3D Printing: Politics, Material Hacking And Grassroots
thesisposted on 16.04.2019, 09:06 authored by Leandros Savvides
This thesis examines the emergence of 3D printing culture outside the professional lab, predominantly in Hackerspaces, Makerspaces and Fab Labs. Such spaces constitute important sites in the development of open-source, desktop 3D printing and provide conducive conditions for the spread of the technology to and often beyond technologically informed publics. Specifically, this research addresses the convergence of activism and the maker culture with prevalent cultural imaginaries such as the visionary creator within decentralized and distributive manufacturing, the vision of autopoietic social systems, or the imaginative leap to space colonization. In addition, it explores the emergence of grassroots innovation and how it is configured through 3D printing. In order to observe the aforementioned social phenomena, I conducted multi-sited ethnography in several experimental spaces in the UK, Germany and Cyprus. The selection of the sites represents different types of Hacker-, Makerspaces and Fab Labs: some of them bring hobbyist maker communities together, while other were explicitly conceived as political interventions and other operate as informal start-up incubators. In my fieldwork I followed users of 3D printing technology as they navigate their activities through grassroots workshops, multiple associated communities and broader hacker networks. Drawing on the findings of my research, I argue that the emergence of digital DIY and maker cultures was not only powered by 3D printing technologies but also played a vital part in creating, expanding and disseminating knowledge of 3D printing further afield. Within this process, 3D printing users become developers themselves who simultaneously reinvent forms of consumption, processes of learning and re-conceptualizing the relationship between science and craft. Despite the apparent social and collective nature of these practices, there is also a parallel individualistic twist at the heart of the maker culture. The thesis contributes to a growing debate within Science and Technology Studies which is concerned with the emergence of citizen science and civil society interventions in shaping technology. Moreover, it touches upon challenges and motivations in the field of grassroots innovation by examining how it is organized and conducted in semi-informal contexts such as the Hackerspaces, Makerspaces and Fab Labs.