CfP: Alternative Histories in DIY Cultures and Maker Utopias (closed)

Abstract deadline: 31 May 2019

Edited by: Cindy Kohtala, Yana Boeva and Peter Troxler.

This special issue of the Digital Culture & Society journal invites theoretical and methodological contributions discussing the histories and historiographies of DIY maker cultures worldwide.

DIY digital-maker culture is increasingly studied for its impact on production and consumption patterns, technological innovation, educational innovation and citizen engagement in design and technology. As making practices proliferate globally and begin to institutionalise, research on these practices is also maturing beyond mere conceptual speculation and propositional dogma. Nevertheless, particular terminologies tend to dominate beyond their Anglo-Saxon contexts (even the term ‘maker’ itself), and technocultural histories of digital making are often rendered as over-simplified technomyths and hagiographies of selected gurus. Such story-making reinforces a specific represented history in the maker imaginary: typically a white, male, well-educated (often engineering or computer science), middle-class, Western-situated narrative. The guest editors of this Special Issue suggest a targeted examination of DIY maker culture that profoundly acknowledges and investigates its diverse historical precedents, which play an important role in present practices and strategic visions, is both timely and needful. The issue aims to elicit contributions from cultural-historical perspectives, technology and design histories and historiographies, alternative histories related to postcolonial resistance, and studies that highlight how historical elements and historicising play a role in mythmaking and the creation of social imaginaries.

Maker culture tends to refer to current communities, activities and projects in shared community workshops (fab labs and makerspaces), but these endeavours are informed by more diverse practices than is always recognised (Richterich/Wenz 2017b). Other relevant counter-culture movements, from hacking, free and open-source software development and community technology to DIY craft and building, media art and activist publishing, are not always brought into the conversation when discussing the meanings, technocultural antecedents and possible future pathways for material peer production (e.g. Krewani 2017). Moreover, DIY maker practices in other contexts – other continents than Europe and wealthy Anglo-Saxon nations, as well as the forgotten, neglected cities inside them – manifest differently, build on other local industrial and technological histories and use other terminologies for their endeavours (e.g. Chan 2014; Lindtner 2015; Braybrooke/Jordan 2017).

Such fragmenting of historical representations, even deliberate suppression, are cause for worry in these turbulent times, when makers’ promises of empowerment, agency, inclusion, democratisation and openness of apparently everything too easily serves to render nothing as open or empowering (von Busch 2012; Powell 2012; Pomerantz/Peek 2016); the promises of making to ease the socio-economic ills of unfettered capitalism, not to mention environmental destruction, appear fragile and vulnerable to enclosure, commodification and colonisation (Fonseca 2015; Irani 2015; Lindtner/Lin 2017). Current dominant narratives, apparently stemming from the grassroots, are bloated with techno-optimism and techno-solutionism. They serve to shape a hegemonic sociotechnical imaginary (Jasanoff/Kim 2015) in ways that cause concern for researchers as to what is rendered invisible and voiceless: we need to re-examine and re-focus on who and what is left out. If DIY making is to be truly equitable, accessible and capacity building, there is a role for research to unmask these alternative histories.

Today’s DIY maker communities and their spaces may take inspiration and even strategic guidance from the global commodified maker movement, but they are geographically situated and actual practices and tactics are informed, explicitly or implicitly, by groups and norms that precede the makerspace and its community (e.g. Dunbar-Hester 2014). We thus build on this journal’s previous Special Issue on Making and Hacking (Richterich/Wenz 2017a) to place emphasis on legacies and foundations: thinking in terms of history places the emergent and fast-changing phenomena of DIY making practices into a broader and richer frame. If articulated, currently invisible histories could tell us much about how such practices could be made more relevant, better answer local needs and gain staying power in their own localities. Historical knowledge can feed back into actual practice, strengthen the potential for positive socio-environmental impact, inform policy and more generally foster plurality of voice and agency (Oudshoorn/Pinch 2003; Turner 2006; Soppelsa 2011; Knott 2013; Oldenziel/Hård 2013; Medina/Marques/Holmes 2014; Smith 2014; Jordan 2016; Usenyuk/Hyysalo/Whalen 2016; Serlin 2017; Escobar 2018; Rosner/Shorey/Craft/Remick 2018).

From craft guilds to abandoned factories to intentional communities, the richness of DIY maker culture is manifest in the histories and methodologies we aim to collate in this Special Issue. Possible themes for contributions to this Special Issue include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • 20th and 21st century craft and making collectives and movements;
  • State-sponsored or state-organised maker and craft cooperatives / initiatives;
  • Making and craft industries;
  • Historical small-scale, alternative manufacturing collectives;
  • Histories of makerspaces or workshops (the physical building, e.g. a former factory, and/or regional industrial histories);
  • Methodologies for studying the past of maker social movements (e.g. digital culture).

Journal sections

When submitting an abstract, please state to which of the following issue sections you would like to submit your paper:

  1. Field Research and Case Studies (full paper: 6000 – 8000 words)

We call for historical studies, historiographies and archival accounts of specific DIY maker spaces and/or communities. Empirical studies can address utopian visions, ideologies and imaginaries, but the visions should be rooted in a discussion on local antecedents and/or the interplay between histories and imaginaries. Studies can focus on open design, open software and open hardware communities; DIY maker workshops and spaces (fablabs, makerspaces, hackerspaces, media labs, traditional communal workshops); open manufacturing and collaborative consumption platforms; civic tech and participatory, democracy-oriented initiatives.

