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Image: Cindy Kohtala

Maker Utopias

Research project A collaborative design research project investigating the visions and practices of makers and hackers, using speculative critical making to create tiny utopias.

Makers and hackers encourage others to actively participate in locally relevant and socially good design and production. Their narratives envision replacing empty consumerism with more empowering, creative, circular, democratic and community-based production in shared workshops, according to local needs, materials and resources.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

Start date: 2023-03-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Creative Studies, UmArts, Umeå Institute of Design

Research area


Project description

Maker culture is often seen as techno-utopian, and even the solarpunk visions and experiments by ecologically oriented maker communities are seen as too little in the face of climate crisis, hypercapitalism and the sixth mass extinction. In this project we explore the material, aesthetic, technical and conceptual dimensions of maker culture futures, through the creation of miniature dioramas.

This collaborative design research project uses speculative critical making to create miniature dioaramas of utopian maker spaces to re-examine field work in fab labs, makerspaces, hacklabs, hackerspaces and DIYbio labs in a new way, thinking through their narratives, visions, discourses, utopias and anti-utopias.

The project is a collaboration between the Umeå Institute of Design (UID) and the Department of Creative Studies, including a collaboration between workshops (Sloydlab and UID’s Interaction Lab), and an exploration of craft making and speculative design as research. The research partners are Cindy Kohtala, Professor of Design for Sustainability, UID; Rickard Åström, Research engineer, Interaction Lab, Umeå Institute of Design; Sara Rylander, Lecturer, Sloydlab, Department of Creative Studies; Magnus Wink, universitetsadjunkt, Sloydlab, Department of Creative Studies.

People have increasing opportunities to design and fabricate digital and physical artefacts themselves, using freely accessible digital tools, free and open source fabrication equipment, and platforms and infrastructures for creative peer production. These practices offer alternatives to conventional mass production and consumption and are termed e.g. prosumption or hacker and maker culture. At the same time, many grassroots groups in European cities engage hands-on with local sustainability issues and experiment with DIY solutions. In all this, the complexity and speed of digitalization combined with the complexity of sustainability related knowledge, and the urgency of the environmental crisis, render invisible and neglected many important issues. Futures become techno-utopian visions without past histories and designs are designs-from-nowhere without tangibilities. Maker culture thus often enacts itself as technomyth, belying its potential as an industrial transition movement that could offer more sustainable and more just lifeways.

In this project, we use digital fabrication techniques to create provocative utopian dioramas, to interrogate questions related to digitalization, technology engagement, ethics, socio-materiality and sustainability, and to critically examine the phenomenon of making and maker culture as representing the participatory turn: an emerging mode of localized, place-based, participatory production.

Maker settings are rich in contradiction and opportunity, displaying “high-low tech”, illustrating diverse technocultures, offering interoperability among systems, and affording ‘agency’ in many different ways. They display aspects of techno-utopias, solarpunk visions, Actually Existing sustainability, and prefigurative practices pointing to sustainability transformation – each real setting like a diorama or a stage-set for human action.

Latest update: 2023-06-19