Prototyping capabilities are redistributing radically in many societies, both spatially and socially. It is argued these redistributions expand human capabilities for social transformation beyond conventional (industrial) centres of production and consumption. Our project tests these claims through the study of makerspaces: a global network of open access workshops equipped with versatile design and fabrication technologies, where people can develop and share skills, ideas, designs, and projects. Advocates claim makerspaces expand human capabilities such that people have greater agency in material culture. Participants can make use of a global design commons, but with tools and techniques to manufacture locally and, potentially, more sustainably. We used Q method to analyses the human capabilities actually experienced by participants in UK makerspaces. Our research identifies three different types of maker experience. Each type shares a common core of capabilities in slightly different ways, such as enhanced skills, community empowerment, and agency in material culture. However, capabilities in developing sustainable livelihoods proved elusive for all types of maker. These results suggest policy needs to go beyond opening prototyping facilities, and to connect workshop creativity with local community developments, more accessible investment, and infrastructure for generating locally circular economic activity.
Adrian Smith and Cian O’Donovan