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 (HackLabs and Hackerspaces) image

Review A

Reviewer: anonymous

1. Is the subject matter relevant?
During the past two decades, hacking has chiefly been associated with software development. This is now changing as new walks of life are being explored with a hacker mindset, thus bringing back to memory the origin of hacking in hardware development. Now as then, the hacker is characterised by an active approach to technology, undaunted by hierarchies and established knowledge, and finally a commitment to sharing information freely. In this special issue of Critical Studies in Peer Production, we will investigate how these ideas and practices are spreading. Two cases which have caught much attention in recent years are open hardware development and garage biology. The creation of hacker/maker-spaces in many cities around the world has provided an infrastructure facilitating this development. We are looking for both empirical and theoretical contributions which critically engage with this new phenomenon. Every kind of activity which relates to hacking is potentially of interest. Some theoretical questions which might be discussed in the light of this development include, but are not restricted to, the politics of hacking, the role of lay expertise, how the line between the community and markets is negotiated, how development projects are managed, and the legal implications of these practices. We welcome contributions from all the social sciences, including science & technology studies, design and art-practices, anthropology, legal studies, etc.

The subject matter of this paper, namely a genealogy of hacklabs and hackerspaces, is not only highly relevant but also a much needed study on the origin and evolution of these phenomena.

3. 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 treatment of the subject matter is extremely interesting and, as mentioned above, a much needed study. The author cites all the main bodies of work on the subject, covers the main episodes and influential players, and provides a compelling ground on which the author and other scholars can build upon to further our understanding of hacker spaces and culture.

4. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?
There are no serious flaws on the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgements. Nevertheless, I’d like to point out some instances in which I was unsure what the author meant or had some problems with the assumptions made:

On page 2 the author writes “A conscious examination will highlight many interesting differences and connections, as well as specific advantages and disadvantages of each movement.” It would be good to clarify what advantages and disadvantages the author is referring to, that is: advantages and disadvantages for whom and in relationship to what?

Also, as both scholars and practitioners know, not all organizations listed on are in fact hacklabs or hackerspaces. On page 5, the author mentions the “Eyebeam hackerspace,” but it should be noted that Eyebeam is not a hackerspace in the accepted meaning of the term – see

On page 10, the author writes “sheer linguistic generality of the name itself allows the hackerspace movement to encompass a wide array of different phenomena.” I’m unsure what is meant here by  the “linguistic generality of the name.”

On page 11, the author argues that most fab labs and hackerspaces are created by hackers for hackers. I believe this is a controversial statement that requires further explanation and validation. Fab Labs, as such, are part of an MIT program, require significant financial investment and thus have traditionally been created and managed by universities and other formal institutions. While hackerspaces are indeed created by hackers for hackers, I would definitely say that the same is not true of most Fab Labs. Unless the author is not referring to what is commonly known as a Fab Lab (namely the ones on MIT’s program) in which case a clearer definition would be necessary.

5. Is the article well written?
For the most part the article is very well written in a clear and appropriate language. Nevertheless, the author sometimes ‘slips’ into a more colloquial expressions. I’d suggest that the article opt for a slightly more formal language in place of colloquial, and vague, expressions such as “a lot.” I’d also suggest that the playful phrase “I will send them this article.” on page 3 be removed for publication.

On page 7, the author writes “Another, more recent example is the short lived Hackney Crack House.” The words short lived usually indicate a project or institution that only existed for a short period of time, that is, something that no longer exists at the time of writing. Nevertheless, the author does not mention the demise of the Hackney Crack House and in fact it appears that it still exists and that what the author meant to say is that it only started recently. To avoid confusion, I’d suggest removing the expression “short lived.”

On page 8, the author writes “Its physical and local nature could be measured by the fact that during its year of operation it has not been necessary to set up a website for the project.” But I’m unsure what the author intends to convey here. It would be advisable to clarify the point.

I’d also suggest the correction of what appear to be typos, namely:
P.1 naughties – nineties
P.4 necessary – necessarily
P.4 seeked – sought
P.6 organizing – organization
P.7 to have – for having
P.7 located under – located on
P.17 hackatrons – hackathons
P.20 occured – occurred
P.20 inclusiary – inclusive
P.20 “this tension is very productive important consequences have to be noted” – it seems that something is missing in this sentence
P.20/21 “in an era where” – in an era when
P.21 criseses – crises

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

It would be good to expand the section on the practices of inclusion and exclusion at hack labs and hackerspaces (pages 19 and 20). The author broaches the subject but does not build on it and it’s an extremely important component of these practices/collectives. It would be interesting to see a more in-depth study of how gender, economic situation, as well as education and professional status play out here – though this paper might not necessarily be the place to do it.

