January 03, 2017

Is the "Maker Movement" a Movement?

At the recent Lucas Plan 40th anniversary conference (see my thoughts on the day for more detail) Liz Corbin said, deliberately provocatively, that the "Maker Movement" isn't actually a movement.

I'm glad she did. It wasn't really something I'd given much thought to before. I've been involved in Maker culture, the Maker community, the Maker Movement, whatever it is, since pretty near the start, and so have just taken it somewhat for granted—and done my bit to help shape it—as it's grown.

But I'm not sure I could define what it is.

Looking in the dictionary, it defines a movement as "group with a common aim".

Judging it thus, Liz is right. I don't think there's a common aim among makers, other than to make, which seems rather broad a definition for a movement.

It's definitely a community, and probably a whole host of overlapping and intermingled communities who mostly share an ethos (that's not a proper capturing of a maker ethos, but it's one readily to hand).

There are advantages to not being a movement. I think that makes the maker community more inclusive and easier to adapt to new opportunities.

However, it also makes it easier to dismiss or to misunderstand. Most commonly by categorizing it as an updated version of the Arts and Crafts movement.

There's definitely an element of that, and I've made the "William Morris with a 3D printer" criticism myself. And there's definitely a risk that we may similarly fail to substantially change the mainstream culture.

However, I think that there could be a Maker Movement. That it is more than just an updated Arts and Crafts Movement.

I believe that the Maker Movement aims to democratize production and innovation.

The Arts and Crafts movement was defined by its celebration of traditional craft techniques and its rejection of industrialisation. The Maker Movement sees no such distinction—it embraces both the hand-carved wooden bowl and the CNC-routed desk.

What matters to the Maker Movement is that everyone who wants to produce some thing, has the ability to produce that thing. Not everyone has to be a maker, but there should be a universality of possibility.

It isn't just about the universality of who can be a maker; it's also about the universality of what can be produced, of the aesthetics of what can be produced. Not just items that are obviously hand-made but also objects that are indistinguishable from those mass-manufactured in factories.

Obviously a lot of this is driven by the falling cost of tools like 3D printers and the increasing digitalisation of manufacturing, coupled with borrowing the open source software community's sharing culture and assumption that you can (and should) make your own tools.

Added to that are elements of a much older tradition of people coming together in groups to achieve more collectively than they can alone, amplified by the Internet's ability to ease group discoverability and communication. That manifests in the collective purchase of machinery which would be out-of-reach for the individual and—arguably more importantly—the cross-pollination of skills and ideas that both accelerates the development of and improves the quality of the resultant innovations.

Democratizing production and innovation has the promise to improve our lives in many ways, from individuals 3D-printing themselves a new prosthetic hand through to new companies and products and communities building their own infrastructure.

We need to nurture and celebrate this movement and be vigilant against (and seek to better inform, to take under our wing and help) well-intentioned but ham-fisted approaches which miss the greater opportunities and cherry-pick the easier aspects such as filling workshops with shiny tools.

Here's to a better, Maker-fuelled future!

Posted by Adrian at January 3, 2017 04:29 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

You can receive updates whenever a new post is written by subscribing to the recent posts RSS feed or


A community of making is something I like as an idea. Making has slightly trapped itself in the ideal of the Maker - 1/2 artisanal expert, 1/2 hyper-personal consumer. The link to communities and shared capactity is similar to how unions grew out of the knowledge developed in 19C worker-owned subscription libraries.

I'm also reminded of need to understand the inefficiencies of mass manufacture shown in articles like this https://t.co/Wjf0vBN9SW. How local making could be a way of balancing the repair and reuse of manufactured goods. The Circular Economy mediated thru a cycle of manufacture and making, global and local.

Posted by: Alastair Somerville at January 3, 2017 05:15 PM

There's definitely a tendency to focus on the individual maker in a lot of what gets shared from the community. More space for celebrating the communities enabling the making would be good (I've got a blog post brewing about trying to make some of that behind-the-scenes community work more visible, but I don't know when I'll get that out of my head and into text... :-)

It feels to me as though the circular economy stuff is a natural progression from the "if you can't open it, you don't own it" ethos. But maybe it needs to be more explicit.

For me, the right to open things up and amend them - both to improve the item, and to fix a broken part - are part of "democratizing production", but now you've highlighted it...

Posted by: Adrian at January 4, 2017 11:13 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Note: I'm running the MT-Keystrokes plugin to filter out spam comments, which unfortunately means you have to have Javascript turned on to be able to comment.