Case Study: Critical Making

Sometimes it’s frustrating to be left out. That’s how I felt after learning about Critical Making, an amazing-sounding zine by Garnet Hertz, which was gone before I had the chance to ask for one. Starting from a specific critical position, Hertz handmade a small edition of multiple-volume folio of magazines and mailed them off by post. It seems very little money was involved – contributors volunteered their writing, and he never sold the magazine, it was simply given. Hertz is interested in how handmade and distributed books can be an alternative to academic publishing, because the academic power structure is not there to control the content.

Critical Making is a handmade book project by Garnet Hertz that explores how hands-on productive work ‐ making ‐ can supplement and extend critical reflection on technology and society. It works to blend and extend the fields of design, contemporary art, DIY/craft and technological development. It also can be thought of as an appeal to the electronic DIY maker movement to be critically engaged with culture, history and society: after learning to use a 3D printer, making an LED blink or using an Arduino, then what?

Critical Making Covers

The subject matter is also interesting to me, being into in DIY culture as I am – from digital programming to vintage electronics to construction and solar power. That Hertz was able to create a solid DIY publication with valuable contributions to the critical discussion about DIY is a testament to how publishing is changing.

Check out Regine Debatty’s review on the project, which is in-depth enough to make me really jealous of whoever got a parcel.

But Critical Making is also a courageous project. While acknowledging the role and importance of O’Reilly and Make Magazine in popularizing the DIY culture, the publication asks us to look at aspects of the DIY culture that go beyond buying an Arduino, getting a MakerBot and reducing DIY to a weekend hobby. Critical Making embraces thus social issues, the history of technology, activism and politics. The project stems also from a disappointment. A year ago, Make received a grant from DARPA to create “makerspaces” for teenagers. Everyone who, so far, had assumed that a culture built on openness was antithetic to the murkiness that surrounds the military world was bitterly disheartened.

Debatty also makes the valuable point that while the format is good for the subject, the limited distribution is actually a problem: shouldn’t something with such a solid critical contribution be more widely read?

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