Adrian Smith from SPRU recently published a new working paper that draws upon research in makerspaces in order to explore and illustrate some of the politics of social innovation, and the challenges presented by arguments for greater democracy in (social) innovation. A version of the paper in Spanish was subsequently published in the Revista Española del Tercer Sector in a special issue on Social Innovation.
After introducing some critical issues in social innovation and democracy generally, the paper turns to makerspaces as sites whose experiences are relevant to such issues.
Makerspaces are community-based workshops where people access the tools, skills and collaborators to design and make almost anything they wish. The tools available include technologies for digital design and fabrication, and which permit collaboration between participants in different workshops via online platforms and social networks. Makerspaces are also networked spaces for reflection and debate over design and making in society. But they are many other things too, including a place for personal recreation, entrepreneurship, and education – features of increasing interest to institutions. Makerspaces are pulled and pushed in different directions. An open innovation agenda seeks to insert makerspace creativity into global manufacturing circuits under business as usual. Others see in makerspaces an inchoate infrastructure for a commons-based, sustainable and redistributed manufacturing economy. Activists anticipate more democratic relations in material culture and political economy. Makerspaces are thus socially innovative and not socially innovative at the same time: a site of struggle over issues of profound social significance, and hence an example of innovation democracy in action.