Making a return

Posted on | September 6, 2013 | 6 Comments

When I think of the maker movement, I can’t help but think of three things that the current wave of interest doesn’t refer to:

Making do (an antipodean sensibility; if you don’t have access to something in the first place, you improvise around that absence. That’s why women were so good at sewing where I grew up. They didn’t have access to cheap clothes)

Make do and mend (the war-time slogan, now captured in posters sold in fancy design stores)

Home makers, home economics and the history of domestic science (gender matters in deciding what counts as making).

People are forever making. So why is it fetishized now?

The difference with making today is the source of the cultural and financial investment, namely Silicon Valley. The notion that ‘everyone is a maker’ keeps the hacker ethos alive while drawing on the more recent elevation of ‘you’ as the active pro-sumer. In addition, venture capital and media coverage translate to serious corporate and institutional resources. If ‘make do and mend’ served the propaganda needs of a state-sanctioned war machine, it was ideological state apparatuses (education primarily) that determined the curriculum and gender norms for home economics vs. trade classes.

Today’s maker ‘movement’ is an evangelist’s response to the deficiencies of the state. The standardization of schooling to meet performance metrics has led to a drain on the manual and creative aspects of education, such that learning is limited to knowledge that can be tested. This is one way that data exerts agency on institutions. Metrics matter more than content. By contrast, maker kits and a culture of making beyond the classroom each offer a solution to pedagogical anemia, a set of tools for an emerging trade.

The broader impact of off-shoring in the US economy has turned manufacturing into a problem: when it exists at all, (non-creative) making is outsourced to the so-called developing world. Wage discounts are sought wherever they may appear as companies chase tax breaks and legal loopholes. These multinational conglomerates profit by commanding the trade routes, protection zones and brand names that materialize the need for all this making.

In the US the maker ‘movement’ is a response to austerity, as opposed to scarcity. It bears a relation to the expense of war time commitments (Iraq, Afghanistan, among others) – in the sense that this impacts government spending on education – but it also fits the broader move towards financialization that comes with our dependence on hyper-consumption.

Making reappears as a perverse reaction to overconsumption. In wealthy countries, we are invited to relearn our making skills when the need to make has been obviated. Meanwhile, in ‘developing’ countries, making is the short-circuit towards entrepreneurialism and modernity. This is why the tech industry calls these countries ‘emerging markets’.

So who are the makers? Who is making what? Which forms of making are valued? How will an investment in STE(A)M in the US change the idea of manufacturing as it currently exists, both for workers experiencing it and consumers benefiting? Will it leave the creative dimensions of making reserved for an elite and educated few, continuing the legacies of colonialism that carved up the laborers of the world according to profitable routes? Or will it mean that an appreciation of ‘making’ will be championed at every level of the service and supply chain, so that its rewards may be equitably distributed?


6 Responses to “Making a return”

  1. On maker culture | World Literature, Cultural Theory, Social Media Aesthetics
    September 8th, 2013 @ 9:51 am

    […] Once again, Melissa Gregg: […]

  2. Melissa
    September 9th, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

    In my thesis on indie craft I found that the female crafters were often not included in the ‘Maker’ culture. As you write, gender decides what counts as making.
    I think that for many craft bloggers the turn to handicrafts/making is due to the need to still maintain usual work habits (office space, emails, bookwork, marketing, income) at a time when they have needed the flexibility in work that workplaces still do not largely provide.

  3. melgregg
    September 17th, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

    Great to hear from you Melissa! I remember this work!

  4. ana australiana
    November 11th, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

    Deskilling! that’s what I keep hearing and feeling in work that is measured with (particular) data: social services, schools, unis. So I keep coming back to this post! maker ‘movement’ as a supplement to shrunken public services, as a fantasy of good services. So interesting.

  5. M-H
    November 26th, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

    I read this when you wrote it, but this past weekend it was brought sharply into focus by a ‘Maker Faire’ at the Powerhouse here in Sydney. A man was chosen to represent makers in the Herald here: While I have no beef with him, and I think his work is interesting, the Knitters Guild of NSW has nearly 800 members (and growing rapidly), but we are considered a conservative group of old nannas – and the article did nothing to dispel this. Many, many people, as you point out, still ‘make’ – their clothes, their food, their soft furnishings etc. but apparently it’s only when they are young and preferably not female they becomes newsworthy. There is also little attention being paid to the part that the internet has played: it is the greatest boon to ‘home crafters’, as ‘makers’ used to be called. Ravelry, Pinterest, Instagram etc all fuel a feeling of community among crafters of every kind, and spread techniques and craft knowledge in a way that was never possible in the past. Which is what you were saying, I think.

  6. melgregg
    November 28th, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    Absolutely! You got it. Thanks for adding the examples and the update from home. This is entirely my point… and it’s inspiring me to want to write more!

    NB: Interesting that he turned to knitting when he was ‘unhappy at work’… Lots to say about that. And the male-only guilds, of course 🙂

Leave a Reply

  • @melgregg

    One of many knockout passages in Temp, by @louishyman - important, deeply historical labor scholarship for our times

    About 2 days ago from Mel's Twitter via Twitter for iPhone

  • Currently reading

    Invisible Labor
  • Look Who