The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
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Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

Is the subject matter relevant?

The subject matter of the article, custom production in 18th and 19th century dressmaking, is relevant to peer production in shared machine shops. The author’s thesis is, initially, surprising in the context of this special issue. Through the article, however, the author successfully persuades readers of not just its relevance but also its truth. One can look to the past to better understand aspects of the potential of customized production in shared machine shops. In supporting this argument, the author advances a fresh methodology through which shared machine shops may be studied, and generates useful insights about a potential opportunity to improve custom production. 

Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

I found the treatment of custom production by the author stimulating and insightful. I admit that the disciplinary field of the article, and the literature cited therein, is not squarely in my area of expertise. Therefore, I refrain from commenting on citations or literature in respect of dressmaking and/or product customization, except to say the range of sources seems eclectic. 

I feel that the author might have engaged much more deeply in both theoretical and empirical literature on peer production, including in relation to the maker movement and makerspaces. Doing so would significantly strengthen the work, and make its relevance to the special issue much clearer. 

Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

The author draws distinctions between mass customization and custom production. The explanation of parametric customization in that context is clear. The comparative application the concepts to historical custom dressmaking and modern mass-customization—discussing users, interfaces, and parameters—sets up useful insights in the section that follows. The intellectual payoff of the article comes in its application of these insights to what the author describes as “humane customization”. I am especially intrigued by the author’s insights regarding scalability, and the benefits of staying small-scale. In an era when so much focus is placed upon the virtues of scaling up (whatever that term may be taken to mean), the author’s analysis is refreshing. 

However, the author leaves an important issue unexplored. In section three, s/he discusses the relative costs of components versus labour in 18th and 19th century dressmaking. S/he also discusses the nature of employment, including outsourcing, in that context. Through this discussion, and indeed through the entire paper, the author inevitably treats the economic activity involved as the sale of a good. This same characterization pervades the analysis of both mass/parametric customization and humane customization. 

I would like to propose to the author an entirely different framing of the comparison: that of a good versus a service. Could it be that the key difference between parametric and humane customization is that the former involves manufacturing goods while the latter involves providing service? If my hunch is correct, then what impact does that have on the author’s conclusions. Are shared machine shops then simply places where services are provided, rather than places where goods are produced? What are the implications of this framing for the author’s discussion of scalability. Are services ever truly scalable? And so what? 

Is the article well written?

 The article is very well written. Some typos will have to be addressed during editing. I suggest using shorter paragraphs to make the piece more readable. Otherwise, the style is excellent. 

Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

See above. 

Final recommendation: Minor edits, major edits, or reject? 

Honestly, it is tough for me. I do a lot of interdisciplinary work with management and economics; less so with history or cultural studies, which the paper seems to draw mostly on. Some of the sources are from the field of management. But I think my final insight in the review —regarding the distinction between goods and services — is so obvious (at least that’s what struck me) that to not engage it, and the literature about that, is a major flaw of the paper.

I would have to add that when combined with the tangential way in which the paper deals with shared machine shops and the (enormous) relevant literature on making/makers/makerspaces, there’s a big gap in the analysis.

At the same time, I’m intrigued by the central thesis, and persuaded by it. There’s enormous benefit to exploring this angle. I love the insights regarding scalability. This question of whether scaling is good or bad, how to do it, or even what it means, is timely and important. That alone could constitute a valuable contribution to the literature.

In conclusion, I would have to recommend publication with major edits.

Review B

Reviewer: Anonymous

How adequately does the paper address the special issue topic of ‘institutions and the institutionalisation’ of makerspaces, and how could the connection be improved (particularly within the three themes in the CfP)?

The article addresses the theme of the special issue through discussions on modes of production (and implicitly the institutional logics which inform them). The author compares an historic case, that of dress making in the 18th and 19th centuries, with a contemporary case, that of mass customisation in contemporary athletic – leisurewear industries. The paper seeks to draw together evidence and ides that might inform a proposed concept of humane custom production. In doing so it seeks to make a methodological contribution, through historical comparative case studies. The paper seeks to make a second, more normative contribution, making the case for greater mass customisation practises in makerspaces.

