The term Critical Making originates from academia. It is the practice of combining critical thinking and rapid prototyping not to create feasible products, but to help engineering students better understand complex issues, and thus solve wicked problems - complex, interconnected issues that lack clear solutions due to their ambiguity, uncertainty, and conflicting perspectives.
Making, but with Critical Thinking[edit | edit source]
by Dr. Regina Sipos
Exploring what this academic term means in the real world gives us an opportunity to look beyond the “business as usual” of making in Western makerspaces, where it is most often used in education, hardware startups, or for leisure time by hobbyists.
Such critical technical practice can be found all over the world. Some makers are highly political: they develop prototypes for the purpose of raising awareness around issues their communities face. Others are hardware hackers: they take apart the black box of technology to understand how it works, and expose dark patterns. Finally, we have our social innovators: they operate out of scarcity, especially in situations of fragile or failed states, and develop solutions for their communities.
While these practices might differ, they share a lot of values. They deploy community-based critical thinking in their making practice, and are inherently collaborative and human-centered. They are early adopters of new technologies, and they are also early warners. This stems from being embedded in the local community, with frequent exchanges about what goes well and what is needed. Finally, they care little about IP rights and potential profits, but generously share low-cost, low-resource open source blueprints both locally in workshops, and globally, via online repositories.
These shared values explain why critical making can be found all over the world. Critical makers can act fast because they are warned by their communities, they can access well documented blueprints for essentially any need, and they have rapid prototyping tools to produce whatever people might need in the moment, be it a digitally fabricated shelter, 3D printed casts for broken bones, or DIY filtration systems for drinking water. These might seem like quick fixes, but cover essential services for people who need them in humanitarian situations.
In the long term, when solutions are not urgently needed, critical making can help build and rebuild better, more sustainably, and more equitably. When makers think big on a small, human-friendly scale, technological ecosystems built on sustainable energy sources, and developed and maintained by local communities become possible.
Six Core Values of Critical Making[edit | edit source]
- Open: Critical Making promotes open collaboration, including the sharing of skills and knowledge. It boosts creativity in the ecosystem of makers by making processes and results accessible.
- Local & connected: Critical Making is happening locally, working on the ground and adapted to a particular socio-cultural context. Thereby, critical making implies an engagement with local communities as well as global networks – thinking globally and making locally.
- Social & Diverse: Critical Making reflects on the social dimensions of making, the living realities of those persons involved and concerned, as well as the ethical implications of their work. Critical Making thereby addresses societal challenges and needs. That’s why it is so important to strive for diversity and inclusiveness.
- Reflexive: Critical Making re-thinks and re-constructs the dominant mainstream maker culture from a critical stance, reflecting on underlying power structures and their implications.
- Impactful: Critical Making aspires to really make a difference. It seeks to improve life and build a sustainable future.
- Joyful & meaningful: Critical Making is still about the joy of and in making, but adds meaning to it. What is made critically is made with a specific purpose of individual or social kind.
- Shelters for humanitarian situations have been prototyped around the world, including a puzzle-like house made of CNC-milled panels, https://www.wired.com/2013/11/a-disaster-relief-shelter-built-by-the-new-industrial-revolution/ or an origami shelter, which premiered at the Ars Electronica Festival in September 2023.
- See e.g. https://www.3dsourced.com/feature-stories/3d-printed-casts/
- Lifepatch, a group of makers, biohackers and artists has been developing a tool for filtering dirt, bacteria and hormones out of the water of the local river, as tap water is not safe in their town https://lifepatch.id/Jogja_River_Project_2016
- More low-resource, digitally fabricated projects for humanitarian and development settings are detailed e.g. here https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160791X18302264
- Common Room, an Indonesian collective has been facilitating the self-directed development process of a remote, Indigenous community; showing that with care, a sustainable, equitable future is possible https://circulardesignpraxis.substack.com/p/4-study-community-networks-a-place
- Source: https://criticalmaking.eu/