Grassroots innovations in the development and use of digital technologies are generating important alternatives to the latest wave of automation in societies. A report explains more based on insights emerging from an international workshop organised in September 2019 at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex by Adrian Smith and Mariano Fressoli.
There is nothing automatic about automation. Automation takes the affordances of communication, computation and control in digital technologies (‘the 3Cs’) and adapts them to particular social purposes, notably labour productivity, managerial control, and capital accumulation. Automation theory and policy focuses upon how best to adapt societies to technological trajectories embodying these purposes, and without really interrogating the assumptions, interests and values involved. Intriguingly, many of the digital technological components implicated in automation can and are being developed and used otherwise.
Post-automation is about cultivating digital affordances for collaboration, conviviality and creativity (the other 3Cs), and looks at those groups and initiatives that are developing socio-technical arrangements in pursuit of sustainable development, social justice and human creativity. Grassroots innovation is evident in a lot of that work:
- hackerspaces, makerspaces and fablabs;
- citizen monitoring platforms and open science projects;
- open hardware platforms and grassroots innovation initiatives;
- new crafting practices;
- repair, repurposing and upcycling workshops;
- libraries and educational institutes opening technology to popular experimentation;
- citizen laboratories and DIY urbanism;
- workplace struggles for human-centred, democratic technology.
Many of these initiatives work through networks that cut across conventional categories; appearing simultaneously to constitute a movement and infrastructure for social relations with technology radically different to the depopulated visions of cyber-physical systems in Industry 4.0. You can learn more by visiting the post-automation project page here.