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
Reviews (The institutionalization of making) image

Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

1. Is the subject matter relevant?


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?

The authors talk about open innovation but do not refer to the extensive literature that exists around that concept (e.g. the work of Henry Chesbrough and colleagues). See for example:

  • Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2011): Open Innovation. Past Research, Current Debates, Future Directions 25 (1), S. 75–93.
  • Chesbrough, Henry William; Vanhaverbeke, Wim; West, Joel (Hg.) (2006): Open innovation. Researching a new paradigm. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

While the authors seem to have gathered very rich material, how they fruitfully link it to their theoretical framework remains unclear. It appears to me that most of the material is used only as anecdotal evidence for the validity of very general concepts. The conclusions reached are hence often very close to truisms (e.g. “Fablabs are certainly grounded in the existence of a community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 2008) that is produced diachronically with a socio-technical apparatus which has agency but is also organized in time and space” or “Human agency is therefore distributed in different circles within and around the organization and is entangled with all sorts of contracts and artefacts produced during a project’s life.”).

4. Is the article well written?

Too many theoretical concepts are introduced and underused. On page 3 alone these include: open innovation, isomorphism, communities of practice, ontological politics, structuration, zones of proximal organization, technical and organizational learning, boundary work, situated practices and knowledge society. Leaving aside the issue of how to combine all of these on a theoretical level (difficult, I think), this is confusing and not helpful for understanding either one of the different arguments. The authors should pick one or two of these concepts and then introduce and use them systematically throughout the article.

Quite often individual paragraphs appear to be ill structured, jumping back and forth between different arguments. This makes it difficult to follow and understand.

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

The introduction of many theoretical concepts is either missing, too short or questionable. The latter is the case for the discussion of the structuration theory and its link to sociomateriality (p.4) which needs improvement (compare Orlikowski 1992, 2000 for a discussion of the topic).

Sections 4 and 5 of the article are mostly a description of context and four different settings. Seven pages is too long for this, given that there is very little actual analysis done in those parts.

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)?

The authors state multiple goals and research questions throughout the paper. Most of them do address the topic. The connection could be improved by focusing on one of these. Generally I believe that the authors gathered a substantial amount of relevant and interesting material during their impressive fieldwork. This material could be used to write several nice articles for the special issue, it’s a matter of selection and focus.

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

See 3 above. I believe the material is good and presented in some detail. It is less clear to me that the material is put to much use which, however, seems to be a problem of theoretical focus and analytical clarity rather than the material itself.

8. Would you recommend the paper for publication?

As it stands, I would not recommend the article for publication. The empirical work is interesting and relevant and there are some interesting starting points for analysis (e.g. how the institutionalization of fab labs has both internal and external dimensions and how they might be contradictory). However, much theoretical and analytical work remains to be done.

Review B

Reviewer: Anonymous

Is the subject matter relevant?

By discussing the specific characteristics of structuration through practices as they relate to conditions of institutionalization at four different institutionally-collaborative fablab sites in France, the article directly addresses the topic of this special issue.

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?

Various points are raised throughout the paper that act as interesting starting points for further analysis of the empirical data, but are not alluded to further, such as a footnote which introduces a point that the entanglements between fablabs and institutions may represent a “soft hacking of the institutionalization of third places”, which cites only another journal article written by the authors, instead of addressing this intriguing thought further in the paper or referencing other works such as those of Soja, Edward W (1996) Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places or more recently Smith, Adrian, Mariano Fressoli, Dinesh Abrol, Elisa Arond, and Adrian Ely. Grassroots innovation movements, Taylor & Francis (2016) which address similar concepts.

It would also be valuable to provide more scholarship on the specificity of the French fablab setting in particular, since it is claimed this setting is different and more “political” than that of other nations; Kohtala, Cindy, and Camille Bosqué’s 2014 piece ‘The Story of MIT-Fablab Norway: A Narrative on Infrastructuring Peer Production’ for example discusses the ways that the ideologies and tales of national fablabs transmit the situatedness of their culture to others.

The same goes for why the authors seem to feel fablabs are makerspaces and vice versa, while hackerspaces and other sites warrant separate categories; this is a semantic point but it warrants clarifying, and has been examined in depth through pieces like maxigas (2012) ‘Hacklabs and hackerspaces: Tracing two genealogies’ or Fleischmann, Katja, Sabine Hielscher, and Timothy Merritt (2016) ‘Making things in Fab Labs: a case study on sustainability and co-creation’ Digital Creativity 27:2.

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

The paper clearly explains that the authors have spent a considerable amount of time on-site, interacting with users at the four fablabs they are studying, resulting in a rich body of empirical data gathered from various inputs, including participant observation and interviews. They also helpfully share the core coded themes that have governed their descriptive framework. Other than this section focusing on methodology, however, the richness of this data is not reflected in the largely theoretical discussion that then ensues. Given the grounded nature of this work and the authors’ stated aim to share a “detailed account ‘from below'”, it would be valuable to enrich the analysis with actual personal reflections, thoughts and/or quotes from the 60+ site managers and users spoken to in this study. By using heavily obstructed theory and overly generalistic claims like “users, while conceiving of the Fablab as an answer to their specific needs and visions, embed their choices in the socio-technical appropriation of the place” without more clarity on how they have come to such conclusions, the analysis effectively silences the voices of those experiencing the sociomaterialities it aims to convey. Is it truly the authors’ aim to speak for the users of these sites, instead of through and alongside them?

