The Maker Movement and Guilds 2.0 — Part 1

originally published Sept 29–2011

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photo credit: Flickr — Bre Pettis

Real “movements” fascinate me. They, more so than fads, are better indicators of underlying fundamental social, technological and economic forces that might signal future direction in a broad array of sectors.

Agreed, most movements fail to evolve and peter out, however, others do successfully adapt to changing economic and social environments, grow, and eventually become mainstream. Distinguishing between those that are mere ripples from those representing profound change is especially difficult in the early stages of movements.

The Maker Movement

One movement that shows potential for huge global impact and, over the past few years, has attracted an impressive number of followers is the “maker movement”.

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The Future of Making — The Way Things are Made is Being Remade

In a paper published by The Institute for the Future entitled “The Future of Making — The Way Things are Made is Being Remade” (PDF), author David Pescovitz writes:

“Two future sources, one mostly social, one mostly technological, are intersecting to transform how goods, services and experiences — the ‘stuff’ of our world — will be designed, manufactured, and distributed over the next decade. An emerging do-it-yourself (DIY) culture of makers, only a fraction of whom were at Maker Faire, are boldly voiding warranties to tweak, hack, and customize their world.”

What fascinates me about the Maker Movement? Perhaps it is a response to a deep-rooted human need to express our creative talents that in today’s workplace (especially in large organizations) are often ignored, undervalued, underutilized and, in worst cases, even suppressed. I am also amazed at the sheer ingenuity and idea sharing culture that so typifies the communities of hackers, DIYers and makers.

Later in the same report, Mr. Pescovitz predicts that:

“Advanced fabrication tools are falling in price, driving a shift in manufacturing from massive, centralized factories to flexible, lightweight and ad hoc production. In the next decade, some products will likely be manufactured from raw materials right at home.”

The “democratization” of advanced digital fabrication tools such as low-cost, open source, 3d printing is but one example of a trend towards micro-manufacturing and personal fabrication. The decreasing cost of such capital equipment combined with the increasing output quality of digital fabrication tools is opening a vast new array of opportunities in both industrialized and emerging economies.

Guilds 2.0 and The Maker Movement

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Makerspace at the University of Ottawa

One of the most visible places to find these “makers” are the local urban workshops, creative studios and hackerspaces popping up in all corners of the globe. There is no common template for “maker spaces” as creatives will participate in organizations as diverse as NYC Resistor, TechShop, Open Design City and closer to home Artengine’s ModLab in Ottawa Canada. Most of the creatives join such spaces as members to pursue individual or collaborative projects.

While the maker movement signals a potentially disruptive transformation in how we produce things, I am equally fascinated by how we can better leverage the innovation potential of this growing base of technically skilled and creative talent that “constitutes” the maker community.

My curiosity in the subject eventually steered me in the direction of historical craft guilds. I was keen to discover how such collectives of highly-skilled craftsmen and artisans actually worked and succeeded as a form of economic and social enterprise for close to 500 years until the advent of the Industrial Revolution. The traditionally accepted perception of guilds as anti-innovation and secretive, is aptly summarized by one scholar:

“Historians have generally considered artisans and their guilds as brakes to innovation because of their alleged secrecy, conservatism and inherited know-how, the strict rules for quality standards, and the barriers between trades. More generally, artisans are supposed to have been subjects of ‘blind routine’ and of a collective ethos that choked initiative.”

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Recent academic research, however, points to a far more nuanced view of guilds as enablers of innovation and far more adaptable to market opportunities than originally thought. I believe that many of the current trends underpinning the maker movement have uncanny parallels with the socio-economic forces that propelled historical craft-based guilds over many generations. Perhaps the intersection of historical craft guilds and today’s maker movement marks an opportunity for a new type of economic organization that appeals to today’s creatives.

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Written by

Aletheia Guild

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