Defining Makers

Defining Makers

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A few weeks ago, Sharona blogged about Debbie Chachra’s “Why I Am Not A Maker” essay for The AtlanticThis is one of those articles that has gotten passed around in communities I travel in. Chachra makes a provocative statement: that by setting up the world into “maker” and “not a maker” categories, and privileging one more than the other, we downplay those in our society whose roles are to be nurturers, educators, and supporters. On a traditional, binary level, it can boil down to “stereotypical male behaviors are good” vs. “stereotypical female behaviors — which make it possible for those stereotypical male behaviors to exist — aren’t valuable.”

But that all comes down, I think, to how we define makers. I have always used it to be an inclusive term and a part of the human condition: feeling productive and impacting the world around us is what makes making making.

Chachra pushes against this, saying:

“I am not a maker. In a framing and value system is about creating artifacts, specifically ones you can sell, I am a less valuable human. As an educator, the work I do is superficially the same, year on year. That’s because all of the actual change, the actual effects, are at the interface between me as an educator, my students, and the learning experiences I design for them. People have happily informed me that I am a maker because I use phrases like “design learning experiences,” which is mistaking what I do (teaching) for what I’m actually trying to help elicit (learning). To characterize what I do as “making” is to mistake the methods—courses, workshops, editorials—for the effects. Or, worse, if you say that I “make” other people, you are diminishing their agency and role in sense-making, as if their learning is something I do to them.”

Is making solely about artifacts? Sometimes, artifacts are means to another end. When my fifth graders refashion clothing, they often step into worlds of imaginative play, up to and including class- and curriculum-based skits. (One created a lab coat out of an old mock turtleneck and promptly decided he was ready to begin coding.) Does that count if the artifacts are a means, not an end? A pathway and not a destination? Does the photo above “count” as making? Do I count as being in the maker world if I facilitate that learning? Or only if I facilitate factory production of hundreds of those shirts, not just this one-off?

Or are we outgrowing “making” as a term? If it can be used to describe innovation-and-production hubs in China, pottery guilds in the Midwest, open-ended crafting and engineering activities for kids, the woman with the life-sized loom at a Maker Faire, coding practice for adults working toward new career opportunities, new factories and manufacturing hubs established by the Obama administration, and a parent and child hovering over the open hood of a vintage car, is “making” becoming a word that means something? Or nothing at all?

– Kristin Fontichiaro

Image Credit: Michigan Makers (All Rights Reserved)

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