavour.
As the growing scholarship on making, hacking, DIY, craft and its associated
topics reveals, the prevalence of English as a lingua franca for exchange and in
publications reduces the opportunities to include voices and stories that remain
unheard. This can already fail because of something deemed negligible such
as understanding a call for papers or the absence of an accurate translation of
concepts like jugaad in Hindi, urawaza in Japanese, gambiarra in Brazilian Portu-
guese and many more denoting something similar to DIY. In other words, the
dominance of western DIY making and its histories begins with the language
behind it. Other issues with expanding the geographic representation relate to
the research methods required to uncover untold histories– DIY practices are not
overtly represented in archives and scholars rely on oral histories, cues by research
informants and interviewees, or even the actual reconstruction of artefacts (see
Jungnickel 2020, this issue; Boeva et al. 2017).
Even so, a few ethnographic studies on contemporary maker culture have
provided insights into other local industrial and technological histories as well
as their manifestations that allow us to challenge the dominance of the Western
and predominantly colonial perspective. The enduring link between education
and DIY maker culture, often praised for its direct descent from Dewey, Piaget or
Montessori’s philosophy, is at the centre of several studies. Anita Say Chan’s study
(2014) of Peru’s nationwide adoption of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), another
MIT spin-o, in the early 2000s questions the long-lasting binary of centre and
periphery. In capturing dierent events and strategies around OLPC’s distribu-
tion in the country, she discovers how local indigenous educators and students
from the Puno altiplano develop their own training programmes reﬂecting the
culture of local Aymara and Quechua people, all leading up to the creation of
Peru’s ﬁrst rural hack lab collective (ibid). Similar to Chan’s work, Morgan Ames
(2019) points out that not all DIY, constructivist educational models underlying
projects like the OLPC translate well within the combination of Western “techno-
utopian” schemes and metropolitan governmental enterprises of the Global South
through her study of the OLPC programme in Paraguay.
Another strand on DIY making in less visible regions considers the connec-
tions to industry, manufacturing and innovation. Denisa Kera’s comparative study
(2012) of hackerspaces in Indonesia, Singapore and Japan demonstrates how such
spaces mediate between high-tech/industrial and vernacular knowledge and
traditions as much as between technology development and community building.
Singapore’s earliest hackerspace, for instance, is situated in a neighbourhood
full of paradoxes– seafaring, colonial pasts, diverse religions reside next to IT
innovation companies, commerce and entertainment areas – and it takes credit
for that (ibid). Chinese DIY maker cultures and the growing DIY manufacturing
businesses in Shenzhen are the focus of Silvia Lindtner’s multi-year ethnography
(2015; 2020). Studying how contemporary practices draw upon the culture of local
Chinese manufacturing traditions, her work exempliﬁes how informal manufac-
turing systems, a lso known as shanzhai, that follow a DIY ethos were established in
this region. Counted as prime examples of Chinese grassroots creativity and today
the centre of governmental support, these places and activities have a marginal or
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
shadow existence in comparison to the Western (especially American) maker tech
economy which paradoxically relies on the industrial infrastructures of produc-
tion in Southeast Asia (Tanenbaum et al. 2013). The ignorance of local craft and
make-do traditions as much as their co-optation into Western design, innovation
and entrepreneurship paradigms builds the core of Lilly Irani’s argument in her
decade of ﬁeldwork in a Delhi design studio (2019). She vividly illustrates how
the process of casting designers, developers and non-governmental organisation
workers as drivers of innovation in India conceals the contribution of local crafts-
people, regular workers and activists to the country’s development, which even
gets framed as obstructive (ibid).
The review presented here is by no means expansive; it only captures the
scholarly worlds closer to ours. Moreover, it is also aicted by the same language
issues described above. To expand the geographies of alternative DIY maker
practices and their histories would likely require confronting research methods
and practices (What counts as a history? When does it begin?), the research privi-
leges of academia (Who gets to tell stories? And about whom?) and the deeply
embedded colonial and marginalising structures of the technological and scien-
tiﬁc worlds (Why is DIY making as the “economy of one” more valuable for society
than making out of necessity and to ﬁght poverty?).
