Edited by F. Xavier Olleros and Majlinda Zhegu
Chapter 9: Atoms matter: the role of local ‘makerspaces’ in the coming digital economy
Joel West and Anne Greul
Despite an increasingly digital world, we see a movement towards physical user communities which coexist besides virtual, digital communities. This ‘old-fashioned’ face-to-face interaction within those communities attracts an increasing number of individuals who are unified in their common interest for a certain activity, technology or topic. This chapter focuses on a specific form of physical communities, so-called ‘makerspaces’. All kinds of makers, both hobbyists as well as prospective entrepreneurs, use these local facilities to get access to a broad variety of tools and equipment in order to realize their diverse projects. Seeking to understand this development, we analysed the societal and economic forces that led to a broad dissemination of these makerspaces within different countries and that caused individuals to increasingly leverage these facilities. For that purpose, we conducted an observation- and interview-based field study that included 32 semi-structured interviews with active members and staff from local makerspaces across Southern California. We found that three major themes drive the nature and success of local makerspaces: access to tools, personal locus of control that includes an empowerment of individuals to become independent, and the social interaction among members. Accordingly, local makerspaces provide not only access to tools and equipment, but serve also as a physical platform of social exchange where people with the same interests meet and support each other. Regardless of their long-term success, the impact that local makerspaces have already had on entrepreneurial endeavours and consumers’ attitude towards creating tangible objects cannot be denied.
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