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Reviews (Institutionalisation and informal innovation) image

Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

1) Is the subject matter relevant?

The premise that there is a potential synergy or tension between the institutionalisation of the ‘maker movement’ through makerspaces, and the informal innovation modalities found within maker collectives is of interest and relevant.

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

I struggled a little with some of the structuring within this paper but this may simply be disciplinary quirks that are outside the structuring I am familiar with.

The introduction foregrounded the context rather than the central research question or focus, and seemed to present frames for analysis ahead of those frames being established or contextualised through presenting the literature or method.

The literature review in some places drifted towards describing the generalities of making and the maker movement, rather than reflecting a focused subset of literature directly in the specific sub-titled territory it set out to describe. This could be resolved by consolidating the general landscape and framing of the maker movement into a distinct, preceding literature section introducing terminology, principles and any key ideas of archetypal makers etc. That would leave the subsequent section on Making and Institutionalisation and Making free to go deeper and maintain focus and fulfil its important role in demonstrating the territory the work sits within.

Description of the data collection approach itself is clear, but in D, data ordering and analysis I would like to know more about the process of applying grounded methods & situational analysis to the sourced data, and the context from which the common descriptive variables emerged (ie. was it from an in person workshop with the whole team, or a remote and solo activity? Did you use situational maps, social arena maps and positional maps, and if yes is there any images of that process you could include?)

The discussion and analysis of the data itself was very strong and engaging, reflecting a deep understanding of the conceptualisations and categories for each of the indicator modalities. I would welcome an introductory description of what the authors understand by each of the indicators used in the analysis rather than assuming the reader has a shared understanding.

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

Nothing dramatic, the modalities adopted for recognising institutionalisation or informal-innovation are not explicitly validated, and could be further. The judgements arrived at through the analysis itself seem reasonable, backed up with appropriate examples from the data.

5) Is the article well written?

Yes, no unfinished sentences or awkward typos.

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

As covered above, the literature sections seem unnecessarily muddy at the moment, and could be reconfigured. In particular, the almost glib 2 paragraphs on key literature which leans rather heavily on the USA based ‘founding fathers’ & the makezine conception of making feels orphaned, while aspects of a more broad literature review of making and makers are within the introduction and section 2.A where they may not belong.

7) 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)

This paper is rather light on covering the specifics of institutionalisation. It articulates enough core conceptualisations of institutionalisation in order to identify and group manifestations from the data, but it does not synthesize this institutionalisation as a gradation or align it to the literature, so we are left unclear on whether a given example of formalisation of maker collective practice is considered more or less institutionalised, and how we know that. This could be improved by rooting institutionalisation concepts better in the literature, and perhaps including a visualisation or mapping in the analysis that synthesizes how the alignment between informal innovation modalities overlaps and informs institutionalisation modalities and vice versa.

8) Where is there room for improvement in the presentation/use of empirical material?

More documentation shared of the situated analysis/grounded theory methods employed to arrive at the variables, including a presentation of the 13 variables and resulting themes.

9) In conclusion, would you recommend the paper is: a) published with minor edits, b) published with major edits or c) rejected and published elsewhere?

Publish with major edits as the amends suggested go beyond what I would consider minor.

Review B

Reviewer: Anonymous

1) Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes, it is particularly relevant for this issue and brings to light an underrepresented perspective.

2) 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?

This is definitely an interesting subject, and presents some fascinating and unexpected insights from the interviews.

However, there is a notable lack of discussion around class distinctions and the elitism that has been present across the Maker Movement in industrialised countries. Government-sponsored makerspaces and fab labs are mistakenly categorised as “informal” spaces in the same vein as informal sector artisans and Geekulcha’s entrepreneurs; this conflation of different types of informality hinders the authors’ ability to dive into a deeper and more nuanced discussion of increasing formalisation. Despite similarities around constraint-based and incremental innovation, and even similar attitudes around open source technology, there are often fundamental class distinctions and wealth disparities between self-identified makers and informal sector artisans. In addition, these communities may bring very different priorities and expectations to their engagements with maker collectives. While students and hobbyists may be excited about technology for its own sake, less privileged artisans may be looking specifically for employment or entrepreneurial opportunities. There is a small body of literature worth mentioning around how the Maker Movement in the USA and Western Europe is predominantly well-educated and upper-class hobbyists. One might argue that Fab Labs, coming out of MIT, have embodied aspects of formal institutions and class structures since their inception.

