Lindtner to study pathways to professional making in Asia and U.S.

Assistant Professor of Information Silvia Lindtner has received a $1,190,450 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund her project “From Hobby to Socioeconomic Driver: Innovation Pathways to Professional Making in Asia and the American Midwest.” The award will support the study of professional maker cultures in Shenzhen, China, Taipei, Taiwan and the American Midwest. 

Throughout the world, maker cultures have evolved distinctly in both origins and mechanisms of support. In Taipei, Taiwan, maker culture is closely associated with social movements, civic engagement and dissent. A confluence of government initiatives and grassroots activities such as OpenLab Taipei and MakerPro in Taipei have contributed to the merger of craftsmanship, manufacturing skills and design, transforming a hobbyist practice into a recognized profession.

In Shenzhen, China, makers are driven by market pragmatics rather than counterculture ideas, exploring ways to integrate design and manufacturing across an informal and open network of sharing. This “dream city” for global makers relies on a close partnership between technology design and manufacturing to produce innovations every day, which is visible in the work of Shenzhen-based hardware facilitator Seeed Studio and the project Shenzhenware

While maker movements in Shenzhen and Taipei are systematically integrated with commercial design and manufacturing, making in the United States currently thrives through promotion by affluent populations and as a DIY and hobbyist practice. 

To better understand and address these differences, Lindtner will examine the cultural, technological and economic processes supporting professional making practices in China, Taiwan and the American Midwest.

The four-year project will explore professional maker cultures in Shenzhen and Taipei through a series of ethnographic studies. Principal investigator Lindtner and her research team will also study maker movements in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Bloomington, Indiana to examine opportunities and obstacles that makers in the Midwest face when seeking to integrate with educational, small-business and government programs. 

Rooted in their ethnographic engagements coupled with research through design engagements, Lindtner and her fellow researchers will analyze established pathways that have led maker movements to evolve from hobby to socioeconomic driver. The results from this project will be used to inform the professionalization of maker cultures in the Midwest to support IT development, pedagogy, policy and entrepreneurship.

With this project, Lindtner also aims to establish a network of practitioners, educators, scholars, students and entrepreneurs across Asia and the U.S. to provide support and collaboration on maker-centered projects. 

Co-investigators for this project are Jeff Bardzell and Shaowen Bardzell, associate professors of Human-Computer Interaction Design in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University-Bloomington.

Posted on September 3, 2015