Cover page

Title page

Copyright page

Preface

When I first heard about hackerspaces, and became interested in them as a research topic, I knew that I had to get one of my colleagues involved. Dave Conz had written his PhD on the amateur technologies of biodiesel, and in the process had become an expert in the technique. If anyone was a hacker and maker – if anyone had a natural affinity with the art and craft of making stuff work – it was Dave. In 2012, funded by the research centre that employed us (the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University), Dave and I teamed up to carry out a research project on hackerspaces across the US.

Dave and I carried out the research and collected the data together, but I am writing this alone. Dave died in 2013, suddenly and very tragically. He was – well, so many things, but amongst them a passionate researcher, thoughtful analyst, and maker par excellence. His enthusiasm for all things making leave their trace on the work that we did together and the arguments in this book. I hope that it can serve as a celebration of him and some of the things he cared about.

Acknowledgements

This book is for Dave. It goes without saying that his thinking, practices and research work have immeasurably influenced my writing.

I am extremely grateful to all the hackers, makers, tinkers and community builders who talked to us about their hacker and makerspaces and what they did there. All of our interviewees were generous with their time and with their spaces, allowing us to ask all kinds of impertinent or ignorant questions and to poke around in dark cupboards and forgotten shelves. This work couldn't exist without that generosity. Similarly, the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University provided the funding for Dave and me to visit hackerspaces around the US. I'd like to thank the Center, and particularly Dave Guston and Cynthia Selin, for their support.

Since starting this project I have switched continents and jobs and lost a fantastic, knowledgeable collaborator. I therefore owe a debt of thanks that is even larger than usual to all those who have discussed hacking and making with me or who have commented on my writing, including the anonymous reviewers provided by Polity, whose comments were instrumental in improving the book at all its stages. David Gauntlett, Andrew Schrock and Aubrey Wigner were thorough readers whose opinions were extremely important to me. More generally, I have learned much from the growing body of scholarship on hacking and making, including work by Jeffrey Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell, Carl DiSalvo, Silvia Lindtner, Daniela Rosner, Johan Söderberg and many others. Ana Delgado, Denisa Kera, Martin Malthe Borch, Morgan Meyer, Christo Sims, Karin Tybjerg and Louise Whiteley have all been important interlocutors as I have thought about hacking and making. Talks at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at UC Berkeley, the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University, and the Centre for Science Studies at Aarhus University all provided me with opportunities to test out my arguments with audiences of scholars, hackers and makers. Another useful audience was comprised of members of my extended family, who read some early text and provided comments, grammatical corrections, and strong discouragement from overusing the word ‘affordance’. Finally, I'd like to thank Raffael Himmelsbach for reminding me that, while the hacker spirit of Do! Plan! Make! is valuable, so at times are other, quieter, ways of being.

1
Introduction
There Are a Number of Places This Book Could Begin

There are a number of places this book could begin.

It might start with me, in my kitchen, stirring a jar of sourdough starter. Sourdough is a thick batter-like home for wild yeasts that, when at room temperature and in its active growth phase, foams happily and releases a rich, hoppy smell. For millennia it's been used to bake bread that has a slightly sour tang – hence, sourdough – and which generally requires longer to rise, but which is delicious and, by some accounts, better for you than breads made with instant yeast. I hadn't heard any of this stuff before a year or so ago, but today I am stirring my own culture, feeding it with flour and water and setting it on the kitchen counter to let the microbes grow and develop. Tomorrow I'll mix some of the starter with more flour and water to begin making bread dough, kneading it for 15 minutes or so before leaving it overnight to rise.

Or it could start in a hackerspace – any hackerspace, it doesn't much matter which one. It might be tiny, like one student-run hackerspace in Boston I visited, which was squeezed into a few square metres in a basement of a university building. The walls are filled to bursting with whiteboards, piles of humming servers, books, notices and posters, and shelves of wires and plugs and tools and spare computer parts. There's also what appears to be a small flying machine, labelled ‘McFly’. In the centre of the room, student hackers sit around tables or on a battered sofa, talking in groups, focusing intensely on laptop screens, or plugging, welding and building. The air, in the manner of air in densely populated basement rooms the world over, has a thick, moist fug to it.

