This week’s readings focused on a topic that I am unfamiliar with (at least in terms of the formal name), critical making. These articles explored the definition and value of critical making, provided some examples of critical making, and also offered some critical/alternative perspective about critical making.
Ratto’s article provides a comprehensive overview of critical making by exploring the connections to similar modes of material/conceptual engagement, critical making as a research and pedagogical strategy, and by exploring how critical making provides an addition to current and future possibilities with technologies. I thought that one of the most intriguing parts about this article was his subtle questions directed to the reader. For instance, in the beginning of the article he subtly asks a deep philosophical problem which is: are technologies inhibiting or liberalizing? (p. 252). Although I don’t have a set position or answer for this question, it was interesting to think about, particularly in the context of critical making.
Another element that I enjoyed from this article was the author’s explicit emphasis on how making something is not the actual goal, but instead the process of sharing the results and the ongoing analysis (p. 253). In other words, the process is just as, or perhaps more important than the actual result. I thought this was a great point to make because it is something that I don’t think is necessarily said or appreciated in the education system. Obviously, there are many factors for why the product (i.e. a grade or a prize) is valued more than the process and I think that this is (and will continue to be) a difficult barrier to change. However, I am interested in how educators can encourage students to become more interested with how the process of troubleshooting, sharing, and analysing collaboratively is valuable instead of merely the end goal.
One final idea that struck me from Ratto’s article was how individual investment is a necessary requirement for critical making (p. 254). If this component is absent, it makes it difficult for individuals to feel like what they are doing is important. Relatedly, he also suggests that critical making allows for people to infuse their personal experiences into these technologies and products. Ratto’s article puts forth ideas of how the individual is important for the process of critical making, but also the actual process of critical making is important.
Pinto’s article offers an exploration of the progression of the makerspaces movement. Specifically, Pinto focuses on finding ways to ‘do’ technology, that is to create and critically make with technology, without corporate involvement. Pinto also emphasizes how this movement was meant to emphasize collaboration and be social learning, not individual learning (p. 36). Interestingly, Pinto says that makerspaces have been transformed so that instead of merely trying to engage individuals and groups with critical making, it is now also about how to engage students with particular subjects (STEM) and that there has been a commercial turn to this movement that is concerning. For instance, there are user fees and membership costs as well as some makerspaces that are clearly advertised for for-profit interests. I tend to agree with Pinto’s concern that the corporate or commercial interests are concerning because if there is a company trying to capitalize on these creative spaces, what happens to the creativity? Do these corporate interests end up influencing critical making or makerspaces more than they should? Additionally, Pinto mentions how makerspace should be devoid of this idea that someone else is an ‘expert’ and that others are learners and receivers of information. Pinto suggests that everyone should be fully participating in these makerspaces, particularly as a way to give students and individuals meaningful agency (p. 37). I think this is an important point to make because sometimes teachers feel that they need to share all their knowledge with students instead of letting students explore on their own.
Wark offers a more critical stance on critical making, suggesting that “it’s not really about making things”, it’s more about postproduction art because the stuff has already been made and you are simply putting it together (p. 297). It seems that Wark is concerned about how this critical making is merely an amateur type culture, an imitation of actual critical making, and that this is not beneficial in the same sense as actual critical making. Specifically, he says that it’s not about the actual labour processes, instead it focuses on basic concepts and not actually knowing or understanding how things are made.
Critical Response and Take Away Points:
While I have interspersed some of my responses to the readings throughout the central arguments, I will highlight a few points that I want to keep in mind moving forward. I am interested in this idea that the individual or student in education wants to feel invested in critical making. I think that this is an important point as we hear from both educators and students that they want a curriculum that is more relatable. People want to feel that what they are doing is important, valuable, but more importantly I think, that they can clearly see how it is important or ways that they can be interested in the process and/or outcome.
Something else that I had honestly not thought about before reading these articles, was the corporate component of these makerspaces. I am not sure why I hadn’t thought about it, but it is another component to keep in mind. Companies want to capitalize on this wave of how (sometimes expensive) products are being bought in larger quantities and being accessed by more individuals than they might normally be. Additionally, I thought that the criticism of how big box stores like Home Depot offering DIY workshops was interesting because it speaks to that idea of having the teacher as the expert and the others in the workshop as learners. So, while this appears to be a makerspace, it is moreso what Wark says is postproduction art with following directions. It is important to try to encourage spaces and situations where students are actually critical making and not simply putting things together that are premade and/or making things from a set of directions.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of makerspaces with collaboration and play and that sometimes the product is less important in comparison to the process. I am specifically interested with how we can maybe try to encourage students to see the value in the process. It is the classic sayings from students, “is this for marks?” or “what do I have to do to be done this assignment”?” or “what do I have to do to get an A?” in particular that I am thinking about. There is this value that is placed on the end so I am curious how educators have countered this. Or, in order to counter these ideas do we need a change in our overall thinking in the education system?
the maker movement emphasized collaboration for social learning (Pinto p. 36)
To fulfil its collective and democratic ethos, the critical makerspace must engage the learner as a whole person who fully participates, not a passive received of official knowledge held by the ‘teacher’ (Pinto p. 38)
It’s about an amateur culture and teaching culture that nibbles around the edges of a world that is made elsewhere. (Wark p. 297)
However true this might be, our sense is that this issue is related to a deeper disconnect between conceptual understandings of technological objects and our material experiences with them. (Ratto p. 253)
My second and related insight was that individual investment in the object of construction was a key component in critical making. (Ratto p. 254)