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 Story of MIT-Fablab Norway: Community Embedding of Peer Production) image

Review A

Reviewer: Betty Jo Barrett

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

The authors have observed important themes in their work and then have not completely described what they comprehend. I think this often happens with this kind of intimate research. I wish the authors would deepen and sharpen their thoughts to increase further the relevance of this article. For example, there are clear examples of how the environment or the people involved in starting a lab have built in greater or lesser degree on the Fab Charter. The elements of the charter most highly emphasized combine with the local demands of audience and culture to shape a lab’s character as the authors point out. There is a tension between this individualized development and the standardization that provides some coherency among the labs.

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 serve up insights into an important set of events and cultural norms that both shaped these happenings and evolved through the interactions. The cultural norms described are part of the character of the fab lab network in many places and the consequences for people and communities are still arising. I do not believe they have missed pertinent literature although I would have enjoyed even more quotes from the people in the article.

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

Qualitative research as done in this article has a different pattern of validation. In this instance it is important to realize that there were two separate observations by separate researchers. This is a two sided issue since it does not appear that the researchers designed their research together but found important post hoc overlaps. When studying phenomena with such strong people and underlying drivers, initial research such as done in this article often offers insights and as the authors suggest can lead to further indepth study.

4. Is the article well written?

This is the area where I found the article most in need of revision. The dual authorship and combination of the findings needs more careful integration. Switching from author 1 to author2 was often confusing and awkward. My comments indicate a number of places where I would start a new section, write a more explanatory heading or add a sub heading. The most disturbing aspect of the article for me was a recurring feeling that there just needed to be a bit more clarity of the authors’ messages.

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

The graphics were not very powerful in terms of explanation and I would exclude them or make them a bit more focused.
More important than excision might be revision and some reordering of the paragraphs. Better more explanatory headings would also be important. Finally the conclusions section seems to have missed points that the authors highlighted earlier that would have increased the impact if they were repeated in the summary.

Review B

Reviewer: Austin Toombs & Shaowen Bardzell

This article presents the combined narrative account, from two authors’ separate ethnographies, of the creation and continued running of MIT-Fablab Norway. The authors present multiple, contradictory accounts of the origin of this fablab, one of the first fablabs to be created, as well as the origin of the word and concept behind “fablabs.” The authors introduce us to Haakon Karlsen Jr., founder of MIT-fablab Norway, and present his definition and preferred rhetorical positioning of fablabs, demonstrating how his position is exemplified in this particular fablab’s infrastructure. Karlsen strongly believes that fablabs are networks of individuals who want to share knowledge and learn. He focuses more on the social aspects of this community and these stories, and less on the technologies and tools used along the way. This position contrasts with that of Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and author of FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, who emphasizes the tools and technologies included in the fablabs as part of a larger goal to “bring information technology development to the masses.” This narrative account, and exploration of these positional tensions, helps demonstrate how this fablab is “socially shaped” and is “a product of a particular time and place” and “charismatic lead character.”

The authors claim that this fablab has had very little written about it academically, despite being one of the first fablabs. This article contributes to the growing body of research on fablabs, as well as the broader research on maker cultures, by presenting this narrative as a snapshot in time of MIT-Fablab Norway while attempting to record the multiple historical accounts of its creation. They position these accounts as a way to fill our current knowledge gap of this fablab’s creation, and as a way to ground future theory about the creation of this lab and similar labs for “Design Research and Science and Technology Studies.” The authors also claim to discuss how this fablab, through Karlsen, attempts to reproduce its culture.

Overall this article is very well written and successfully contributes to the growing literature on fablabs and maker culture. The historical, ethnographic account of the creation and continued existence and use of MIT-Fablab Norway as an exemplary fablab is helpful as a grounding point for future research on fablabs as micro-communities with clear benefits to the communities in which they are situated. This work is also helpful in establishing the importance of the many contextual elements that underlie and support these and similar communities, from chance funding opportunities to the dependence on the personalities of the community leaders. The combined ethnographic approach in this work is methodologically appropriate for exploring the multiple versions of this fablab’s history and purpose, and is successfully employed here.

Having said that, I do have some reservations about the fit of this work in its current form to the special issue. There are several changes the authors could make to improve the contribution of this paper, outlined below:

My main concern has to do with the fact that there seems to be a disconnect between what the authors claim the contribution of the paper is and how such contribution is presented and articulated in the paper. The authors argue that the themes they curated through their ethnographic practices and analysis helps to speak to how the “Norway Fab Lab community…transmits its culture to others.” This reviewer took this to mean “How this Fab Lab community attempts to reproduce its cultural structures in other Fab Lab communities.” If that is indeed the case, it would be helpful for the authors to tease out this more clearly in the paper (i.e., foregrounding how the notion of cultural reproduction has been enacted and the results of such influence). As they are now, they are hard to discern in the paper and are not very clearly articulated. Additionally, this reviewer also wonders how ideologies, cultural histories, and people’s participation in the physical environments of fablabs fit into the authors’ arguments.

The article would benefit greatly from a more explicit introduction of the themes the authors discussed. It is currently hard to tell which sections or underlined phrases are part of the themes found through the ethnography or are simply part of the organizational structure of the article. It might also be helpful for all of the original themes found by each author—before they were condensed and combined as described on the top of page 4—to be briefly introduced. The authors might possibly find room to do this by reorganizing the section on sustainability, which currently feels out of place.