The introduction promises a paper that is about different structures of custom production of goods and how users of shared machine shops can intervene in evolving practises of digitally-aided custom production. We might expect a discussion of different structures of custom production to follow, and given the theme of the special issue, this discussion might comment on institutional aspects of custom production. We might also expect in the discussion or conclusions a reflection on how the case study or proposed methodological innovation might contribute to telling us something about how users of shared machine shops can intervene in evolving practises of digitally-aided custom production.

Both the historic and contemporary cases are well handled. The historic case in particular draws on an intriguing array of secondary research. However, the author might better situate this work within the often critical perspectives on makerspaces, including those made in this journal. The author might consider how contemporary (and often plural and diverse) makerspace cultures/sites/institutions are or are not similar to the case studies (minor flaw).

This might be achieved through a direct discussion on how the institutional logics of production play in makerspaces. This discussion is lightly entered into on the final page of the paper with reference to Toombs et al. (2014). However, the author might better situate the work in the paper, and better situate the paper within the themes of the special issue, by discussing production and institutions of makerspaces (major flaw). This more explicitly make the case for the inclusion of this paper in the special issue. Questions that might be addressed include but are not limited to: are modes of production in makerspaces like either of the case studies?; In what ways?; Why does this matter?; If makerspaces are to incorporate ‘humane custom production’, what will have to change?;

The author hones in on a fascinating and intriguingly realistic point and one which is actively discussed in makerspaces: the co-existence of custom production and industrial methods in historic cases. The paper might like to reflect on how makerspaces might be locations for these kind of co-existences, and why this might be socially useful? (major opportunity)

This brings up a wider point about the paper. On a number of occasions the author makes claims regarding the normative value of ‘humane’ production, production with ‘users at the centre’ and (e.g. page 4, second last paragraph; page 7 discussion on “the best parts of the historical practice”)(major flaw). The paper would be significantly strengthened through an explicit discussion of why these modes of production/customisation are normatively better, and for whom? For example, the author touches on issues of gender in the dressmaking case on page five. Perhaps this might be the entry point for a reflection on in interactions of subjectivity and institutions in the discussion. But more important to deal with than specific issues, is how the issues that the comparative case work exposes, are brought into the realm of the makerspace.

Where is there room for improvement in the presentation and use of empirical material?

As per the above comments, it is not clear how the empirical data supports the claims made in advance of the secondary argument in the paper, that ‘humane production’ is normatively better, and for whom (major flaw).  The author may seek to make these lines of arguement more clear, or drop them to focus more clearly on the methodological contribution. For example, on page six, three ‘important’ differences are made with comparing the historic and contemporary cases. It is not clear on what criteria these observations are made. The author might usefully explain the basis of comparison. Furthermore, it might be useful and even more intriguing to know what similarities exist between the cases. Indeed, institutional analysis is often used to explain stasis and obduracy over time and considering what things don’t change, despite for example the diffusion of ICTs and global supply chains in the 20th C might be useful. An example of this approach in action might be to consider insitutional constraints in the second last paragraph of page six, and not just parameterization. In this way the author might go beyond a technological deterministic perspective, to bring in social/institutional determinants and strengthen the historical method proposed.

The author might unpack the concept of ‘humane production’ at further length (major flaw). The author uses the word “humane” throughout, including the title. In this context this is an intriguing word, but the author does not inform us why this word is used. An explanation early in the text might add weight to the proposed concept of humane production. This core concept is in the title of the paper, we might expect that the author explicitly locates aspects of ‘humane production’ in the cases, and then discusses in detail how ‘humane production’ exists or might exists within makerspaces. Indeed, are we to expect that humane production is an institutional form makerspaces might adopt or embed? Why, how and who might do this?

How else might the paper be improved so that it can make a high-quality contribution to the special issue?

The article may benefit by the removal of much of the reader-signposting (minor flaw). For example, the bottom half of page seven is given over entirely to summarising issues discussed previously in the paper, somewhat impeding the forward progress of this reader.

The author uses the catch-all term ‘users’ 50 times in the paper. It is not always clear whether this users is a consumer, designer, user of making tools, user of internet platform tools (minor flaw). A case in point is the reference to ‘real’ users on page seven. Without a more explicit treatment of users earlier in the paper, this reference to ‘real’ lacks specificity. As well as being confusing, this lack of specificity buries discussion of agency which is something of a shame during the conclusions.