In This Issue
Three full papers in the section Field Research and Case Studies present novel
perspectives on alternative DIY maker histories. In “Craft and Artisan Initiatives
of the Salvadoran Civil War (1980–1992)”, Emilio Velis, Kate Samson, Isaac Robles
and Daniel Rodríguez place Latin American craft strongly within a maker culture
that elsewhere often devalues handicraft in favour of technology-oriented innova-
tion practices and rhetoric. As digital makers do today, the artisans in the authors’
study taught and practised craft making in workshops as an outlet for personal
expression and even therapy, a way to develop technical skills for personal and
collective empowerment, and as an opportunity for creative learning. The authors
give voice to people not often heard in today’s technology-addled maker circles–
refugees, women, veterans and disabled people, all of them bonded as participants
of artisan collectives during the strife of the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s.
In “Histories of Technology Culture Manifestos: Their Function in Shaping
Technology Cultures and Practices”, Ellen K. Foster examines the rhetoric,
contexts, aesthetics and materialities of well-propagated feminist, maker and
hacker, repair, and cyberfeminist and feminist hacker manifestos developed in
dierent periods and geographies. Analysing these as historical artefacts, Foster
makes a case for manifestos as tools for identity shaping as well as for laying the
knowledge foundations of individual groups. Yet as the better-known examples of
the maker, hacker and tech-related communities demonstrate, the values behind
them often result in the maintenance of a status quo instead of its uprooting.
Instead, Foster proposes to expand the perspective towards radical feminist mani-
festos and their conﬁgurations which critically question power relations and
account for diverse backgrounds around class, gender, race and geography.
The third full paper explores the recent history of Spanish DIY spaces. In
“From Hacking to Making– The Commodiﬁcation of Spanish DIY Spaces Since
the 1990s”, David Cuartielles Ruiz and César García Sáez survey the broader
context of the country’s dierent techno-social movements and spaces and the
possible reasons why many of them underwent a double transformation through
the commercialisation of DIY culture and a loss of its values associated with it.
Capturing data from a broad range of sources including an online survey, social
media and community channels, the authors present a compelling “Spanish DIY
culture timeline” that includes the entry and exit points of some of these spaces,
relevant media publications, public events, as well as policies and governmental
reforms imposing changes on Spain’s DIY spaces.
Two exploratory papers in the Entering the Field section open our perspec-
tives on the diversity of DIY activities, communities and spaces. In “Tracing
the History of DIY and Maker Culture in Germany’s Open Workshops”, Regina
Sipos and Kerstin Franzl take the proliferation of contemporary makerspaces in
Germany to trace their beginnings in the two formerly separated 20th-century
countries. Combining oral histories and document analysis, their initial study
illustrates how the dierent sociocultural and economic infrastructures of both
countries constructed distinct DIY cultures – one being more countercultural
and leisurely oriented, the other pursuing the education of future generations of
young workers. Despite such dierences, their commonality was an underlying
idea of community-making.
The combination of hobbies/leisure time and workforce education through
DIY is explored from a dierent perspective in “‘What You Can Invent over the
Weekend’ and the Recurring History of Corporate DIY” by Samantha Shorey.
The paper presents a comparative study of two sets of DIY texts– a collection of
printed DIY booklets from the 1950s and 1960 provided by General Motors (GM)
to their production employees, and the ﬁrst issues of Make: magazine from the
early 2000s. In studying the topics, projects, tools, materials and their intended
audience turned makers in both printed sources, Shorey questions the argumen-
tation for DIY as a practice and place for self-improvement and innovation, further
noting that the techno-utopian celebration of making, craft and DIY within
contemporary tech-cultures as unmapped sites of (workers’) creativity deviates
from GM’s intentions for their workers’ education and leisure time.
In the section In Conversation With …, we present two compelling interviews
with practitioners and founding ﬁgures of alternative DIY movements. The ﬁrst
interview “Makers and Design in South Africa: Technology and Craft Cultures
and their Antecedents” with Felix Holm, co-founder of the Maker Station in
Cape Town, and Suné Stassen, founding director of Open Design Afrika, was
Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler
conducted over video conference with two of the guest editors days before the
global pandemic shut down nearly everything. Here, Holm and Stassen reﬂect
on how their engagement in making, design and creative practices has supported
establishing infrastructures that reﬂect South Africa’s diverse DIY traditions and
empower local communities in a meaningful way. In “The Exhibition of People’s
Technology, 1972”, Peter Harper, co-editor of the famous Radical Technology
source, recapitulates in his conversation with design historian Simon Sadler the
contents and topics of the 1972 Stockholm exhibition dedicated to it and its broader
implications. Supplemented with a plethora of visual materials presenting some
of the “alternative technologies” and instructions on how to rebuild them, the
conversation reconnects contemporary tech DIY making with many of its initial
promises around sustainability, democracy and diversity.