Or we might be in a much larger space – a TechShop, or the 40,000 square foot ex-factory makerspace that is just down the road from the students in Boston. These kinds of spaces might feel emptier: they're probably less crowded, and tools and materials are balanced less precariously. But they're still full of stuff, from laser cutters to 3D printers and CNC routers and, importantly, the finished or half-finished projects these tools are being used to build. You can see anything from beer brewing systems to exquisitely fine jewellery and hacked bikes with glitterballs attached to them. There's more space, so there are more comfy chairs, plus a library of sofas, armchairs and bookshelves in the centre.

But we might also begin in the media, with the UK's Guardian newspaper launching its ‘Do Something’ campaign in early 2014. This was, as the paper wrote in its ‘Do Something Manifesto’, an invitation to ‘try something new’. Through a monthly magazine, journalists present stories and discussion about easily accessible and low-cost opportunities for readers to try something different. Articles give advice on everything from places to learn how to upholster your furniture to unusual ideas for a date or whether it's possible to learn Russian in a day; the tone is chatty and friendly, with reader feedback and sections like ‘The Do Something Challenge’ and Beginner's Guides. The campaign, the Manifesto explains, is motivated by the belief that the experience of novelty adds value to people's lives. Whether it's trying out new things, meeting new people or learning something different, living life such that you accrue new memories and new experiences means that you will live more intensely. If you ‘broaden your horizons, learn new skills, or implement more beneficial habits’, they suggest, your life will be more satisfying (though also perhaps harder work: the first magazine contains a list of tips on how to meet your goals and stay motivated).

This book is about the connections between these things. More specifically, it's about hackerspaces, and the hacking and making activities that go on within them, and their connection to broader developments in society. Culturing sourdough; hacking together software or bike-glitterball hybrids; embarking on a lifestyle of active and engaged leisure: these things look quite different on the surface. I want to argue, however, that they share some central commonalities. Something similar is going on when one chooses to join a hackerspace, gets involved in crafting, or dabbles in traditional skills like sourdough baking. Taken together, these kinds of activities can tell us something about the kinds of societies we live in, and the kinds of people we are asked to be.

The rise of hacking and making

Hackerspaces and the maker movement are a growing trend. Though many people haven't heard of them, as of the start of 2016, there were 1,233 active hackerspaces around the world, and more than 500 spaces in development. This is a global movement: these spaces are anywhere from Surprise, Arizona to Yangon, Myanmar.1 They can be anything from tiny rented garages to vast former factories or shopfront locations, situated anywhere from inner cities to residential suburban tracts. They may be private members' clubs or open to anyone, anytime. They may be literally filled to the ceiling with stuff – electronics supplies, wood, books, defunct tools, test tubes and fume hoods – or almost empty apart from a couple of tables and chairs.

What they share is that they are physical spaces, operated collectively, where members can use equipment they might not be able to afford, or have space for, by themselves.2 This equipment can be anything from 3D printers to industrial sewing machines or server systems. It is, essentially, anything that hackers and makers need to help them hack and make. Hacker and makerspaces therefore bring together people who are interested in hacking and making, and offer them support in doing so. The result, the stuff that is hacked and made, is pretty diverse. Hacker and makerspaces can help you learn to code, give you access to the tools you need to make your own furniture, provide lessons in electronics, or give you space to do some table-top genetic engineering. British freedom of information campaigner Heather Brookes has called hackerspaces the ‘digital-age equivalent of English Enlightenment coffee houses’,3 which suggests something rather intellectual and discursive: a place where ideas might be shared. Hacker and makerspaces house communities of people who, together, learn and share and make anything from apps to oscilloscopes.

