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 sociomateriality of FabLabs) image

Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

1. 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 deals directly with the special issue topic of institutions and the institutionalisation of makerspaces through a conceptual analysis of different types of socio-material work objects, knowledge objects and imaginative objects across observations of multiple FabLabs.

In particular, the author distinguishes two extreme forms of FabLab on this topic: Peer Production as a Service, geared towards democratisation; and more anarchist models geared towards innovation, which they also use to discern their conclusions.

This would satisfactorily address the first two themes of new spaces and places, as well as new practices and experiences.

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

While there is a useful table and introduction of the FabLabs they visited as research sites for data collection, it is unclear how the author(s) applied their observations and thematic analysis towards their three thematic discussions of work, knowledge and imaginative objects. The select narratives presented in each theme are useful and clear examples, but the process towards them is not.

I would recommend a description of how they applied thematic analysis (codes, categories, references) that are currently missing. This should only take a paragraph, but may influence their presentation of the themes as well.

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

The paper comes across as an in-depth discussion with intimate knowledge of the theory and context, but lacking some appropriate structure to better connect their arguments to their observations and analysis. The introduction could be a little more focused on articulating the paper structure as well as it seems to bleed into the scope of context.

I would recommend some subheadings to assist the reader in the flow of the narrative.

I would also recommend reducing the number of references, and reviewing how references are used at certain points, as some references appear without being clear what aspect of the phrase or sentence is being referenced. A lot of complex terms and concepts are put forward in quick succession and references are being used to ‘permit’ their use, rather than offering insight into their meaning or how they are presented by the referred authors.

Overall, this is a very strong paper with excellent insight on the socio-material concerns of FabLabs, and some very strong connection to existing theory and literature. The recommendations above are stressed on increased clarity, structure and process to best articulate the strong arguments and insights provided by the author(s).

Review B

Reviewer: Anonymous

The paper is well informed and well written. It addresses some very important aspects of the contemporary academic discussion on FabLabs, especially the role of objects and materiality, but also problems of inclusiveness, the relationship of utopian visions and messy realities, as well as the question what a FabLab might be in the first place. However, the paper is not well organized. Thus, the relationship between these heterogeneous aspects stays unclear. It is not made very explicit what the central research question is, why some theoretical concepts are used (and not others), and in what ways the paper goes beyond the already very rich academic literature on FabLabs. The author obviously possess all theoretical tools necessary as well as extensive qualitative data. Hence, I am very confident that the paper would greatly benefit from and careful re-organization.

1. 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 paper emphasizes that FabLabs are not institutions. However, to justify such a strong claim, some notion of institution has to be offered: What are institutions and why aren’t FabLabs institutions? The paper speaks of “formal institutions” which implies that the term institution is used as a synonym for a (formal) organization. However, various FabLabs in Germany are formal organizations (so called ‘Vereine’)…

A theoretically informed concept of institutions and/or organizations would not only improve the link to the special issue topic but also strengthen the paper itself.

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

The presentation of empirical data is fitting. My only suggestion would be the following: Let one specific object take center stage in each subsection (work, knowledge, imaginative).

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

The author should introduce the central aim of the paper (research question, contribution to literature, main thesis…) as soon as possible. A “tow-fold goal” of the paper is introduced very late (on page 8). However, it is still unclear what kind of research gap is addressed here and why the reader should follow the author any further.

There are several options to re-organize the paper. I will highlight two of them:

  • It might be helpful to organize the paper around the question of “countercultural exclusion” and “public inclusion” and use the study of imaginative objects as the central method to shed light on these tensions. This seems to be the strongest part of the paper and links well to the SI theme of institutionalization. The conclusions regarding the other object types don’t seem to be very specific for FabLabs: “Work objects reveal what happens when variegated sociotechnical environments, histories, cultures and practices come together” (p. 8). “Knowledge objects show us that knowledge production is messy, situated, negotiated, ongoing and performative. Materials are capricious; they travel, circulate, accumulate and disperse, and they represent different knowledges to different people” (p. 9). This is hardly anything new. STS scholars (and anyone interested in organizations) would argue that this characterizes nearly every kind of work in knowledge societies.
  • A different option would be to turn this paper into a methodological contribution. In this case, the author’s job would be to make explicit what the study of objects contributes to questions of institutionalization (or the problems of FabLabs becoming proper institutions).

Furthermore, I would advise the author to skip some theoretical concepts mentioned in the paper, which are not explained. For example, the notion of “fire object” is mentioned (p.6-7), and described as “valuable”. However, the author writes, that she/he “will not elaborate on them here”.

