"What do you want to make?" considered harmful? Observations on inclusivity at *kerspaces.

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Nathaniel Bezanson

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Mar 4, 2022, 5:57:19 PMMar 4
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This study comes primarily out of the UK, but towards the end of the data collection period, the researcher posted on the worldwide Hackerspaces-general discussion list and got some input from elsewhere too. I was one of the respondents to that broadly-cast net, so I got a notification yesterday when the final paper was published. Here it is:


I strongly encourage reading the whole thing -- there's a lot more than I'm going to quote here for the sake of discussion! But here goes just that: 

The study's overall focus was on "learning" as an activity at hackerspaces/makerspaces (referred to as HMS in the study), and based on responses, the researcher categorized respondents into four groups based on their views. Paraphrasing:

1: Skeptical of "learning" as a term that can be applied to HMS activities; drew a line between what happens here and what happens in schools.

2: Sure, learning happens here, but it's a side-effect and shouldn't be emphasized.

3: Learning opportunities exist but are unevenly distributed, depend heavily on social dynamics.

4: Oh yeah, learning happens all the time, and if people don't realize that, so much the better. 

Among all that, an interesting pattern emerged. Quoting directly from the paper now:

> In HMS, creativity and a self-directed exploration of ideas are a fundamental experiential habit encouraged in (and to some extent even required from) members.

> While I do argue that creativity as habit appears to be just as important for settling into HMS as strictly technical or crafts skills, I do not mean to assign responsibility for communal inclusion simply to individual members. There are certainly other factors, beyond members’ control, that contribute to community acceptance. Already expecting and encouraging creativity comes with pitfalls of excluding (potential) members that may experience these expectations as intimidating. Especially those participants in category three, but also in category two and four, described feeling or observing a sense of vulnerability and having to “prove one’s worth” upon entering communities.

> This strikingly came into play with regards to the very common question among HMS members “What do you (want to) make?”. Participants in category three related that, in joining HMS, they were also hoping for a space to help them find inspiration for what they could make—and what they could learn by doing so. However, a widespread, tacit assumption concerning new members is that people join because they have a certain project in mind and require the space and tools for this. The above question, often heard during open evenings and when greeting prospective members, starts from the assumption that new members know what they want to make. And conveys a sense of “you should know what you want to make (why else would you be here?)”.

> The issue of “newbies” feeling particularly insecure and having to settle into communities was also considered by respondents in category four: they conceded that finding your way in communities can be tougher for those not accustomed to hackers’ and makers’ self-starting, explorative approach to creativity.

...

This is extremely interesting to me.

When talking to prospective members, I try to highlight the differences in this environment, as compared to many work and school settings where one's path is essentially "on rails" (see https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SlidingScaleOfLinearityVsOpenness ), i3 is much more like an open-world adventure. (The new member orientation process is even modeled on the idea of a tutorial level or experience quest.) And I try to explain that getting involved, helping out with things one's already familiar with, is a good way to meet people and build social connections to branch out into new skills.

But I don't know if I ever considered that there were people for whom the very question might be intimidating. I like to think we do a pretty good job of being thoughtful and attentive to issues once we're aware of them, but this is one I was certainly not aware of. It's going to shape how I talk with prospective members, for sure. 

Do read the whole paper, it's fascinating, and wow there is a massive body of scholarly work about "us" now! 

-Nate-

LEORA DRUCKMAN

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Mar 4, 2022, 8:48:00 PMMar 4
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Thank you Nate.  Very interesting. 

Leora

Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 4, 2022, at 5:57 PM, Nathaniel Bezanson <mys...@telcodata.us> wrote:

This study comes primarily out of the UK, but towards the end of the data collection period, the researcher posted on the worldwide Hackerspaces-general discussion list and got some input from elsewhere too. I was one of the respondents to that broadly-cast net, so I got a notification yesterday when the final paper was published. Here it is:
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