Learning from socially useful production

Adrian Smith
Wednesday, 25 January, 2017 - 14:30
Classroom @ M-ITI, Floor -2, Polo Científico e Tecnológico da Madeira


Forty years ago, workers at Lucas Aerospace in the UK proposed an alternative plan for their company. In the face of redundancies arising from restructuring, plant closures and automating technologies, workers proposed a number of prototypes and projects where their skills, technology and labour could be put to socially useful purposes (in contrast to the military applications dominating their electro-mechanical products). This initiative inspired a movement for socially useful production amongst community activists, engineers, peace campaigners, local economic development agencies, and activists on the Left. All were committed to human-centred technology development for social purpose. Interestingly, the movement even established in London in the early 1980s a network of community-based workshops for the popular design and prototyping socially useful technologies. In many respects, the community workshops, and their open access design banks, anticipated activities prevalent in hackerspaces and amongst open hardware developers today. Significantly, the movement for socially useful production also opened up the politics of technology development to critical and practical scrutiny, and which still holds lessons for activities today. Having introduced this history, my presentation will consider how we might develop a framework for understanding the full range of critical knowledge arising from this activity, and potentially support grassroots innovation in technology today.

A paper related to the presentation can be accessed here.
And a shorter blogpost for The Guardian here.

Short Bio:

Adrian Smith is Professor of Technology and Society at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex. Trained originally in mechanical engineering, Adrian has become internationally recognised for his research into the politics of technology development in grassroots settings. Recently, this has included studies of grassroots appropriation of digital fabrication tools, including developments in hackerspaces, makerspaces and fablabs. He has written and broadcast about these developments for organisations as varied as the Inter-American Development Bank, The Guardian newspaper, Radio Nacional de España, and research blogs. He has also organised participatory workshops for grassroots innovators and policy-makers, as well as speaking at maker events, including ones hosted by the Victoria and Albert Museum. He is currently working with the Science Museum to develop a grassroots innovation event in London. Much of this work has been brought together in a book on Grassroots Innovation Movements to be published by Routledge in August 2016.