From Hobby to Socioeconomic Driver: Innovation Pathways to Professional Making in Asia and the American Midwest

Shaowen Bardzell
Jeffrey Bardzell

Sponsoring Agency
National Science Foundation


This study concerns the evolving collection of information technology practices that have been grouped under the umbrella of "making," which includes end-user experimentation with emerging forms of hardware and software such as open hardware, digital fabrication, Internet of Things, and more. "Making" has been widely envisioned to enable a transition from tinkering to prototyping and entrepreneurship and, finally, to help revive manufacturing industries in the United States. Making in the US remains largely a hobbyist practice, and the transition from making-as-hobby to a new wave of economy-building technology innovation is not easy. Yet it can be done and indeed is already being done in other parts of the world, including the cities of Shenzhen, China and Taipei, Taiwan. Through empirical research, hands-on design workshops and international comparison, this project will examine and document successful pathways from making as hobby to socioeconomic driver, and how they are supported by technological, policy, economic, and pedagogical infrastructures.

Broadly, this research will provide a contribution to studies of technology innovation in regions beyond more familiar technology hubs like Silicon Valley: Asia and the American Midwest. It will contribute to discussions that place models of technology innovation and design in relationship to local histories, cultures, and sociopolitical contexts. This includes debates around non-linear stories of technological progress, creativity, and design. This research will also contribute to a growing body of research focused on investigating the tools, techniques, and social organization of maker collectives, hackerspaces, and repair practices by providing both an ethnographic foundation and technological insights for emerging issues concerning making's transition into production and entrepreneurialism. Making provides the means, tools, and educational culture for developing novel and multidisciplinary approaches in STEM learning. Computation when taught through hands-on making has the potential to open up STEM fields and careers to underrepresented groups and minorities. Prior research has documented, however, that challenges remain; for instance the number of women in makerspaces remains low and professional maker communities are only indirectly brought into STEM education. This project will contribute to a broader national interest in transforming hands-on making into a sustainable model by facilitating interdisciplinary and international collaborations and engaged learning inclusive of the sciences, technology, engineering, arts and design as well as industry and expert amateurs.

Research Area
Human-Computer Interaction