Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Immersed in Pellet Technology: Motivation Paths of Innovative DIYers

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Immersed in Pellet Technology: Motivation Paths of Innovative DIYers

Article excerpt

Introduction

What drives an individual towards certain goals and activities? How do people justify their motivational choices in life? Studies in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) have shown that individual motives are materially, socially and contextually rooted (e.g. Miettinen, 2005; Roth, 2007). While earlier CHAT studies have primarily dealt with motives in the context of schooling or (technical and scientific) work, this study introduces a historically new context for motivation studies, namely Internet-enabled volunteer-based technical making. It is important to understand such non-school contexts as Internet discussion forums, constitute a growing part of everyday social life. Especially interesting from the point of view of motivation is that people who contribute to such contexts are not compelled to do so nor do they get paid for their efforts. How and what people learn in these contexts, what motivates them to contribute, and how volunteer contributions could be of value to business, is attracting increasing research attention (e.g. Franklin et al., 2014). Hence, examining these more informal settings could contribute to our understanding of the developemment of human motivation and continued personal growth in the Internet era. Conceptually, my aim is to explore what CHAT studies could offer for understanding individual motivation to participate in Internet-enabled technical making.

Internet-enabled Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technical projects offer an example of new informal innovative user-driven settings (e.g. von Hippel, 2005; Tapscott & Williams, 2007; Ratto & Ree, 2012). The DIY phenomenon, which emerged in the 1960s as an antithetic response to the categories of manufacture and consumption, and the user/creator and developer/consumer divide, is currently-thanks to the Internet-extremely rich and varied (e.g. Ratto & Bolanger, 2014, 9). DIY is associated with a multitude of different areas of interest such as the music and punk scene, car and boat building, home renovation, knitting, the making of clothes, open source software development, 3D printing, citizen science, to name just a few (e.g. Ratto & Bolanger, 2014). Broadly speaking, DIY is associated with leisure practices where the individual uses raw and semi-raw materials in producing, transforming or reconstructing material possessions (Wolf & McQuitty, 2011). However, as Ratto & Bolanger, (2014, 19) suggest, 'DIY citizens' may be thought of as a broad continuum ranging from political activists to people who underline the importance of creativity in everyday life. A recent conceptualization of the collaborative Internet-mediated dimension of DIY is 'DIWO' (Do-it-With-Others).1 Historically, open source software developers were among the first to use the Internet for collaborative volunteer work (e.g. Weber, 2004). Today DIWO has widened to include the crafting of physical objects on the Internet, thus exemplifying the movement towards the 'materialization of digital knowledge' (Ratto & Ree, 2012, 2).2 This paper, however, introduces a very specific type of Internet-mediated DIY and DIWO of physical hands-on-technology, namely the development of wood pellet technology, and challenges the prevalent notion of DIY/DIWO as belonging solely to the realm of hobby and leisure. It also shows that DIY and DIWO can be done at home alone or with family members, as well as alone or with others on the Internet

The empirical site is a Finnish Internet user forum for wood pellet technology (biomass burning).3 In countries with a boreal climate, such as Finland, wood pellets are being used as energy for heating in a growing number of detached houses. Wood pellet technology offers an interesting combination of software (e.g. burner automation and monitoring systems) and metal hardware (burner), thus enabling smoother burning at a distance. Skill-wise, pellet DIY differs greatly from the DIY associated with for example home renovation or IKEA furnishing practices (e. …

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