For a long time hacking had strictly negative connotations. Even now, the term can make us think of the activities of Anonymous, the loosely organized collective which has taken down the websites of PayPal and Visa and agitated for social justice,4 or of solitary, bearded geeks with poor social skills.5 President Barack Obama at one stage dismissed ex-NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden as a ‘29 year old hacker’.6 Hacking as a criminal activity – as breaking and entering on computers, networks and servers – remains the top entry in the Urban Dictionary's definition of the term.7 This understanding of hacking is as something that is strictly digital. It's generally illicit, referring to practices known as cracking, or black-hat hacking, rather than white-hat hacking, which is ‘ethical’ hacking that harmlessly tests the resilience of particular networks.8

But the idea of hacking, and, relatedly, that of making, is currently being rediscovered as something positive, exciting and useful. As far back as 2005, the American Dialect Society announced that ‘lifehack’ was one of its words of the year (definition: ‘to make one's day-to-day behaviors or activities more efficient’9). Today the website Lifehacker continues to offer tips and tricks to help deal with everyday life, from how to effectively de-seed a pomegranate to a guide to making your own keyboard. IKEA hacking involves the re-purposing of IKEA products into anything from vibrators to personalized kitchen cabinets.10 A 2014 book frames urban exploration as ‘place hacking’.11 Computing also remains an important context for hacking. Take, for instance, the growth of hackathons, software hacking marathons which focus on contributing to a particular technology, or on a social issue or problem.12 In the UK, a ‘National Health Service Hack Day’ is held several times a year, to help develop better healthcare technologies.13 The trend to use technology to hack social problems14 has reached such a pitch that there's now an annual ‘Stupid Hackathon’ satirizing it, at which participants attempt to develop projects with ‘no value whatsoever’.15

Hacking has even entered the heart of the establishment. The Royal Institution of Great Britain's Christmas Lectures have been running since 1825 and were started by Michael Faraday. Presented in the Institution's lecture theatre, with its high-banked round of seats, wooden panelling, and stage from which Faraday himself once spoke, the annual lecture series aims to provide engaging science education to young people. Among others, Nobel Prize winners have given past lectures. It's a sign of the reinvention of hacking, then, that in 2014 the lectures took as their focus ‘how to hack your home’. Over the course of three lectures, Professor Danielle George (an engineer, and the sixth woman in the history of the Christmas Lectures to present them) showed viewers how to unpick and reconfigure everyday household devices, from light bulbs to motors. As the Royal Institution's press release proclaimed, Professor George would:

take three great British inventions – a light bulb, a telephone and a motor – and demonstrate how viewers can adapt, transform and ‘hack’ them to do extraordinary things. This is tinkering for [the] 21st century. Danielle, who grew up in Newcastle, said: ‘[…] I want young people to realise that they have the power to change the world from their bedroom, kitchen table or garden shed. If we all take control of the technology around us and think creatively, then solving some of the world's greatest challenges is only a small step away’.16

Hacking seems to be becoming mainstream. It's something you can do to household devices – phones and light bulbs – as a kind of twenty-first-century update of the tinkering your grandparents might have done in their garage. But it's also about ‘changing the world’ through invention and creativity, and taking control of the technologies that surround you. Professor George isn't thinking small: solutions to the world's greatest challenges, she says, can come about from young people hacking at their kitchen tables.

New tools and technologies

The rise of hacking and making is often presented as related to the rise of new kinds of technology. 3D printers, for instance, are increasingly accessible as consumer products, and allow you to print out digital files as physical objects in plastic or other materials (including sugar icing and pancake batter).17 Some models are well under $1,000, and are evoking visions of a world where the stuff around us, from coffee makers to children's toys or the widgets that hold our furniture together, can be printed at home whenever we want.18 3D scanners, laser cutters (which use a computer-guided laser to cut materials), CNC mills (another cutting tool), and the software to support all of these are similarly dropping in price, or are available as open-source software or blueprints. This increasing accessibility, coupled with digital networks that can connect makers and hackers across the world, is prompting excitement about a new wave of making that could change both business and everyday life. The McKinsey Global Institute discussed new fabrication technologies in a 2012 report on ‘manufacturing the future’,19 arguing that these technologies could revitalize manufacturing industries around the world. In 2008 the Californian think tank Institute for the Future suggested that all organizations, big or small, need to take the implications of the move towards making into account. This might mean, for instance, ensuring that your products or services are ‘authentic’: as ‘cyberspace becomes a layer on top of the physical world’, the report notes, ‘a newfound appreciation emerges for authentic experiences, interactions, and products’.20