To illustrate an even richer landscape of DIY making’s alternative histories,
in the section Moments in Alternative (Hi)stories, we invited researchers and prac-
titioners to contribute short vignettes that combine historical, ethnographic and
practice-based research. Following from the Alternative Technology movement,
Kostas Latouﬁs and Aristotle Tympas describe small wind turbine making and
design in an isolated Scottish island community that has grown to a global group
of supporters. In a similar way, extreme weather conditions and extremely remote
locations engender ingenuity through DIY, as Svetlana Usenyuk-Kravchuk illus-
trates the wonderful bricolaged solutions for mobility crafted by inventors in
the Russian Arctic. Socialism and the transition to a democracy created another
locally contextual form of DIY in what is now the Czech Republic, merging
necessity with leisure, as Petr Gibas and Blanka Nyklová’s contribution reveals.
Anupama Gowda looks at history from a dierent angle, that of using her fab
lab to allow local children to explore the histories of their own urban neighbour-
hood of Halasuru in Bangalore, India. The experiences of educators are also at the
heart of Jesse Adams Stein’s vignette on the collective action of highly skilled engi-
neering patternmakers teaching at a trade school in Melbourne during a stern
period of de-industrialisation. The ultimate example, written by Kat Jungnickel,
explores how historical clothing patents, in particular from the Victorian era, help
uncover the unlauded inventiveness of women and marginalised people, created
in a manner and with the motivation similar to other DIY cultures, but also how
the actual DIY act of re-making these textile “technologies” creates seminal
knowledge about the individuals and societal norms missing in the paper records.
The examination of DIY cultures and maker utopias conﬁrms their importance
paradoxically through their very marginality. By framing and reframing, appro-
priating and reappropriating, DIY making and hacking – understood through
a wider set of people and practices– allows individuals and social groupings to
reassert control, choose how to spend their time in leisure or productivity, learn
and bond, and have multiple orientations to “innovation”. While the terminology
of DIY is pegged to industrialisation and rendered irrelevant or colonising in less
industrialised contexts, there is room for epistemological consideration as to how
“maker culture” can be re-expanded to allow low-tech, handicraft and bricolage to
inform. Historical examinations also serve to complicate problematic technology
determinist views of innovation.
By remaining stalwart at the grassroots and the peripheries, alternative
DIY maker cultures have created technocultural conditions by which technolo-
gies could be prototyped and eventually adopted more widely. The Alternative
Technology movement, for instance, played a role in the mainstreaming of wind
turbines in Denmark (Boyle/Harper 1976; Smith 2005). The antecedents to
current maker culture are important with regard to how they contribute to making
“enduring technologies” (such as bicycles or windmills), maintaining and resur-
recting interest in repair and small-scale environmental technologies (Oldenziel/
Trischler 2015: 5; see Latouﬁs/Tympas 2020, in this issue; Harper/Sadler 2020,
in this issue). As such technologies become embedded in people’s everyday
lives, even at the fringes, they act as “pockets of persistence” which are rooted in
routines, materiality and cultural reframings (Shove 2012: 372, cited in Oldenziel/
Trischler 2015: 6). From the perspective of the history of technologies, then, it is
less helpful to see innovations as having linear histories, moving in a trajectory
towards stabilisation, than it is to observe how technologies and movements wane
and revive in cycles and their relations to other technologies and practices (Shove
2012; Oldenziel/Trischler 2015). This appears particularly important with regard
to how the contemporary maker culture takes up or disregards low-carbon tech-
nologies and to which technology narratives groups align.
Today’s DIY maker communities and their spaces may take inspiration and
even strategic guidance from the global commodiﬁed “maker movement”, but
they are geographically situated and actual practices and tactics are informed,
explicitly or implicitly, by groups and norms that precede the makerspace and its
community (Dunbar-Hester 2014; Costanza-Chock 2020). If articulated, cur-
rently invisible histories can tell us much about how such practices could be made
more relevant, better answer local needs and gain staying power in their own
localities (Soppelsa 2011). Historical knowledge can feed back into actual practice,
strengthen the potential for positive socio-environmental impact, inform policy
and more generally foster plurality of voice and agency.
We are grateful to the reviewers for their valuable contributions to this Special
Issue. The work has been supported in part by the Nessling Foundation (Grant
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