Making with China : craft-based participatory research methods for investigating Shenzhen's Maker Movement

Marshall, Justin and Rossi, Catharine (2017) Making with China : craft-based participatory research methods for investigating Shenzhen's Maker Movement. Digital Culture & Society, 3(1), pp. 127-138. ISSN (print) 2364-2114


In January 2015 Li Keqiang visited Chaihuo makerspace in Shenzhen, the Chinese city that is the world’s electronics manufacturing capital. The visit expressed the significance of China’s fledgling but fast-growing maker movement: while its first makerspace was only set up in 2010, in 2016 there are over a hundred, and Keqiang’s visit is part of a bigger governmental push on makerspaces, positioned as sites of creative and technology-led innovation key to the country’s economic growth. Amidst growing research into the social, politico-economic and cultural significances of makerspaces in the UK and Europe, the specificity of China’s maker movement remains under-researched. Yet understanding the on-the-ground lived experience, rather than the promotional rhetoric, of China’s maker movement, is crucial to its future: while lots of makerspaces are opening, many lack makers, and there are fears that China’s maker movement is an artificially fuelled bubble about to burst. Contemporaneously, the future of other types of making in China, such as its craft traditions, urban manufacturing networks, and shanzhai production, are being threatened by an assemblage of fiscal and state forces. Investigating China’s maker movement was the focus of two British-based and funded network, research and knowledge exchange projects in which the authors participated during 2015 and 2016; 'Living Research: Making in China' and 'China’s Creative Communities: Making Value and the Value(s) of Making'. This paper considers their research methodologies and initial findings. Specifically, it focuses on the craft-based participatory methodology developed in China’s Creative Communities, as seen in a ‘Digital Craft’ workshop. Informed by social anthropology, its empirical, immersive and inclusive approach gave a voice to makers themselves. While still in a developmental stage, we believe this ‘craft anthropology’ approach has value for future research into the maker movement in China and in other cultures and contexts.

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