Chris Anderson's 2012 book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution encapsulates many of these arguments. Anderson is a tech journalist and entrepreneur, and his book heralds in no uncertain terms the coming of a ‘new industrial revolution’ through the activities of what he calls the ‘Maker Movement’. This revolution, he argues, will emerge as the power of the web – the digital – is applied to the material world: the physical products and stuff that surround us. Because ‘making things has gone digital’,21 everything that the web has enabled – new forms of collaboration, easy sharing of designs, readily available desktop tools – can now be used to support physical production and entrepreneurial activities connected to such production. It's now easier than ever to make a product: anyone, Anderson suggests, can learn to use desktop digital tools to design a physical object, prototype it through 3D printing or other making tools, share and improve the design through online collaboration, and outsource larger-scale production to what he refers to, somewhat coyly, as ‘low-cost labour centres’ such as China.22 Anderson's vision is of making as enabling new forms of business and entrepreneurship, helping to develop an economy in which many small-scale ‘industrial artisans’ earn their living through their passions. He illustrates this vision with existing success stories, such as the credit card processing solution Square, MakerBot Industries (the producers of low-cost consumer 3D printers), and his own company, 3D Robotics. Neil Gershenfeld of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms similarly believes that the advent of ‘personal fabrication’ technologies can empower people around the world. His book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop, describes how bits (the digital) can be used to control atoms (the physical) so as to support entrepreneurship as well as to enable individuals to make the one-off, customizable technologies that they want in their lives (one example that he gives being a portable, private space for screaming, for use in public places).

Making, hacking and new fabrication technologies are not just prominent in policy reports and business books. They're also hitting the news. A widely reported 2013 story tells of how Californian Mick Ebeling, of Not Impossible Labs (a business which ‘believes in technology for the sake of humanity’),23 travelled to Sudan's Nuba Mountains to set up what he thinks is the world's first lab for printing prosthetic limbs and training local people to print, assemble and customize them. Inspired by a news story about a boy who had lost both arms in a bomb blast, Ebeling had mobilized an extensive community of tech businesses, scientists and inventors to crowdsource the design for the prosthetics. With support from industries such as Intel, Ebeling was able to set up the lab in South Sudan and to start printing and fitting prosthetic arms. By the time the story hit the media, the lab was printing a prosthetic a week,24 and the South Sudanese boy, Daniel, who'd inspired the project had received a prosthetic arm and was able to feed himself for the first time in two years. All the designs, Ebeling promised, would be open-source and easily available. Anyone could access and then tweak, develop or customize them. Prosthetic limbs could be printed anywhere in the world, by anyone.

3D printers have also been used to produce more controversial devices. Cody R. Wilson, a University of Texas law student and entrepreneur, was also in the news in 2013: his company was attempting to design, and make freely available, plans for a 3D printable gun. There is now a large community of ‘digital gunsmiths’ devoted to developing printable, fully operational guns,25 with multiple designs available, demonstration videos, and at least one arrest connected to ownership of 3D printed guns. The developments, Wired Magazine wrote, have ‘left legislators and regulators in the dust’. There are plenty of other examples of makers and hackers becoming, however briefly, high-profile heroes or villains. In 2015 teenage maker Ahmed Mohamed shot to prominence when he was suspended from his Texas high school, and then arrested by police, after bringing a homemade digital clock to school: one of his teachers had thought it was a bomb.26 The resulting social media furore included tweets of support for Mohamed from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google, and other Silicon Valley stars.27 Despite writing off Edward Snowden as a mere hacker, President Obama has publicly driven forward an emphasis on making into US policy: 2014 saw the inauguration of a ‘Nation of Makers’ initiative and 2015 a national Week of Making.28 The ‘rise of the Maker Movement’, a fact sheet on these initiatives notes, ‘is a huge opportunity for the United States. […] the democratization of the tools needed to design and prototype physical products can support entrepreneurship and a renaissance of American manufacturing’. Writing in early 2016, it seems that hardly a month goes by without another news story publicizing, celebrating or problematizing new hacker or makerspaces and the projects that go on within them.29

