Makers Communities and the Production of Technology in China

Modes of Production, Session III

Chair: Clément Renaud (@clemsos)
Discussant: Silvia Lindtner (@yunnia)

Location: Kamerling Onnes Building, Room A002

Time: 22 May 2018, 14:30-16:00


1) Makers in China: a model to export?

Presenter: Monique BOLLI

ABSTRACT: The creation of social innovation labs, living labs, hackerspaces, makerspaces, fablabs and innovation parks indicates local, national, and international dynamics. China is unique in the rapid transformation of the maker movement, where the bottom-up initiatives that share knowledge and promote innovation meet the top-down approach, i.e. the governmental policies on mass innovation and entrepreneurship supporting this “new driving force”. The maker movement has evolved in multiple ways that characterize a change in thinking, hands-on approach to creation and production, and economic diversification. Events are organized, places defined, and spaces created to share, show, learn and develop ideas, projects and produce prototypes. The complex networks of people, communities, and cities reflect the dynamics between state and society. In addition to understanding diverse initiatives, it is important to learn the position of the Chinese State and of different actors such as planners, economists, entrepreneurs, teachers and scholars on the creation, development or closing of innovation spaces. Certain aspects of the Chinese innovation ecosystems are attractive globally for governments and communities. Ties are therefore growing and projects are being launched through local and international members of these communities. The communities and initiatives of makers in Shanghai and Shenzhen have a global outreach. Making, hacking, and DIY initiatives facilitate international exchanges between countries through the interests of makers, makers pro and entrepreneurs. China has become the “World’s Innovation Role Model” and an important hub for the global maker movement.


2) Reflections on the Development and Aspirations of Shenzhen’s Makerspaces from the Perspective of a Craft Researcher/Practitioner

Presenter: Justin MARSHALL

ABSTRACT: In early 2015 the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Chaihuo, a makerspace in Shenzhen, the city responsible for producing ninety per cent of the world’s personal computers and seventy per cent of its mobile phones. The visit expressed the significance of China’s fledgling but fast-growing maker movement: while its first makerspace was only set up in 2010, there are now over a hundred, and Keqiang’s visit is part of a bigger governmental push on makerspaces, positioned as sites of technology-led innovation key to the country’s economic growth.

Investigating the Sino maker movement was the focus an intensive two week UK visit to China in 2015, Living Research:Making in China, followed by a three-month AHRC/Newton Fund research and networking project in 2016, China’s Creative Communities: Making Value and the Value(s) of Making. The outcomes of these initial scoping projects have been used to inform a series of British Council instigated exchanges between the maker communities in the UK and Shenzhen through the residency programme Hello Shenzhen in 2017. This focused on a range of themes, including: sustainability, education, community development and enterprise. This flurry of on-the-ground research and associated practice based activities has resulted in both new networks across UK and Shenzhen maker ‘communities’ and an appreciation of the debates, tensions and aspirations within the diversity of organisations and businesses in Shenzhen that align themselves to the maker movement.

Drawing on the first-hand experience of the author and the reflections of other UK and Chinese participants in the above projects, this presentation considers the landscape of makerspaces in Shenzhen at the time of the authors visits (2015-16) and reflects on the disjuncture between the realities and the rhetoric of government policy concerning the scale and nature of maker spaces and communities.

Taking a broader perspective on the innovation that the Chinese government funding of makerspaces has tried to stimulate, this paper will reflect on how the embracing of makerspaces as a western phenomenon has often resulted in embracing a predominantly western model of individual creativity, notions of authorship and associated Intellectual property. This can be contrasted to other distinctively Chinese phenomena such a Shanzhai which exemplifies, through the rapid evolution and co-production of diverse products (esp. electronics), a different relationship to notions of originality and provenance.

Finally, it will conclude by proposing that for Chinese Makerspaces to find their unique place and value within this globally distributed phenomenon, and to promote a ‘crafty’ ethos rather than ‘designerly’ attitude, then Chinese cultural and philosophical traditions should be recognized and encouraged, instead of flattening aspirations to the mirroring of particular western innovation models.


Event Timeslots (1)

Panels Room A002
Modes of Production III
Chair: Clément Renaud. Discussant: Silvia Lindtner. Presenters: Monique Bolli, Justin Marshall, et al. (tba)

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