Review B

Reviewer: anonymous

This piece describes two sorts of spaces that have proliferated in the last several decades, and rapidly since about 2005: hackerspaces and hacklabs.  The author wishes to demonstrate that there are clear genealogical differences between these two spaces, and uses quasi-ethnographic data (from his/her own experiences) to make these claims.

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Unquestionably this work is relevant, for two different reasons.  First is that there is clearly a recent proliferation of the kind of spaces that the author describes, occurring globally, and tied to certain forms of urban experience, educational and political missions and technological infrastructures.  The two the author mentions (hacklabs and hackerspaces) are by no means the only such spaces, which could be classified in many different ways, but they are emblematic and common. Second, there is, within the various scholarly fields that make IT an object of study, an increasing recognition of and interest in the role that social locations, political contexts and cultural histories play in the use, abuse, appropriation or rejection of new media technologies. This is arguably the right reason to articulate a difference between hacklabs and hackerspaces, but the author does not do so explicitly, perhaps because such an observation appears obvious to people involved in these spaces.   The problem, however, lies with the content of this distinction, not the simple fact that it represents different locations, contexts or histories.

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?

I would not really characterize the piece as intellectually interesting.  The main argument in this version is simply that there is a difference between hacklabs and hackerspaces, and that this difference relates to certain genealogical connections, political affiliations, and aesthetic styles.  Even if the characterization of these differences were accurate (and there are reasons to questions this, see #3 below), the author makes no claims about anything on the basis of this distinction. There is an implicit sense that hacklabs are the more authentic, socially just, and cooler of the two, perhaps meaning that they are the less likely of the two to be co-opted into the machinery of capitalism; and by contrast, there is an implicit indictment of hackerspaces as enmeshed in a web of capital, as toeing the line of a certain reformism (instead of a radicalism or revolutionary ethic), as more tolerant of sexism and discrimination, and so on.  However, these implications are not made explicit–and to do so would just mire the piece in debates about the power of (for instance) anarchist vs. liberal political priniciples, rather than illuminating what actually takes place in these new spaces.

The promising part of the article is the attempt to distiguish how technologies and hacking actually occur in these two different spaces. The author uses the example of how a project called “burnstation” is implemented differently in these different spaces and gestures towards
differences in how the two spaces deal with sexism, disability and accessibility.  They are anecdotes–perhaps diagnostic anecdotes–but
ultimately they do not give a rich picture of why these differences might exist, or what their effects are on the people involved in either case.

It is my sense, from a periodic and distant relationship to many such spaces in Europe and America, that there is really far more hybridity than clear difference–I would be much more likely to believe that there is a spectrum of these spaces–from the most authentic autonomist-derived urban hacklabs of Barcelona and Budapest to the most debased venture-capital-driven hackspaces of silicon valley.  But even if there is a spectrum, we would need better and clearer ways of conceptually distinguishing between the practices and goals that occur in these spaces–both from an analytic standpoint and from the standpoint of those who would create or encourage them.

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

The main problem is that tha author wants to make an essentially normative distinction based on essentially anectodal descriptive claims.
The normative distinction is not necessarily bad: but it is not clear from this article why we should make such a distinction (given any suitably appropriate case), nor how.  There is no indication of whether the author intends the distinction (to use the anthropological idiom)
emically or etically; that is, is it a scholarly distinction based on either inductive comparison or conceptual analysis or is it an empirical
distinction that members of diverse spaces themselves make?   It seems clear from the piece itself that making the latter claim would be very difficult–there doesn’t seem to be a uniform sense that this distinction is itself the most important.  Rather, there is clearly a sense of difference and distinction occuring among actors in these various spaces, but it is not primarily directed at what the space is called.  Enumerating the kinds of practices that occur in these spaces, or the kinds of people who start and run then, might be more illuminating than arguing a semantic difference.

A useful theoretical tool might be the work of David Stark in *The Sense of Dissonance*, which is based on the work of french conventionalists Thevenot and Boltanski.  There do indeed seem to be multiple orders of worth in these spaces (the political, the commercial, the educational, etc) and analysing the differences in a more structured way might at least give content to the distinction hackerspace/hacklab in a way that goes beyond the concern with labels.

4. Is the article well written?

The article is very well written, detailed, and evocative.  It does not suffer from a lack of clarity or any problems of communicating the main ideas.

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

I think the article should be re-written, and should emphasize more the kinds of practices and experiences that occur in either/or both/and
hackerspaces and hacklabs, in order to make a more solid claim about what constitutes the *reason* to make the distinction that the author
currently thinks is captured by the semantic difference.  It might not be terribly difficult to do this with the existing text, but would content to the distinction hackerspace/hacklab require a different framing of the problem.