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Author ORCID Identifier
Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Communication Technology and New Media
In the early part of the 21st Century, discourses about the “Creative Economy” rose to prominence resulting in educational, economic, and policy initiatives supporting what became known generically as “makerspaces.” As interdisciplinary sites where arts, technology, design, and entrepreneurship meet, makerspaces were heralded as transformational organizational models for learning and innovation. This dissertation explores the social arrangements opened and foreclosed by makerspaces through ethnographic case studies of how different institutions introduced and adapted makerspace models from 2013-2019. Using a communicative ecology approach (Foth & Hearn, 2007), this study interrogates the structures and practices that shape participant experience of these collaborative media, technology, and design spaces, analyzes the construction of “maker literacies,” and traces the broader evolution of technology access concerns in the U.S. This study thereby contributes to the research literature on social production practices, technological literacy, and technological inequality as well as offering recommendations for similar initiatives.
The Maker Movement refers to the early 2000s rise in visibility of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) “making” activities aided by the advent of publications such as Make magazine, online communities such as Instructables, in-person meetups called Maker Faires, and localized communities of practice in makerspaces. Unfortunately, many of the independent makerspaces that were opened during the height of The Maker Movement from 2011-2016 have since closed due to leadership issues, funding shortfalls, and other organizational challenges. As of 2019, libraries, universities, schools, and museums are the most common places to find makerspaces. Rather than a unique phenomenon, makerspaces are conceptualized here as an evolution and re-branding of community access points for social inclusion like that of the community technology centers (CTCs) that arose throughout the U.S. when policy concerns for “digital divides” were at their height. Examining these spaces from a communication perspective as part of a longer history of technology access initiatives reveals how emerging technologies continually reorganize activities and influence priorities for organizations with social inclusion goals.
Through in-depth case studies of three makerspaces in Massachusetts with different institutional ties—a community access media center, a public library, and an economic/community development project—this study explores the contributions of makerspaces to local ecologies with special attention to how media and technological literacies are enacted in makerspace initiatives. In particular, the study documents how policies and practices shape participation through questioning the impetus for creating a makerspace and what activities are recognized and valued in these spaces. The study also explores the sustainability of initiatives concerned with media and technological literacies amidst the changing terrain of digital inequality in the U.S.
While political and economic transformations in the U.S. continually change access initiative priorities, interrogating discourses related to digital inequality, creativity, and innovation are still important for supporting equitable community development. A fuller understanding of the promises and pitfalls of the makerspace approach will enrich our understanding of social values related to technology and may be used to inform media and technological literacy initiatives.
Olson, Christine, "Makerspace Models and Organizational Policies for Technological Inclusion" (2021). Doctoral Dissertations. 2127.