While considering my blog post for this week, I came across this Atlantic article by Debbie Chachra, in which she declares she is not a maker, going on to describe what she feels are the flaws of the term “maker”–and, by extension, maker culture, which she sees as exclusive, tech-focused, and even elitist. I have to say, I was somewhat surprised by this article, and wanted to share my own take on it.
I don’t think everything Chachra says is inaccurate. The tendency of maker culture to be exclusive is something we at MakerBridge have talked about, too, as we’ve advocated for greater diversity in terms of gender, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and even in terms of the type of activities and skills that are celebrated as part of the movement. As we have in the past, she also touches on the gendered aspects of making, and the way traditionally feminine tasks or roles can be viewed as inferior.
I do feel, however, that Chachra’s definition of making–the one she defies and takes umbrage with in her article–is not everyone’s definition, and in fact is not fully representative of the maker movement. Although making is an act of creation and production that results in artifacts, whether physical or digital, for me it has never been about these artifacts; they are peripheral to the true purpose of making, which I see as very much based in learning, sharing, openness, and collaboration. This is a view I believe we have been discussing at MakerBridge for a while now, and I know we’re not the only ones who feel this way.
I understand where Chachra is coming from–it’s easy to get excited sometimes and become fixated on the stuff involved in making, whether that means the tools or the creations. I have had to make the point before that a 3D printer itself does not transform a place into a makerspace, just as no single tool or even collection of tools can do so. But just because we sometimes need these reminders doesn’t mean maker culture is solely involved with things at the expense of valuing education and human beings. In fact, the entire function of a makerspace–at least in my eyes–is to serve as a place where people have the opportunity to work together, learn from each other, and form a community, something very people-focused, and very much in line with the caregiving that Chachra laments as being overlooked or even downright scorned by maker culture.
I think, ultimately, that Chachra is arguing against a definition of maker that, yes, some may embrace, but that I don’t believe is the dominant one. At the very least, it’s certainly not the only one. However, I do worry that this is the way maker culture is perceived, that non-makers see the movement as privileged and obsessed with tech toys and gadgets. I think making has so much potential for empowerment, for education, for inspiration, for moving away from a consumerist culture obsessed with stuff to a DIY culture in which people not only value their possessions more due to having created them, but also value the skills they’ve learned in the process. This is the maker culture that I see and that I’ve always seen. This is the maker culture that I think schools and libraries are embracing. This is the maker culture that I see spreading rapidly. I only hope we can find better ways to convey this view of making, so Chachra and others like her will one day be able to call themselves makers and be as proud of it as we are.