  1. Methodological Reflection (full paper: 6000 – 8000 words)

We welcome contributions in this section that address the methodological and ontological challenges in examining technocultural antecedents and histories – the difficulties in drawing connections between pasts, present and future strategies. Papers can also discuss methods and/or data gathering sources and strategies (e.g. archives, netnographies, interviews) for emerging and rapidly changing DIY maker phenomena in varied contexts.

  1. Conceptual/Theoretical Reflection (full paper: 6000 – 8000 words)

Contributions in this section can present theoretical perspectives on the histories of DIY making, from e.g. philosophical or postcolonial standpoints. Papers may address the role of the historian; conceptualisations of impacts on design, material culture, democracy and/or trajectories of globalisation; or similar themes.

  1. Entering the Field (2.000 – 3.000 words; experimental formats welcome)

Contributions to this section present early stage or experimental research methods in historical and historiographical research (e.g. to identify sources, to creatively study physical spaces that no longer exist), as short notes from the field. (Longer methodological papers should be submitted as Methodological Reflection.) Practitioners and researcher-practitioners are welcome to submit short papers on their experiences with local making histories, such as how practitioners have researched histories, how technocultural antecedents have impacted local practices and/or how local histories are used for tactical identity building or decolonising strategies.

Deadlines and Submission

Abstracts (max. 300 words) and short biographical note (max. 75 words) are due on: 31 May 2019.

  • Authors will be notified by 16 June 2019 whether they are invited to submit a full paper.
  • Full papers are due on: 15 September 2019.
  • Authors will receive the peer review feedback by: 31 January 2020.
  • Final versions due: 31 March 2020.
  • Publication: September 2020.

Please send your abstract and short biographical note to <>. Based on the abstracts, the editors will pre-select authors that will be invited to submit a full paper. All full papers will be double-blind peer reviewed.



Braybrooke, Kay/Jordan, Tim (2017): “Genealogy, Culture and Technomyth: Decolonizing Western Information Technologies, from Open Source to the Maker Movement”. In: Digital Culture & Society 3(1), pp. 25-45.

von Busch, Otto (2012): “Generation Open: Contested Creativity and Capabilities”. In: The Design Journal 15(4), pp. 443–459.

Chan, Anita S. (2014): “Beyond Technological Fundamentalism: Peruvian Hack Labs & ‘Inter-technological’ Education”. In: Journal of Peer Production 5.

Dunbar-Hester, Christina (2014): “Radical Inclusion? Locating Accountability in Technical DIY”. In Ratto, Matt/Boler, Megan (Eds.): DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media (pp. 75–88). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Escobar, Arturo (2018): Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham, US: Duke University Press.

Fonseca, Felipe (2015): Repair Culture. Retrieved from

Irani, Lilly (2015): “Hackathons and the Making of Entrepreneurial Citizenship”. In: Science, Technology, & Human Values 40(5), pp. 799–824.

Irani, Lilly (2018): “‘Design Thinking’: Defending Silicon Valley at the Apex of Global Labor Hierarchies”. In: Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 4(1), pp. 1-19.

Jasanoff, Sheila/Kim, Sang-Hyun (Eds.) (2015): Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Jordan, Tim (2016): “A genealogy of hacking”. In: Convergence 23(5), pp. 528–544.

Knott, Stephen (2013): “Design in the Age of Prosumption: The Craft of Design after the Object”. In: Design and Culture 5(1), pp. 45–67.

Krewani, Angela (2017): “Urban Hacking and Its “Media Origins””. In: Digital Culture & Society, 3(1), pp. 139–146.

Lindtner, Silvia (2015): “Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Promises of the Maker Movement against China’s Manufacturing Culture”. In: Science, Technology, & Human Values 40(5), pp. 854-879.

Lindtner, Silvia/Lin, Cindy (2017): “Making and its promises”. In: CoDesign 13(2), pp. 70–82.

Medina, Eden/Marques, Ivan da Costa/Holmes, Christina (Eds.). (2014): Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Oldenziel, Ruth/Hård, Mikael (2013): Consumers, Tinkerers, Rebels: The People Who Shaped Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Oudshoorn, Nelly/Pinch, Trevor (2003): How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technologies. Massachusetts, US: The MIT Press.

Pomerantz, Jeffrey/Peek, Robin (2016): “Fifty shades of open”. In: First Monday 21(5).

Powell, Alison B. (2012). “Democratizing production through open source knowledge: from open software to open hardware”. In: Media, Culture & Society 34(6), pp. 691–708.

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Richterich, Annika/Wenz, Karin (2017b): “Introduction: Making and Hacking”. In: Digital Culture & Society, 3(1), pp. 5–21.

Rosner, Daniela K./Shorey, Samantha/Craft, Brock R./Remick, Helen (2018): “Making Core Memory: Design Inquiry into Gendered Legacies of Engineering and Craftwork” (Paper 531). Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, New York: ACM.

Serlin, David (2017): “Confronting African Histories of Technology: A Conversation with Keith Breckenridge and Gabrielle Hecht”. In: Radical History Review 127, pp. 87–102.

Smith, Adrian (2014): “Technology Networks for socially useful production”. In: Journal of Peer Production 5.

Soppelsa, Peter (2011): “Intersections: Technology, Mobility, and Geography”. In: Technology and Culture 52(4), pp. 673–677.

Turner, Fred (2006): From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Usenyuk, Svetlana/Hyysalo, Sampsa/Whalen, Jack (2016): “Proximal Design: Users as Designers of Mobility in the Russian North”. In: Technology and Culture 57(4), pp. 866–908.