The Making Spaces Project
From building, to crafting, from tinkering, to playing, meaning is made though making. Makerspaces are informal multipurpose sites designed for collaborative hands-on learning and creative production, with or without tools. Such sites offer the opportunity to share materials, skills, interests, and ideas geared towards technological, personal, and political goals. However, despite the maker movement’s commitment to values of ‘democracy’ and accessibility — in practice, makerspaces still predominantly reflect the traditional, White, male, middleclass STEM demographic, and experience similar barriers to access and retention as found in the wider engineering and technology sectors.
Yet, makerspaces have the potential to build communities, foster empowerment, and shape sustainable futures. These settings also offer valuable opportunities to help tackle the underrepresentation of marginalised groups in engineering, science and technology. The Making Spaces Project, led by Professor Louise Archer (UCL IoE), and funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, seeks to support equitable practice within the sector in order to enable more Makerspaces to fulfil these aims.
Drawing on the lived and felt experiences of young people and practitioners engaged in direct action in makerspaces, and fields of resistance including transformative and social justice, decolonial theory, critical race theory, and science and technology studies. The Making Spaces Project seeks to disrupt the material-based approach (e.g. the acquisition of more equipment) commonplace in makerspaces, so as to encourage and enable one of effective pedagogy, community support, and mutual aid. The project aims to empower young people from under-resourced communities to engage with, and add their expertise to, the landscape of makerspaces, positively broadening their occupational potential in engineering, whilst dismantling the colonial landscape of engineering itself, and reorienting sites of emerging technologies towards transformation, liberation, and empowerment.
In collaboration with Knowle West Media Centre (Bristol), MadLab (Manchester), and the Institute of Making (UCL, London) this project will focus on the building, sharing, and revising of expertise, both practical and theoretical. We aim to create robust, and bespoke programmes to support young people’s engagement with Makerspaces, so as to provide playful and safe environments for engineering and tech-based skills to be learnt and practised, as well as give strength to young people’s agency and life chances through making.
Embedded in the project are four core aims:
- To generate new knowledge and an evidence base for promoting STEM participation to unsupported communities.
- Widen participation in STEM for unsupported communities, thus contributing to addressing a long standing, global STEM participation challenge.
- Improving the educational and occupational outcomes of young people from unsupported communities, which will both help address global STEM skills gaps and advance social justice.
- Increasing and enhancing innovation among young people from unsupported communities, thus supporting societal advancement and potentially accelerating the uptake of new technology
Tackling inequity in STEM is an ambitious one, however we believe that by utilising the rich potential of Makerspaces, and focusing on communal building, maker pedagogy, and embodied approaches to learning, we can together build an innovative and powerful tool to break though the barriers that have historically acted as road blocks against young people from marginalised groups choosing to enter STEM.