Is the article well written?

In terms of style, while it is evident that considerable theoretical work has been done by the authors to situate their analysis in the tradition of various critical and analytical theories, the wording of this piece often comes across as extremely dense and jargon-heavy, with little clarification provided when mentioning complicated sociotechnical concepts such as structuration, boundary work, grounded theory and situated existence/practice. The assumption that readers should already understand these concepts – and especially that the authors themselves grasp them in such a way that their definitions need only be inferred, not directly explained, as if they are somehow universally understood by all – is very problematic.

There are also several grammatical and language errors throughout the paper that means it would require a rigorous round of proofreading before being published. These unfortunately add to the lack of clarity around the core claims made, undermining key moments:

Example 1: The repeated use of quotations around words like “makers”, “innovation spaces”, “in the wild”, and even “museum”, the uses of which are never clarified.

Example 2: The term ‘fablab’, arguably the most-used term in the paper, being used both as a proper and general noun interchangeably.

Example 3: “Therefore, fablabs do not solely prone market-oriented innovation as a goal but rather target the felicity of making in community of practices….” (1) or “our analytical focus relays on a grounded description….” (1) – not sure what is even meant by ‘prone’ in the first sentence, but in the second sentence, ‘relays’ needs to be replaced with ‘relies’.

Example 4: “This practice based approach (Nicolini et al., 2003) enables to question….” (1) – The wording here should be ‘enables us to question’;

Example 5: “The institutionalization of fablabs can be reported as the generalization of the label “Fablab” in many discourses about innovation…” (1) — ‘as’ should be ‘through’ here, or else this claim does not make sense.

Example 6: On page 5, the term “irenic” is used… is the aim of the paper to counterbalance a “peaceful” understanding of makerspace practices? If not, the use of this term is very unclear.

Example 7: The paper’s use of “place” and “space” is seemingly interchangeable; how is each defined?

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

The abstract is very long, a few pages, and should usually be no more than 200-300 words. Furthermore, in addition to the issues with style and grammar noted above, several paragraphs are either extremely long or very short (a sentence or two only) in length, causing an inconsistency of style that further convolutes the claims of this piece. It would be quite valuable, therefore, to spend more space clarifying what is meant by the various theories (such as Oldenburg’s third place, only mentioned in passing) and claims (such as “maker practices are more political in France”, also mentioned only in passing) used, rather than spending so much time in Section 4 and 5 describing the fablabs themselves. Or, if the goal is to provide a rich description of the socio-spatial settings of these sites, a section which introduces the different kind of users interviewed and conveys more of their experiences would be essential. At this time, it feels as if the paper is trying to be two papers (one entirely theoretical, one entirely empirical) without being able to give either the full treatment it needs.

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)?

In its aim to address the ways that users understand the performed sociomaterialities and practices that situate their experiences at these fablabs due to processes of structuration that emerge from institutionalization, the remit of this paper does very effectively address the topic of this special issue. Unfortunately, its aims are not adequately reflected in the explorations that follow. By condensing the three research questions mentioned in Section 2: Analytical Framework and placing them instead in a shortened abstract, this could be made more clear.

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

As mentioned in Sections 3 and 4, while the paper is based on what seems to be quite a considerable (and valuable!) body of research on user experiences and conditions of structuration at a set of fablabs in France, its analysis is currently organized around unsubstantiated claims, unclear theoretical language and a lack of direct reflection or voice of study informants themselves. By appearing to speak for users without clarifying such an approach, and without explaining many of the more thematically-specific terms used, the paper risks alienating readers rather than drawing them into this interesting body of research.

a) Recommend the paper is published, or b) recommend it is not.

While I believe this work will make an important contribution to existing scholarship on organizational theory around fablabs, especially that of institutionally-oriented fablabs in the French setting, I do not feel it is not ready to publish at this stage. However, once the authors have clarified their balance between theory and empirical reflections and had the chance to proofread the layout, content and claims made in the paper, I do feel it will be widely read and appreciated in a future special issue.

Editors’ review

We have now heard back from the Editorial Board. Despite the rejections from both of the reviewers, there is scope for you to resubmit the paper, and if you can do so in good time and to high quality, then we can include it in the Special Issue. The process is as follows:

  1. Send to Kat and I a brief document (less than one page) that sets out the improvements you plan to the paper. The document must set out clearly and briefly the improvements you will make to the core problems identified by the reviewers. So, how you will improve: the poor language; reduce the number of core analytical concepts, justify the ones chose, and better explain those you use them in relation to the literature and existing FabLab research; better explain the methods by which you put the concepts to work in gathering empirical evidence and interpreting the results.
  2. We will share this document with the reviewers and use it to seek their consent to resubmission (explaining the JoPP approach to collaborative peer review aimed at improving quality).

We hope you are able to meet the process. Your research is very relevant to the Special Issue, and we would like to include it. But it has to be of a high, publishable quality: that is what we understand the JoPP approach to be helping. Many thanks, and we look forward to hearing from you.