Makers are part of a “third industrial revolution” where individuals take the power of production into their own hands (Anderson 2012). Makers have many different motivations. For some Makers, a sense of connection with the products of their work have been lost through efficiency and specialization. For others, skills and joy in creation are an important motivation. Some participate in ‘craftivism’ as a political act against mass consumption and the male dominance of production (Greer 2014; Neel and Marano 2017). In general, Makers are a piece of a 3rd wave of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) (Fox, 2014) critical tradition, which extends back to William Morris, early in the critical reaction to the Industrial Revolution (1880).

This 3rd wave, coined as “New”, or informational, DIY emerged in the late 1990s as a part of the sharing economy and linked through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks online. In my work, explore space within the third wave, which could lead to the definition of a fourth wave of DIY – making which combines the subsistent nature of the fist wave with the informational architecture of the third, within a sustainability frame. Makers relate to sustainability research as their work is associated with lower throughput of material energy and sustainability, an emphasis on repairability and upgradeability, propensity to use recycled and sustainably sourced goods, local provisioning tendencies, and contributing to one’s connection to place. Makers also empower democratisation of manufacturing, grassroots innovation, and self-authentication through meaningful work and hobby, which is linked to reduced conspicuous consumption.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed significant cracks in our production and supply chains calling for reconfiguration of local economies. Makers quickly answered the call for innovations in personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and face shields, medical testing equipment, ventilators, and other products in high demand during the pandemic. Open-access 3D printer schematics and files emerged on websites and common knowledge banks to help others produce additional PPE, PPE support equipment, and face shields – all for free. Makers were not only able to quickly respond to broad social needs, they did so in these pro-social and care-oriented ways, Makers represent an important part of transition and post-COVID recovery toward just and sustainable local economies. There is high optimism that Makers and their communities can bypass commercial modes of production and and present opportunities for post-capitalist consumption and production – all while being prosocial, cooperative, and caring. Making is also linked to more thoughtful consumption and a greater degree of satisfaction regarding ones’ consumption. The rise of Etsy in general is linked to the desire for desirable aesthetic objects (Luckman, 2015).

Makers as a Piece of a Holistic Informal Economy

As my primary PhD research project, I interviewed, ethnographically observed, and surveyed over 150 Makers in Canada – primarily in Southern Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

Me, my partner, and our 4 month old daughter all drove to PEI and stayed with a prepper – it was pretty neat. He was almost fully self sufficient and loved to talk about. We were a 10 minute walk to the beach and a short drive into Charlottetown. We drove all over the island meeting all different kinds of Makers including alpaca farmers, glass shapers, woodworkers, metalsmiths, and more. They were all incredibly memorable, but two stand out. The first was a young woman who had just had her first baby. Her house was outfitted from top to bottom in gifts from the craft community across the island – it was a true display of the community nature. The second was a 98 year old woman who made quilts. We met by the ocean, shared a sandwich, and she gifted me with her stories for nearly 4 hours while teaching me to hand sew a quilt. As we parted, she told me I better not quit my day job as I’m a terrible quilter.

I published on some of this work in Solutions where I argue that the Makers on PEI demonstrate “how making can become central in a struggling economy” which I highlight in four broad take-home messages:

  1. Making generates community-owned economic structures, resources, and production
  2. Makers create high quality, recycled, and meaningful goods
  3. Making contributes to an economy that supports community
  4. Making contributes to an economy that improves mental health

Current and future research

Makers represent an implicit rejection of the encroachments of socio-economic systems that undermine conscious creative collaborative activity and independence, in favour of a broader understanding of the economy as a facilitator for well-being and livelihoods. In Canada and the United States there has been surge in local manufacturing efforts in the last two decades. Craft breweries, Makerspaces, and artisan markets are now in higher demand than any other point in industrial capitalist history. And yet, little research exists measuring the exact socio-economic impact of these local production efforts. My ongoing and future research in this area can be divided into three areas:

Evaluating making’s contributions to local economic development. How exactly does making contribute to a sustainable transition within local economies in Canada? I’ve begun a comparative case study of makers in Halifax and Southern Ontario where I have past connections. The regions have comparative incomes and both include Indigenous makers. At this point, I am gathering participants to work together using Soft Systems Methodology (an old love of mine) to develop socio-economic and environmental indicators of success in their work. These indicators will be modeled and applied to policy to demonstrate to local governments the value of the work the participants are doing. This project was brought to me by a small town in Southern Ontario looking for an evaluative metric to prove to their regional government that their local culture is vital, and shouldn’t be lost to amalgamation.

Explore the extent to which Makers internalize paid and unpaid elements of the care economy. Women and makers have a sorted relationship. Women are less likely to frequent makerspaces and maker activities but are much more likely to be monetarily successful at making. Women often turn to making when they begin having children as a flexible employment options. However, little to no research exists on how making may empower women or shift the burden of typically gendered responsibility in a household. Little research also exists on how making initiatives actively reduce some of the load of educators and mental health workers by providing outside education and improving mental health of those who engage with it. Women have a strong role to play in the economically viable realm of making, with little research on why barriers exist. I have yet to begin work on this area of research but I am curious why in comparison to the gendered breakdown between paid and unpaid work in non-localized economies, what is different among Makers, and why?

Explore and demonstrate linkages between storytelling and maker education for self-esteem and place-making. I am working with a PhD student at the University of Waterloo to explore how a forest school which focuses on rural skill development and storytelling can improve the self-esteem of participants and enhance regional placemaking. This project is in collaboration with the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority, the City of Caledon, and the Region of Peel.

Images from my research on PEI

The prepper house we stayed at.
Glass bits
Shaped glass I made!
Glass shaper
The ocean by our house
A jeweler’s workshop
An intern working with an ocean view
The road home
I fell in love with PEI churches
More alpacas
The view from a woodworking shop
Nora taking a nap with the prepper’s garden in the background