Established in the ’80s by the left-wing Greater London Council. Democratic, community-based technology spaces. Some lessons for Hackspaces, Makerspaces, etc, in the current day.
Technology Networks were community-based prototyping workshops supported by the Greater London Council from 1983 until 1986. They emerged out of a movement for socially useful production.
Amongst GLEB’s first acts was the creation of Technology Networks. These community-based workshops shared machine tools, access to technical advice, and prototyping services, and were open for anyone to develop socially useful products. GLEB’s aim was to bring together the “untapped skill, creativity and sheer enthusiasm” in local communities with the “reservoir of scientific and innovation knowledge” in London’s polytechnics (Greater London Enterprise Board 1984a, 9-10). In keeping with the political ideals underpinning the initiative, representatives from trade unions, community groups, and higher education institutes oversaw workshop management.
Technology Network participants developed various prototypes and initiatives; including, electric bicycles, small-scale wind turbines, energy conservation services, disability devices, re-manufactured products, children’s play equipment, community computer networks, and a women’s IT co-operative. Prototype designs were registered in an open access product bank freely available to others in the community; and innovative products and services were linked to GLEB programmes for creating co-operative enterprises. Similar workshops were created in other Left-controlled cities in the UK
Technology Networks were an attempt to recast innovation and inscribe it with a radical vision for society.
Ideas and enthusiasm for these workshops drew upon a wider movement for socially useful production, which in turn drew together strands of thought and activism from broader social movements, old and new. These included, workplace democracy and alternative industrial plans, community development activism, left environmentalist networks, radical scientists and alternative technologists, and, to a lesser degree, feminism. Workshops were conceived in movement terms of providing humancentred, skill-enhancing machine tools; developing socially useful products; and democratising design and production.
Technology Networks, reflecting the wider movement for socially useful production, contained tensions in terms of social purpose, cultures of knowledge production, and political economy.
The social tension was between spaces for product-oriented design activity, and spaces for network-oriented social mobilisation.
The cultural tension was between professional and codified technical knowledge and the tacit knowledge and experiential expertise of community participants.
And tensions in political economy – between socialism-in-one-space and the neo-liberal turn nationally and internationally – meant insufficient (public) investment was available to develop initiatives into significant economic activity, and especially without transforming the initiative into capitalist form.
A key lesson from this history is that radical aspirations invested in workshops, such as democratising technology, will need to connect to wider social mobilisations capable of bringing about reinforcing political, economic and institutional change.
1.1. In my garden
Notes that link to this note (AKA backlinks).