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Making, Crafting and Human Development: Crafters and Coders Experiences of Digital Fabrication Technologies

Wed, August 30, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Beacon F


Craft's relationship with industrial design, production and manufacturing seems to be coming full circle. Where once craft was the refuge of productive skills lost to industrialisation, recent innovations in distributed digital fabrication technologies have contributed to a rise in small batch production, and a decline or devaluing of the homogenous, mass produced -- indicating new craft relations and sensibilities between designers, producers, consumers and things (Cardoso, 2010). Digital design and fabrication technologies, and their non-industrial use in community settings such as hackerspaces and makerspaces attract considerable attention in this regard and offer a site for empirical research. Enthusiasts celebrate a widening appropriation of tools such CAD/CAM, 3D printers, laser cutters and routers. Yet it is curious how technologies that deskilled machinists and damaged worker communities in the past, are now celebrated as equipping makers with new skills and capabilities. Perhaps the real picture is somewhat ambiguous?

This paper reports new empirical research into the plural ways that digital fabrication technologies contributes positively and negatively to human development as experienced by non-industrial users. We compare two groups; 'crafters' who come from a position rooted in working with materials, and 'coders' who come from the realm of software and programming. Our research uses Q method to appraise differences in subjective user-experiences. The paper contributes a robust range of experience viewpoints, that informs not just the future development of digital fabrication technologies, but also debates about how to understand ‘craft’ (McCullough, 1996) amidst technological developments, redistributed manufacturing, automation and wellbeing.

Cardoso, R. (2010). Craft versus design: moving beyond a tired dichotomy. In G. Adamson (Ed.), The craft reader (pp. 321–332). Oxford: Berg.
McCullough, M. (1996). Abstracting craft: the practical digital hand. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.