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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by transcript Verlag March 4, 2021

“What You Can Invent over the Weekend” and the Recurring History of Corporate DIY

  • Samantha Shorey
From the journal Digital Culture & Society


At the emergence of the contemporary American maker movement, O’Reilly’s Make: magazine positioned making as a method of innovation beyond the system of industrial research and development. These narratives emphasised the value of hands-on, material engagement for inspiring novel ideas and building inventive minds. This Do-It- Yourself (DIY) spirit was positioned as inherently oppositional to the corporate groupthink of “do as you’re told”. Today, dominant public discourses tend to emphasise the power of digital fabrication tools - collapsing much of the innovative potential of the maker movement into a single set of material practices and thus limiting the analytic field of making research. In this “Entering the Field” format article, I explore two maker texts: early issues of Make: magazine (published between 2005 and 2007) and a collection of pamphlets produced by the General Motors Information Rack Service throughout the 1950s. These pamphlets were distributed for free in order to inspire and advance General Motors (GM) employees. Through connecting these collections, I both extend and complicate an industrial history of making as a source of innovation. I argue that, more than any particular set of tools, it is DIY practice that defines the core of Make: magazine’s vision of making. However, as the pamphlets at GM illuminate, these practices are never fully outside of industries that benefit from the betterment of makers. Taken together, these stories reveal DIY as alternately challenging and contributing to corporate logics - a cyclical process that yields a current cultural moment in which makerspaces are installed in the ground floor of offices at Google, Facebook and, unsurprisingly, GM.

Published Online: 2021-03-04
Published in Print: 2020-12-01

© 2021 by transcript Verlag

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