Monday, January 9, 2017

1. Book Review: DIY Citizenship

Summary

DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media investigates "DIY" in its many facets through essays in four parts. Each part centers around a relevant theme in DIY: activism, making, design, and media. Importantly, the editors begin with a nuanced discussion of both DIY and citizenship, terms carrying a great deal of (exclusionary) context. For instance, citizenship is often a loaded term implying an in-group and an out-group, emphasizing rights granted by a state. DIY has often belonged to white masculinity. But the editors make a compelling case for the use of these terms and frame the critical perspective their contributors take.

The contributors to DIY Citizenship come from a variety of backgrounds and provide a critical analysis of ways DIY citizenship is enacted. Some, like media/fan scholar Henry Jenkins, discuss the successes of fan-led movements translating into global activism. Others investigate the limitations of ubiquitous technology in enacting social change, such as social media platforms, and the problems presented by fake news (very timely).

Overall, the idea of "DIY" is examined through many lenses. Some argue that the term "makers" has become mainstream, while craftivists, zine makers, and hackers are given equal space. DIY isn't restricted to the highly skilled or professionals repurposing their skills for volunteerism. Some of the groups discussed, like the Pandora radio collective, specifically privilege participation over experience.

DIY Citizenship is a broad look at a specific cultural moment, but even with the number of contributions it still cannot cover all angles. Although it's only two years old, the book in some ways feels dated already - though that is partially due to some contributions from long-time DIYers providing a retrospective. Thoroughly recommended.

The book's merits for SI 636

I would absolutely recommend DIY Citizenship to other students of 636. While the "citizenship" aspect is quite prominent in some parts, the book serves as a good introduction into several facets of DIY/making, and I think speaks well to the "-spaces" part of makerspaces (in that communities are front-and-center, and I think they become inextricable from the physical spaces in many contexts). It feels more academic than the punk origins of many of the movements featured, but it succeeds in using that positioning well to provide deliberate study.

The book's perspective

DIY Citizenship is very obviously an academic essay collection. The editors themselves have been involved in DIY and activism from an academic perspective for years, and their contributors have an incredible range of experiences and training. That can make it feel scattered or distant at times, but the personal involvement comes through in some contributions.

Tools/materials/products for makers

This book includes so many things! It's almost impossible to narrow down to a reasonable length for this review. Some examples include printable vinyl stickies to redact information from driver's licenses, gardening, radio transmitters, soldering, knitting, social media, and user studies.

Kinds of makers

The kinds of makers included are, as with tools above, extremely broad. One group featured in the first part is the Pandora radio collective: former radio pirates, they helped teach basic electronics in communities while setting up low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. Others, like the license plate stickes or the GrowBot, come from an academic context. Henry Jenkins profiles Harry Potter fans and their social justice campaigns, which doesn't address making related to those campaigns but rather in the general fan community.

Making defined

DIY Citizenship doesn't settle on a single definition of making, which I think is a good stance to take. They succeed in capturing the nuances of the term pretty well (which is a big challenge). They acknowledge many different pedigrees for the term, from the "weekend warrior" to the punk zine maker. The most important specific point they make is that the Y in DIY is often plural: do it yourselves. Making is rarely done in a vacuum, and certainly through the lens of activism it is a necessarily communal activity.

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