Break, Make, Retake: Interrogating the Social and Historical Dimensions of Making as a Design Practice
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Making and digital fabrication technologies are the focus of bold promises. Among the most tempting are that these activities and processes require little initial skill, knowledge, and expertise. Instead, they enable their acquisition, opening them up to everyone. Makerspaces and fab labs would blur the identities between professional and amateur, designer and engineer, maker and hacker, ushering in a broad-based de-professionalization. Prototyping and digital fabrication would unite design and manufacturing in ways that resemble and revive traditional craftwork. These activities and processes promise the reindustrialization of places where manufacturing has disappeared. These promises deploy historical categories and conditionsexpertise, design, craft production, manufacturing, post- industrial urbanismwhile claiming to transform them. This dissertation demonstrates how these proposals and narratives rely on imaginaries in which countercultural practices become mainstream by presenting a threefold argument. First, making and digital fabrication sustain supportive environments that reconfigure contemporary design practice. Second, making and digital fabrication simultaneously reshape the categories of professional, amateur, work, leisure, and expertise; but not always in the ways its proponents suggest. Third, as making and digital fabrication propagate, they reproduce traditional practices and values, negating much of their countercultural and alternative capacities. The dissertation supports these claims through a multi-sited and multinational ethnographic investigation of the historical and social effects of making and digital fabrication on design practice and the people and places enacting. The study lies at the intersection of science and technology studies, human-computer interaction, and design research. In addressing the argument throughout this scholarship, it explores three central themes: (1) the idea that making and digital fabrication lead to instant materialization of design while re-uniting design with manufacturing; (2) the amount of skill and expertise expected for participation in these practices and how these are encoded in rhetoric and in practice; and (3) the material and social infrastructures that configure making as a design practice. The dissertation demonstrates that that the perceived marginality of making, maker cultures, digital fabrication allows for its bolder promises to thrive invisibly by concealing other social issues, while the societal contributions of this technoculture say something different on the surface.