12724 ED: What Makes a Maker?: Four Ways to Conceptualize Identity in Makerspaces
Organizer: Erica Halverson, Kimberly Sheridan
Presenters: Breanne Litts, Abigail Konopasky, Lisa Brahms
Discussant: Crystle Martin
In this panel we share findings from our work in the Learning in the Making Lab that focus on understanding identity in making and makerspaces. While Dale Dougherty – often called the father of the maker movement – asserts that everyone is a maker (2012), it is not clear that individuals and groups automatically take on identities of participation within the maker landscape. This is especially important given critiques about the white male dominance that is often asserted in public constructions of who gets to be a maker. We seek to understand when and how identities are constructed through participation in maker processes.
In earlier work, we have described how participating in art-making processes can support both individualistic and collectivistic conceptions of identity (Halverson, Lowenhaupt, Gibbons & Bass, 2009). Researchers who study identity development in art-making tend to conceive of “identity” as a property of an individual (e.g. Fleetwood, 2005; Wiley & Feiner, 2001; Worthman, 2002). However, in some communities, the collective group itself has a prominent role in both the process and the products of students’ art (Bing-Canar & Zerkel, 1998; Mayer, 2000). In more collectivist-oriented communities, groups (as opposed to individuals) often determine the topics of youth art and co-compose the products, taking over from one another based on availability, expertise, and interest. Halverson et al. (2009) provided evidence that adolescents use artistic production to explore collective identity development, specifically in rural communities that orient their young people toward community-oriented visions of identity.
Our research findings confirm and extend earlier observations around identity and participation in artistic production. First, we find that making affords a range of identity stances – artist, engineer, architect, and entrepreneur – all of which are equally viable within the makerspace. However, we also find that makerspaces construct and communicate desired identity stances through their public communications in ways that likely constrain who comes to see themselves as makers. So while making activities support a range of identities in practice, makerspaces seem to have a strong sense of ethos that constrains who can identify as a maker.
The question “what makes a maker” is a fascinating conversation to have in light of potential parallels with schooling. In studies of schooling and learning we never ask, “what makes a student?” and we rarely ask, “what makes a learner?” When we do, the inquiry is framed in terms of the sociocognitive habits of individuals or in terms of becoming a learner despite school (see, for example work by Nasir, Hand, & Taylor (2008) that explores identity and math practices outside the classroom). Understanding how young people become makers, what their identity kit looks like, and how identities are afforded and constrained in makerspaces has the potential to contribute to the conversation around competency-based learning across the contexts of young peoples’ lives.