Such critiques include Morosov’s “Pick up a Spot Welder and Join the Revolution” (available at ). maxigas and Troxler also highlight this tension in their JoPP editorial: “Of the four possible interpretations of Fab Lab and maker culture – bourgeois pass-time, innovation in education on technology, new renaissance reconciling liberal arts with science and engineering in a contemporary and playful way, and new industrial revolution – the practice appears to swither between the former two, while the latter two rhetorically complement the former, either romantically or rebelliously according to taste” (available from ). See also the survey of Maker Faire Bay Area in 2014, which found that “Virtually all [participants] (97%) attended/graduated college or better; 78% graduated college and 35% have postgraduate degrees… Median household income is $130,000.” (available from ).

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

The identification of maker collectives as intermediaries is an intellectually interesting concept that can provide a solid framework for future discussion, but this reviewer is sceptical about what seems to be a complete lack of tension around the institutionalisation of maker collectives. The authors’ conclusions will be much stronger if these underlying tensions are discussed in some fashion, even if it is only to mention the uniqueness of the South African maker experience as compared to other countries. This reviewer has personally noted significant tensions when corporate and government entities impose their own metrics for success upon makerspaces, and has seen maker communities split into factions as some spaces formalize to pursue greater opportunities, while others adhere to their original informal norms. Might these challenges also pose an issue for South African maker collectives as the movement grows?

In addition, it is worth making distinctions among different types of maker collectives; are some more willing to support formal start-ups than others? Some interviewees may speak excitedly about open source technologies, but are there ideological differences between those who need to feed their families and those who just want to share knowledge as a hobby? When the House4Hack member tells people who come in with a “scarcity mentality” to just “go away,” do those prospective entrepreneurs go to a different makerspace? Would any of the makers interviewed be more enthusiastic about patents and copyrights if they thought these institutions could actually protect their IP, or are they truly advocates for open source ideals? Are there class distinctions among these interviewees? Given the breadth and diversity of spaces in which the authors collected data, this reviewer had expected to see differences among various types of spaces rather than blanket statements about the overwhelmingly positive potential for cross-sector collaborations.

4) Is the article well written?


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

As mentioned, a more nuanced approach to the question of informality, along with a consideration of class distinctions across and within makerspaces, would provide a valuable framework upon which this article could be expanded. Since the researchers have interviewed such a large number of maker collectives, perhaps there could be some categorisation of whether some spaces seem more or less favourable towards interactions with formalised institutions. There is a brief mention of Geekulcha refusing a corporate collaboration due to the firm’s constraints on software use, which should be expanded and elaborated upon.

The extensive quote from the JoPP call for submissions seemed unnecessary, and the sections on modalities could be made more concise by combining the paragraph text with the bullet points which repeat the same modalities. If this article becomes longer, it may be worth putting the tables into an appendix.

There should also be some mention of whether the practices of these makerspaces have become more formal over time. In particular, have the membership, user training and space-rental fees changed since the makerspaces’ inception? Is there an overall trend toward more formalised practices? Are there any protests against this trend?

6)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)?

This paper adequately addresses the special issue topic, particular with regard to the second theme. Nonetheless, in its current form it does not fully “scrutinize practices through critical, hands-on analyses.”

7) Where is there room for improvement in the presentation/use of empirical material?

With such a wealth of interview data, a more quantitative analysis of the spaces would be very interesting if possible. Have there been shifts in formalisation and institutional connections over time? Could the authors support their claim that “elements of institutionalisation appear to present more opportunities than dilemmas” by providing the number of interviewees who expressed this view, especially as compared to any interviewees who might disagree?

Third, we provide you with the option to either a) recommend the paper is published, or b) recommend it is not.

I would tentatively recommend the publication of this paper, but strongly suggest that the authors address the unavoidable reality of class distinctions among various types of maker collectives. They should also provide a more serious discussion of the inherent tensions around institutionalisation, even if they still reach the conclusion that it does not pose an issue in the South African context.

Editors’ review

Thanks again for your commitment to the Institutions special issue of the Journal of Peer Production, and for your paper. We have now received both reviews. Both regard your paper as highly relevant to the special issue theme, for which we are grateful. We are especially engaged by your analysis of maker movements in South Africa as increasingly institutionalized, a finding augmented by your introduction of a third characteristic to the institutionalization elements we had described in the CfP: partnerships between pre-existing maker collectives and formalized institutions. However, despite the excellent research and effort evident in this paper, it still needs work, as both reviewers require major revisions before they can recommend inclusion.