Experiencing hackerspaces

Sometimes this rhetoric, this intense excitement about the potential of making and hacking, can seem rather divorced from what actually goes on in hackerspaces. The times that I've come across 3D printers, in hackerspaces or elsewhere, they have almost exclusively been used to print what we might term cheap plastic crap: tchotchkes, slightly wonky though theoretically useful household organizers such as soap dispensers or pencil boxes, miniature figurines (Thingiverse, one of the sites that hosts ready-to-print open-source designs, has a whole collection called ‘Gnomes’). People tell me the resolution – the fineness of the plastic ‘lines’ that are printed out – is improving in recent models. In 2014 I saw a shopfront display of the MakerBot Replicator-2, described by its manufacturer as the ‘easiest, fastest, and most affordable tool for making professional quality models’.30 It was surrounded, as an illustration of its capacities, by small plastic elephants and what I can only describe as decorative spiral shapes.

Despite any gaps between public discussion of the potential of hacking and making and what is actually being developed, it is clear that, for whatever reason, hacking is having a moment. Governments celebrate it, the media cover it – and, most importantly, hacker and makerspaces are proliferating. The number of hackerspaces has gone from around 30 worldwide in 2007 to almost 500 in 2011 and some 1,233 active spaces in 2016.31 Something is happening here, something that is driving people to set up and participate in these kinds of spaces, and that is convincing businesses, policy makers and commentators to get excited about them. Professor George's ‘Hack your Home’ lecture series at the Royal Institution and Obama's ‘Nation of Makers’ initiative both illustrate that policy makers and educators are putting their money where their mouths are, and supporting hacking and making in financial and practical ways. Hacking, it seems, resonates with contemporary society in some important way. The ideas and practices that circulate within hacker and makerspaces are being picked up and magnified by the media, government and business because they are viewed as useful and timely – because, we might speculate, they somehow represent the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time.

To understand what a hackerspace is, nothing comes close to the experience of stepping into one, and being immersed in its noises, smells, textures and colours. Hackerspaces are, above all, physical spaces in which people spend time, either alone or (more often) with other people. As important as digital connectivity might be to the maker movement, online engagement is not what is seen as central to participation in a hacker or makerspace. This is hacker and author John Baichtal describing an (imaginary) visit to a hackerspace:

You step through the doorway and into a noisy room full of people and equipment. Everywhere you look there are men and women doing interesting things. At one table, a couple of guys are hunched over a 3D printer that is outputting in plastic, layer by layer. As you watch, a sprocket begins to take form on the printer's build platform. In the wood shop a woman is milling hardwood for a suite of custom furniture she's designing, peering through her safety goggles at a table leg spinning in a lathe. Other members are playing around with a CNC machine, a computer-controlled milling machine that grinds away at a block of wood or metal, while others are soldering electronic components together. Still more members are collaborating on some project or another, drawing up schematics on a white board.

The collaboration is the aspect of the space that strikes you the most. People are working and talking together. They're sharing information, learning about new things, asking questions, and discussing mutual areas of interest. They're building projects to fill a practical need or simply for the love of it.

This is a hackerspace.32

Baichtal describes some of the equipment hackerspaces often feature (3D printers, lathes, CNC routers, soldering stations) as well as the kind of projects people may be working on. But above all he emphasizes the social nature of the space. Hackers often work together on projects, and even when they don't, collaboration is still key: people share knowledge, help out if someone is stuck on a particularly tricky problem, ask what others are working on, or simply chat as they work. As Baichtal hints, projects can be a combination of the practical, the entrepreneurial and the purely pleasurable. One person may be building custom furniture as part of their business, while another hacks glitterball-bikes or open-source software simply because they can and want to.

Nothing replicates the experience of being in a hackerspace. But for some kind of digital approximation, one can spend time at hackerspaces.org, which operates as the key networking and knowledge-sharing tool for hackerspaces around the world. Its wiki, in particular, is both an important source of knowledge concerning the logistics and spirit of hackerspaces and itself mirrors the way in which many hacker and makerspaces are run. (It also includes a list of hackerspaces worldwide, so you can easily find out if there's a space near you and check out the hackerspace experience for yourself.) A quick browse through the site gives some sense of how this burgeoning movement is organized.