Also, while the presentation of the multiple creation stories of this fablab was executed well and was very interesting, it’s unclear whether the authors make any attempts to account for these multiple histories. It is understandable for there to be multiple versions for how this fablab was created, but is there really no way to know for sure whether Karlsen contacted MIT or MIT contacted Karlsen? What about how the concept of the fablabs came about in this case? The paper explicitly states that these stories are complicated, but it’s unclear whether sufficient effort was made to uncover what actually happened or the authors have decided that presenting multiple versions of the history help strengthening their core argument.

The disagreements between Karlsen and Gershenfeld about what fablabs are supposed to be like, as was alluded to in the discussion of the kitchen at MIT-Fablab Norway, seem interesting. This story left this reviewer asking several questions that the authors have a great opportunity to speak to. Were there any other, similar disagreements? How were these disagreements resolved? How much power does the Center for Bits and Atoms (and Gershenfeld for that matter) have over Karlsen’s fablab? The analysis could be strengthened if the authors could reflect and explicate these issues.

Lastly, the authors motivated the work for design research and STS, given the fact that research on fablabs has been few and far in between in these disciplines. This reviewer encourages the authors to consider research done in analogous fields on the topic, such as interaction design, human-computer interaction, and computer supported cooperative work among others. For example, researchers in these fields have situated fablabs as educational venues and as engaging educational opportunities for children, e.g. Blikstein and Krannich (2013), Posch et al. (2010), Posch and Fitzpatrick (2012), and Stager (2013). Others present fablabs and similar spaces as unique communities centered on building and making cultures, e.g. Rosner et al. (2014) and Tanenbaum et al. (2013). The full biblio info of some of these work is listed below.

Blikstein, P, and Krannich, D. 2013. The makers’ movement and FabLabs in education: experiences, technologies, and research. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 613-616.

Posch, I, and Fitzpatrick, G. 2012. First steps in the FabLab: experiences engaging children. In Proceedings of the 24th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference (OzCHI ’12), Vivienne Farrell, Graham Farrell, Caslon Chua, Weidong Huang, Raj Vasa, and Clinton Woodward (Eds.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 497-500.

Posch, I, Ogawa, H, Lindinger, C, Haring, R, and Hörtner, H. 2010. Introducing the FabLab as interactive exhibition space. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 254-257.

Rosner, D, Lindtner, S, Erickson, I, Forlano, L, Jackson, S, and Kolko, B. 2014. Making cultures: building things & building communities. In Proceedings of the companion publication of the 17th ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work & social computing (CSCW Companion ’14). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 113-116.

Stager, G. 2013. Papert’s prison fab lab: implications for the maker movement and education design. In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 487-490.

Tanenbaum, J, Williams, A, Desjardins, A, and Tanenbaum, K. 2013. Democratizing technology: pleasure, utility and expressiveness in DIY and maker practice. InProceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2603-2612.

In summary, I like the ethnographic thick records the authors presented, but the paper needs more work to make a cogent contribution for design research and STS—the two fields the authors articulated as their target audience. By being more concise and clear in the structure and analysis of the paper will improve the paper considerably.

Review C

Reviewer: maxigas

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes, since it follows the trajectory of one of the first Fab Labs established. Its critical edge comes from contrasting ethnographic data with the propaganda of key Fab Lab evangelists. Therefore, it contributes to sizing up the network according to its own criteria.

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 narrative is written in an intellectually engaging style which does not preclude nuance and rigour. Since the article does not claim to contribute explicitly to any specific theoretical debate, it does not face the problem of rooting its approach in the literature. On the contrary, the article is rooted in independently recorded ethnographic data which is carefully layed out.

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

Generally, no. Most statements are well founded. There is a particular problem where, although the authors point out that there were few visitors to the Fab Lab and most information about actual activity came through their conversations with its founder, it is still not clear from their account which specific activities they observed first hand. The reader wonders if there are any observable visitors to the Fab Lab and if yes, how they relate to its founder on the level of personal interaction, power relations, skill sharing, etc. In case the authors can only help to wonder about these questions too, they could make it even more explicit and clear in the text.

4. Is the article well written?

Yes, the text doesn’t have any important stylistic or language flaws. While the two voices does not always merge, I enjoyed the dialogue between them. However, there are many subtle conclusions which emerge from the empirical material and which are only articulated stylistically. These mainly deal with the discrepancy between discourse and practices, advertised visions and the particular reality of the Fab Lab in question. In case it would be possible to confront these contradictions explicitly in the conclusion, it would improve the article and its usefulness to the community.

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

Yes. Even though the article is conceptualised as a narrative, some of the repetitions (for instance sentences which proclaim that “this is Karlsen’s story”) could replaced by analytical remarks (for instance the American flag in front of the Fab Lab is deemed noteworthy to include in the account but we don’t learn more about its significance). As above, it would be great to include the voices (however muted) of other people which the ethnographers interviewed about the Fab Lab. The conclusions of sections 6 and 7 do not justify their lengths – maybe they could be merged into one another or other sections.