Here we set out our editorial position in relation to the recommendations. If you are able to meet the below requirements satisfactorily, we would be delighted to feature your revised paper in the special issue. Both reviewers praise the good writing and well-informed character of your first draft, and also the relevance of the topic, so we do feel a stronger revised paper is a distinct possibility.

In summary, while Reviewer 1 finds the topic of the paper interesting and timely, s/he is highly critical of the way the literature on the maker movement is relayed in the introductory section of the paper, and feels it is overly generalistic yet confident in tone, rather than connoting its reflection of a rather Western focused subset of knowledges on the topic. S/he also would like to see more work be done on both the presentation of methods (for example, the process you used when applying your grounded methodologies) and the analysis of findings for more synergy between literature, theories and data.

Reviewer 2 also praises the paper for “bringing to light an underrepresented perspective”. However, s/he finds a notable lack of distinction between the different types or variants of maker collectives relayed in the study, and also a lack of analysis in the discussion about the class distinctions and conditions of privilege that are also often evident in maker movements. S/he also finds the categorization of government-sponsored sites as “informal” to be a conflation of different kinds of informality, some more constrained and influenced externally than others.

We also agree with both reviewers that the paper’s treatment of the maker movement in the introduction have been written in a surprisingly universalist way which does not match up with the examples you use, given they have all been derived predominantly from Western and/or USA-centric perspectives. To address these generalizations (as we do assume you would rather refer to the many variations on maker movements already occurring independently from Global North influences), we suggest you describe more of your own research in this area (which looks like it can provide excellent examples of this), which you give a nod to in the introduction but do not explain until later, and then only in the context of innovation. Reviewer 1 in particular suggests these issues could be resolved by “consolidating the general landscape and framing of the maker movement into a distinct, preceding literature section introducing terminology, principles and any key ideas of archetypal makers etc”, a suggestion we agree with..To enrich your treatment further, in addition to the pieces which depict the bourgeouise nature of the maker movement in the West by Reviewer 2, we suggest the inclusion of other readings that better address maker efforts (other than Maker Faire, which as you note began in the USA) originating in contexts of the Global South.

To name but a few in this genre:

Furthermore, while both we and the reviewers agree the paper addresses the special issue topic of shared machine shops quite well, both reviewers also mention feeling that the paper’s exploration of the institutionalization of sites was given too simplistic a treatment marked by “blanket statements” (Reviewer 2) rather than nuanced distinctions, with the majority of the paper focused on merely sharing results without further synthesis or integration of related theories to bring to light the various tensions and interplays of power, class access also evident in the interactions.

This could be achieved, for example, through a new section that enriches your data in the conclusion by displaying deeper dive into corresponding literatures on the complexities of formalization in other grassroots maker communities, including a treatment of some of the potential negative aspects of institutionalization (such as the fact that Geekulcha turned down corporate sponsorship – why?) that have likely been relayed to you by your interviewees and/or during the South African Maker Movement workshop you held in Pretoria. Providing a nod to the complexities of this ecosystem would further enrich your claims that the concurrent institutionalization and informalization of maker efforts in South Africa is an overall positive development, and ward off further accusations of bias. Reviewer 1 suggests another example: a diagram of some kind that visually synthesizes how the alignments between informal innovation modalities overlap and inform institutionalisation modalities and vice versa.

Lastly, as the journal does not have funds for professional copy-editing, we ask that you do a last round of proofreading before submission, as there remain various sections (such as the use of both “informal innovation” and “informal-innovation” on page 2) where there appear to be small mistakes in the use of language and/or the tenses used (for example “we collect our primary data in 2016-7” on page 5, instead of “we collected” in past tense; or the incorrect use of “lack concern” on page 15 instead of “lack of concern”).

Despite this, we want to re-emphasize that we would be very happy to see a revised version of this paper, as we all feel you’ve started to put together a powerful piece of work that would greatly augment the themes of this special issue. We hope this feedback is helpful and constructive, even in the moments when the reviewers have been a bit harsh. 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 to be potentially shared with the reviewers before inclusion. Many thanks, again, for being involved in this enriching process with us.