Hello! My name is Ethan Reed. I’m a second-year PhD candidate in UVa’s Department of English, and one of the Student Assistants in the Makerspace at the Scholars’ Lab.
For me, maker technology represents a powerful opportunity to change the ways we teach and the ways think. This may seem obvious, but for me the Makerspace is also a learning space as well as a thinking space. I think that even as people perform research there and investigate problems, that process is itself a kind of critical work. Fortunately there is a word for this lovely concept: critical making.
In “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life,” an article by Matt Ratto (that I found through this thoughtful and informative post by Jon Johnson at UVic’s Maker Lab), Ratto takes a minute to look at how something like critical making might address the “disconnect between deterministic, conceptual understandings of the role of technology in social life, and the more material and nuanced understanding of how one relates to them.” He then puts the goal of it as follows:
“Our goal is therefore to use material forms of engagement with technologies to supplement and extend critical reflection and, in doing so, to reconnect our lived experiences with technologies to social and conceptual critique.”
This is awesome! I couldn’t agree more, and find Ratto’s idea to be one of the main ways I think about our Makerspace at the Scholars’ Lab. Having an end product is great, but that making process can be just as, if not more important.
As I connect this to my own research on things like global literary networks, systems of cultural value, and how they connect to the individual authors and texts that interact through them, knowing how real examples of networks and systems operate seems crucial. More generally, I think that leaving technology “black-boxed” and not knowing how it works under the hood has material consequences in how authors write about technology and how we read, think, and talk about what they’ve written.
I also think it would be in bad faith not to mention simply how much fun it is to tinker with these technologies. There is a specific kind of joy in hearing and smelling a Makerbot hard at work printing something found on Thingiverse. Watching it offers that familiar kind of meditative hypnosis inspired by campfires burning wood or washing machines spinning clothes. Of course, the best part is then learning how and why it all works the way it does, getting your hands on the thing to tinker with it for a while and think about the results.