From Hobby to Socioeconomic Driver: Innovation Pathways to Professional Making in Asia and the American Midwest

What are successful pathways, including the best practices, techno-material ecologies, entrepreneurial and policy environments, and common obstacles, that attend the move from making as hobby towards making as socioeconomic driver? 

The project addresses this question via ethnographic research that documents and analyzes successful pathways from making as hobby to socioeconomic driver in Shenzhen, China and Taipei, Taiwan. Additionally, the project will facilitate engaged learning, partnerships and mutual transfer of best practices between China, Taiwan, and the United States by building an interdisciplinary network of practitioners, scholars, students, and educators.

Start date: 9/1/2015
End date: 8/31/2019 

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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 like 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, as is visible in the work done by the Shenzhen-based hardware facilitator Seed Studio or 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 the promotions 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 U.S. 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 Midwestern makers 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 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.


CHS: Medium: Collaborative Research: From Hobby to Socioeconomic Driver: Innovation Pathways to Professional Making in Asia and the American Midwest, National Science Foundation, $583,466

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…"

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