Critical Making in Action :: DIY Citizenship Conference:

November 11-14, 2010

I participated in the DIY Citizenship Conference held at the University of Toronto in November. Organized by UT Professors Megan Boler and Matthew Ratto, the conference featured presentations and panels on expected topics such as: citizen journalism, citizen science, and youth and media, but it also included new perspectives on issues such DIY health, fan-based civic platforms, and the citizen factory.

Two aspects of the conference I especially appreciated: 1) the attention to gender as an ongoing SOCIAL barrier to DIY participation, and 2) the critical making hackspace.

A talk by Rosa Reitsamer (Universitat Salzburg) titled, “Challenging the ‘anyone can do it’: DIY Feminist Citizenship and Mechanisms of Inclusion and Exclusion” cogently examined the way that gender continues to structure participation in maker projects in subtle ways: by looking at the behaviors and interactions between girls and boys in DIY settings. Jennifer Jenson (York University) raised the issue as well in her excellent keynote address: “Raising the Bar on ‘Voice’ in a Troubled Community: Student Media Projects.” In this talk, Jennifer noted the difficulty in scaffolding media making experiences for youth whose media literacy is rudimentary. In particular she raised the issue of praising inadequate work (projects that had no story structure, for example) in the hopes of reinforcing the value of “process.” I appreciated her frank assertion that we need to raise the bar on our expectations of what “counts” as good work so as to avoid patronizing and misleading students about their media making skills.

The critical making hackspace included exhibits and demonstrations of projects such as the “Citizen-centric ID” created by Andrew Clement and his research team (U of Toronto). This device enables people to read the information stored on the magnetic strips of their plastic ID cards so that they can better monitor what information is shared with vendors when these cards are “swiped” during transactions and travels. As an example of a “counter-surveillance” device, this project is firmly built on a critical assessment of the kind of technologies WE NEED, but will never be developed by corporate R&D labs.

The conference was full of energy and open-sharing of ideas and projects. Video clips of conference events are available at the U of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs website.

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