Academic journal article Arena Journal

Occupy This: The Political Economy of the Makerspaces

Academic journal article Arena Journal

Occupy This: The Political Economy of the Makerspaces

Article excerpt

The Economist dedicated one of its covers in 2015 to the growing influence of 'activist investors'. Expanding on the reasons why this was undoubtedly 'good for the public company', The Economist contended that there is no ultimate contradiction between activist fund 'hyenas' and a bull market. On the contrary, activists and investors can and will help each other, it concluded.1 Can the same be said of activist makers?

Mass industrialisation and mass production fundamentally characterised the era of uninterrupted economic growth that followed the end of the Second World War.2 Fordism - a term used to describe the mass production lines that were beginning to appear prior to the Second World War, most notably in Henry Ford's factories - reached a whole new level in the postwar period. Capitalism did well, and the capitalist societies advanced rapidly, most notably the United States (which enjoyed intact production lines at the end of the Second World War and rapidly reconverted manufacturing capabilities to civilian use). Other systems were struggling to rebuild and reinvest. They eventually lagged behind.3 There were increasing pushes for economic rationalisation, centralisation and a consolidation of smaller businesses into larger, more powerful companies. The latter exerted greater market control locally and globally; the 1950s and 1960s were the decades of the transnational global manufacturer.4 At the same time, objects that were once rare began to be produced en masse in factories. This change in production also changed the product itself. Massmanufactured products were becoming cheaper and more accessible to more people. Production was comprehensively removed from the domestic space. From the clothing we wore, to the meat we ate, to the containers that we stored our things in, the postwar period witnessed a revolution in manufacturing.5 As manufacturing became increasingly delocalised in successive decades, and labour increasingly mobile, in due course even the global poor became a commodity to be traded, trafficked, enslaved. They became our makers, sewing our clothes, stitching our buttons and mining for the dust needed to manufacture the colour screens of our liquid crystal displays.6

Alternatives to the global manufacturing complex continued to emerge throughout this period. At times, they even prospered. Sections of society recurrently found common ground in a determination to reject mass production and embrace small-scale, localised alternatives.7 Common to many of these movements was a drive to 'get off the grid'. It was a desire to opt out of the market that drove many of these critiques, a desire to reclaim an ability to produce and to disengage from the market economy.8 Recent and less recent examples of these trends can be mentioned: communes, lifestyle intentional communities, even the 'doomsday preppers'.9 'Opting out of the market' was flipped on its head by the crash of the market in 2008. Almost overnight there was a large disenfranchised community no longer able to access the credit it was used to.

Makerspaces and Occupy Wall Street

Unrestricted capital accumulation appeared to have reached a critical tipping point in 2008. It had overreached and overextended to a degree that endangered the very power base from which it grew. This, coupled with the continued and uninterrupted growth in the digitisation of social and economic life, resulted in an increasing dialogue heralding a new 'revolution'. Disruptive impacts to traditional business scaling have raised the prospect of a 'Fourth Industrial Revolution'.10 Founder and Economic Chair of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, stated in a recent article for Foreign Affairs that the 'breadth and depth' of this technological revolution is 'disrupting almost every industry in every country', and that 'these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance'.11 In short, the economic system needed new ways to accumulate. …

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