I am very sure that this paper could be a valuable contribution to the SI, and would strongly recommend to resubmit it in a better organized way.

Editors’ review

Thanks again for your commitment to the Institutions special issue of Journal of Peer Production, and for your paper. We have had both reviews in. Both regard your paper as contributing to the special issue theme, for which we are grateful. One is a minor revision, and the other a major revision. Here we set out our editorial position in relation to the recommendations, and what revisions we’d like you to make.

If you can meet our requirements satisfactorily, then we will be delighted to have your revised paper in the special issue. Both reviewers praise the good writing and well-informed character of your first draft, and the relevance of the topic. We are hopeful you can deliver a stronger revised paper.

Reviewer 1 recommends minor revision. Her/his chief concern is the lack of clarity on your method, and a more analytical structure for the paper, including sub-title. There is also some concern in the use of jargon. They suggest ways that you can address this without too much re-writing: a better introduction and scene-setting section, use of sub-titles, and reduction in jargon.

Reviewer 2 has concerns similar to reviewer 1, but is more precise in the problems at the moment: the relationships and provenance of the different sociomaterialities; a clear research question (cf those on p.6); the basis of the analysis; and your advance on other published research.

So, the reviewers appear quite consistent on the areas for improvement, and which both relate to some restructuring, but view the extent of revisions required differently. As such, we request that you address both sets of recommendations.

Reviewer 2 makes a helpful suggestion that the paper could be given structure and consistency by pausing to think what you mean by institution and institutionalisation (theoretically) early in the paper. We think this makes good sense, and would also help you address reviewer 1 recommendations about method and concepts by relating the objects observed to some theory of institutionalisation. As you say on p.2: “This has much to do with how ‘new’ practices and technologies meet incumbent institutions, infrastructures, procedures, operating systems and values, as we will see.” In place of seeing objects as ‘ideology materialized’ (p.3) might you instead consider them in relation to institutionalization? You draw on Hess and his ideas about alternative institutionalization. But you also mention a lot of other STS work in passing (technological drama, technological biographies, boundary work, assemblages, social movements, etc). You add to the confusion by returning to literature on objects in a later section, and talk about this literature without really taking it, but adding in more terms (fire objects, fluid objects). Ok, so FabLabs objects are important in all sorts of ways, but flagging this up creates confusion about which of these ways of researching objects you are taking up and contributing towards. We read Reviewer 2 as recommending you focus on relations between objects and institutions (informal as well as formal).

What we mean here is how your key focus on ‘objects’ can focus upon the institutionalisation drive (or resistance) in FabLabs. This may require some reading and revision to section 2 and 4; as well as restructuring and making this clear in the introduction with a prominent question (answered in the conclusion) and line of argument. Some of the STS literature unused in the analysis can be discarded. How can an analysis of different kinds of object reveal the tensions over norms and routines (institutions) in a FabLab, and identify their provenance from within the FabLab or some outside interest? Like reviewer 1 we think it can be implemented relatively straightforwardly in later sections by guiding the reader through a more clearly situated illustration of objects and discussion. “When she shadows the participants, and when new actors are inducted into the lab, we learn how things are to be done.” (p.10). Is that not a kind of routinsed norm? And the technology standards to follow also suggest institutions. The scientific norms followed in one of the Dutch FabLabs, and the proof of concept norms in the other. So maybe there is a mess of informal institutions in FabLabs? And objects negotiate them?

We also think a more ‘institutional approach’ to objects would be more consistent to the kind of data you have to draw upon, since norms and routines might be discussed during your visits? “Because of the more general objectives at the time, details on objects were not systematically recorded for purposes of strict cross comparison. This analysis thus relies on data gathered at the time. The data nevertheless consist of extensive fieldnotes backed with audio and video recordings and substantial photo documentation (see Table 1 in Appendix 1)”. At the moment, some of the notions of object you refer to from theory/literature are beyond access given your methods of research.

We emphasise how our elaboration of the reviewer recommendations does not imply a major re-write. But it is more than minor changes. Some cutting, editing and insertion on institutions in the early sections is required in order that the purpose of the excellent empirical sections becomes more substantial (which need little alteration); and provide the structure the reviewers seek. Structure could also be helped by cutting some of the asides to your travels and references to new literature when reporting on the objects (e.g. at the end of the imaginary objects section).

We hope this feedback helps. 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. We do not anticipate sending the paper back to reviewers. We look forward to seeing the final paper.