First, the site structure is bottom-up. There's no one in particular coordinating everything: it's not one person's pet project, and there's no leadership structure or hierarchy. The meat of hackerspaces.org is run as a wiki, so anyone can log in and contribute, and different people in the community take on different roles. (On the page that describes these roles, there's a plea relating to the Flickr group associated with the site: ‘I have no clue who's behind that…would the real maintainer please stand up?’33). This openess and lack of fixed hierarchies is typical of hackerspaces generally. Many hackerspaces describe their organization as oriented around consensus, bottom-up decision making, and what gets called ‘do-ocracy’: the person who does something (rather than just talking or complaining about it) is right.

Second, this is a global movement. Hackerspaces.org maintains a map of hackerspace locations,34 and though there are hot spots in North America and Europe, there are also hackerspaces registered in Indonesia, India, Iran and Ivory Coast (just to pick countries starting with an I). Historically, hackerspaces were a European phenomenon that were brought to the USA in the mid-2000s. They exploded in number towards the end of that decade (John Baichtal says that more than 500 were started over a period of three years35), and are now spreading around the world.36 As previously noted, in early 2016 there are at least 1,233 active spaces, with over 500 more planned.37

Third, this is a reflective community. The hackerspaces.org wiki provides resources on anything and everything you might want to know about hackerspaces, including how you might get one started yourself. There's a set of ‘design patterns’ which can be applied to your nascent hackerspace organization, advice on what hardware you might want to invest in and what software can be used to keep track of membership dues, and a list of the key ways that hackerspaces and hackers communicate (from Internet Relay Chat – IRC – channels to the different email discussion lists that hackerspaces.org runs). There's also a section on ‘Theory’, which links to discussions on the nature and purposes of hackerspaces. Hackers and makers like to document what they're doing, and they're happy to share the knowledge they develop through their activities. Hacking isn't about being secretive, particularly not when it comes to sharing the knowledge that can help the maker movement grow.

Fourth, this is a diverse movement. Although there are some norms in how hackerspaces are organized and run (encapsulated by the design patterns and advice on funding structures), many of the spaces that are listed do not conform to these. In practice, all kinds of groups, with all kinds of affiliations, fly under the hackerspace banner. One hackerspace in Brazil, LabHacker Câmara dos Deputados, is located in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, and its Facebook page says that it is a government organization. Other spaces – like Noisebridge, in San Francisco, one of the earliest US hackerspaces – emphasize their counter-cultural and critical status. BioCurious, in California's Bay Area, focuses on DIY biotechnology. Some spaces double up as co-working offices, or as Fab Labs (fabrication laboratories), or are situated in libraries or museums. Hackerspaces might choose to call themselves makerspaces, community labs, factories or playgrounds. Just as is the case for the maker movement generally, the hackerspace label draws different places and organizations together. Diverse people, groups and practices are being caught up in this emerging network of communities.

Finally, these are spaces that do some pretty cool stuff. Photos on the hackerspaces.org wiki show darkened rooms filled with sofas and coloured lights, computer caves decorated with paper stars, and people soldering, welding, typing and just hanging out. The projects page lists everything from agricultural robots to a hackerspace-run global space programme and a Tardis console as shared projects currently under development. If nothing else, this whets your curiosity – but it also conveys a sense of excitement, of thinking big. If hackerspaces are going to send people to the stars (whether via a spacecraft or Dr Who's Tardis), then what couldn't they do?

Where the book is going

Hackerspaces are interesting places to visit, and to study. They're clearly a growing phenomenon. As of yet, however, we don't know much about precisely how they operate or how and why people participate in them. The research on which this book is based took this as its starting point. Why do people get involved in these spaces? How are they organized? In 2012, my colleague Dave and I visited hacker and makerspaces around the US to ask these kinds of questions, and the chapters that follow will give you an idea of the answers that we were given. Beyond this, however, hacking and making are interesting because they can tell us something about the ways in which particular societies are organized. It's not a coincidence that there's so much excitement about hacking and the maker movement at the moment, or that these developments are being featured in the media and supported by government funding. The starting point for this book is that by exploring hacker and makerspaces we can get some insight into what it means to be a citizen of contemporary North American and European societies. Understanding the rise of hacking and making can tell us something about why I might find myself culturing sourdough, why active leisure is promoted as a positive choice, and even what our governments expect of us as citizens.