In setting out a discussion and conclusion that more directly deals with the special issue, the author might usefully reflect on the themes of the special issue. I draw their attention in particular to the following bullet points:

  • Complex contradictions and possibilities of making, hacking, fabrication and commons-based practices — practices that are themselves increasingly characterised by institutional interventions.

Is humane production as proposed by the author an institutional intervention?

  • The dilemmas of institutionalisation (regarding both the formalization of practices and the fact that many practice-based spaces are now being embedded within larger organizations like museums, municipalities and businesses).

The author presents the dilemma that intriguingly, the production facilities of larger organizations may be placed within the space of makerspaces. What are the implications?

Editors’ review

Thanks again for contributing your paper to the Special Issue of Journal of Peer Production. We have now received comments from both reviewers, and which we share with you here. Both think the paper has considerable merit, but agree some major revisions are necessary before publication. We have read your paper carefully and agree some more work is needed. We hope you are able to respond to our recommendations.

Both reviewers, and us, our enthusiastic about your method and focus, based in thinking with history. It is a real strength. Here, you could also make reference to the paper on Technology Networks for Socially Useful Production in Issue 5 of JoPP, and which also used a historical method to rethink current practices and possibilities (and which includes references to the literature on history as a method to analyse contemporary phenomenon (e.g. John Tosh, 2008, Why history matters)). 

 The major revisions relate to how you link the historical study, and the more general discussion of customization relationships, to the makerspace phenomena. Parametric mass customization is, arguably, a product of industrial systems development, commercial firms, and advanced markets. But can you bring the various options and possibilities of customization relationships into makerspaces? What happens when ‘users’ are blurred into a category like ‘maker’? Can you add a section about makerspaces near the start, and some of the different framings about them, and relate this to the different kinds of customisation? Your historical case can then be used to analyse some of the speculations in the maker literature? 

 The provision of versatile tools and support in skills acquisition might be a characteristic of makerspaces amenable to different customisation relations. But the kinds of customisation that are actually pursued, whether as production of good or provision as service (see reviewer 2), depend on norms and routines in makerspaces, or participants seeking a livelihood or practices beyond the space. Reviewer 1 was quite clear on relating your case(s) to institutions in and around makerspaces. This will need some work, and a working definition of institutions, but we think it can be related to how choices are scripted or constrained, and how the producer-customisation-user relation is made routine. And perhaps how new relations emerge beyond those institutionalised norms, and later become normal practice? 

 Just before the conclusions you write, “I make the more general suggestion that the range of tools frequently used in shared machine shops to increase capacity and production skill (eg: a laser cutter or CNC mill offers the ability to do more complex woodworking than is feasible without) also offers the opportunity for producers situated in such locales to do forms of custom production which are not bounded by strict parameters dictated by existing industrial production processes.” And you make some good points in relation to makerspaces in the Conclusion. But these come in at the end without much prior discussion about makerspaces, and the production possibilities they open up. A section along these lies prior to your historical method and case would serve to draw these conclusions out much more. It is this kind of reflection that we’d like to see more clearly in the revised paper. Maybe makerspaces need also to think carefully about the ‘users’ and how they are related into the production possibilities available with these tools? But also how that is organized economically? 

 These are just some illustrative suggestions rather than recommendations. It is an open topic for discussion, and we invite you to make the connection. Sabine Hielscher and Adrian Smith wrote a review paper of makerspace literature that might be helpful to you on this point and enable you to add a section relating to makerspaces without a lot of further reading (Hielscher, S. & Smith, A. 2014. Community-based digital fabrication workshops: A review of the research literature.) 

 We also agree with reviewer 1 that humane customisation is insufficiently developed. You may not have room to do that. We suggest you relate the discussion to prescriptions or suggestions for makerspaces: issues about production-customisation-consumption relations that they need to bear in mind if some of the more progressive and liberating claims made for makerspaces are to be realised.  

We hope these comments help you re-work some of the discussion and conclusions you draw from an important case and method. In addition to delivering your revised paper, we would be grateful if you can list and explain your responses to the reviewer recommendations in a cover letter.