Grassroots digital fabrication

tumblr_lk2kjqDbz61qcysako3_500Our investigation consisted originally in two projects.

Grassroots innovation in low energy digital fabrication (GI-LEDF)

Transformative Social Innovation Theory project (TRANSIT)

Click here for a Research Briefing about the projects. The TRANSIT project produced two research briefings, one on hackerspaces and the other on fablabs. In addition, you can click here for a Working Paper on the topic and that develops a framework for analysing themes of inclusion, creativity and sustainability in grassroots digital fabrication. A book chapter on Hackerspaces, fablabs and makerspaces appears in the book, Grassroots Innovation Movements, published in August 2016. A working paper posted in June 2016 discusses how makerspace developments, successes and contradictions hold significant lessons for innovation democracy and social innovation.

Since proposing and starting these original projects, however, a variety of activities have developed, including workshops, historical research, conference sessions, talks, interviews, and new research activities continue to be developed. New research is using Q method to explore the capabilities and subjective wellbeing people are cultivating through grassroots digital fabrication. And a new project on the knowledge politics of smart urbanism, with attention focused on grassroots ‘smart’ initiatives, provides an opportunity to return to Barcelona and study digital fabrication developments there. In all this, the aim is to continue to facilitate debate about the possibilities and limitations of grassroots digital fabrication.

As part of this ongoing research, we produced a literature review of research in this field. In all this work we have been working with people involved in FabLabs and Hackerspaces. These are community workshops where people can access versatile, digitally-controlled manufacturing technologies, open source designs and training, and like minded people working on collaborative projects in a wider ‘maker’ social movement. Community workshops  connect online through social media and physcially in meet-ups and conferences. Workshops and their networks enable people to work together in practical, hands-on projects. As such, they provide interesting and vibrant spaces for grassroots innovation.

At the same time as using spaces to make objects, some groups are critically designing initiatives that encourage people to explore whether and how grassroots digital fabrication can reconfigure, relocate, and recalibrate innovation capabilities in society. Some argue  these grassroots innovation in new forms of production and consumption could permit re/upcycling of goods, and  help cultivate post-consumer values through collaborative production and consumption. Others argue the digital fabrication technologies in these facilities permit a personalisation of production that could intensify consumption. Either way, there are uncertain implications for sustainability. A workshop was held with practitioners and researchers on this topic in October 2015. Information about the workshop, including blogs and a storify document can be found here.

We are also interested in how these spaces provide sites for social innovation more generally. We want to understand how claims made for transformative potential of the socially innovative activity in community workshops compares and contrasts with practices in projects on the ground. These aspects of our work are being explored with workshops in Europe and South America.


Please get in touch if you wish to learn more or become involved.

Prof Adrian Smith