The rest of this book takes hackerspaces, and hacking and making, as a starting point for thinking about these wider trends and developments. The next chapter discusses these trends, from the rise of crafting to the philosophy behind DIY. There's been a concerted move, I suggest, towards the kinds of active leisure exemplified by the Guardian's ‘Do Something’ campaign, and it's important that we view hacking and making within this wider context. Chapter 3 starts to focus more specifically on hacker and makerspaces by telling some of the histories of hacking. These include the stories that are told about the history of computer hacking: this is part of the background to the rise of hackerspaces, and software hacking (whether black- or white-hat) forms part of the suite of activities hosted by hackerspaces. But overall this won't be a major theme, largely because this is a version of hacking that has been explicitly rejected by many of the people who run and participate in hackerspaces. Cracking, we were told, is the antithesis of genuine hacking. It's a destructive travesty of a creative, productive process. In telling the history of hacker and makerspaces it's therefore just as important to talk about DIY bio, MAKE magazine and the European counter-culture as MIT's Tech Model Railway Club or phreaking (for instance).

From chapter 4 onwards I dive directly into hacker and makerspaces and the conversations we had within them. Chapter 4 asks how hackerspaces work, and examines the practicalities of how these spaces are initiated, run and imagined. Chapter 5 explores the kinds of practices that go on within them by discussing the idea of the ‘hacker spirit’, a composite of the characteristics that hackers and makers told us defined their activities. Chapter 6 asks how hacker and makerspaces really work, and finds that the answer is community. For many of those that we spoke to, the single defining feature of their hacker or makerspace was its unique sense of community. This, we were told, was what kept their space both operational and distinct from the world around them. Hacker and makerspaces offered an experience of committed, messy, mutualistic community, focused on doing and making things, that was not readily found elsewhere.

From chapter 7 I start to widen the lens again and to reflect on how hackerspaces and the maker movement relate to, and reflect, wider trends and developments. This involves writing with more critical distance from the often infectious enthusiasm of hackers and makers. Chapter 7, for instance, looks at the dark side of community by discussing how some hacker and makerspaces have excluded particular individuals or groups. Hacking's emphasis on ‘do-ocracy’ can, I suggest, result in rendering invisible the structural inequalities that make it easier for some to make and hack than others. Chapters 8 and 9 turn the focus onto the projects that are developed in hacker and makerspaces. A good project is a ‘cool project’, and I look at what it is that makes a project cool, from its novelty to whether it gives you ‘bragging rights’. I also start to consider more explicitly the relation between hacking as a counter-cultural, subversive activity and the ways in which it is entering the mainstream and becoming commodified. Chapter 10 returns to the wider context of DIY, craft and sourdough baking to ask whether the maker movement is actually anything new. This chapter looks at some of the fancy footwork that is going on in defining the movement and the nature of hacking and making: they are simultaneously revolutionary and ancient; open and accessible and cloistered and elite; and counter-cultural and business-oriented. The final chapter continues this focus on tensions and faultlines that are emerging within hacking and making. In drawing together the arguments of the book I outline some of the key questions that are emerging in terms of what hacking is, who it is for, and what it will do in the world. I also return to the central question that animates the book as a whole: why are hacking and making viewed as so timely, so necessary to this particular socioeconomic moment? I argue that these activities do indeed capture something of the spirit of our times – but not for the reasons that many public commentators are suggesting.

The reader will find more details about the research that is the basis for these arguments in chapter 3, as well as a discussion of the different activities and terms that are being drawn together as the ‘maker movement’. In brief, this tells you that the hackers and makers we spoke to tended to use ‘hacking’ and ‘making’, and ‘hackerspace’ and ‘makerspace’, synonymously. You will probably have noticed that I do the same. Hacking and making is extremely diverse, and some of the tensions that I discuss towards the end of the book do raise questions about the politics of terminology. But for the bulk of my discussion I follow the lead of those who welcomed us into their spaces, and told us about their practices, and use ‘hackerspace’ as a catch-all for the labs, spaces, places and playgrounds that support hacking and making.

Notes