Rethink the System, Together: Articulating a Circular Economy with Maker Communities in China
Makers (from craft practitioners to designers, tinkerers to fixers) are creative thinkers and strategists with a unique understanding of materials and production processes. They liaise with suppliers and distribution networks, and advocate for sustainable alternatives. What if they could play a more active role in reshaping the systems within which they live and work?
This submission explores how practices such as ‘distributed design’ can assist grassroots maker communities in articulating sustainable development on their own terms, in ways that are personally meaningful. One of the models commonly explored in European and North American contexts to conceive of how ecological regeneration can work in practice is the circular economy (CE), a vision of economic development where things are designed, made, used and reused within planetary boundaries (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2018).
As delegates of Living Research (2015-2019), a British Council initiative connecting makers and academics between China and the UK, this project was tasked with understanding how this framing of CE translated into majority world contexts. China was the third nation in the world to institute the CE into national policy in 2013, and offers an example of how sustainable development can proceed in ways that retain local specificity.
To explore these dynamics, the research group organised a participatory workshop entitled ‘The Maker and the system’ in Chengdu, a culturally rich city located in one of China’s most productive agricultural regions which was about to implement compulsory recycling laws for the first time. Their aim was to explore the material and immaterial flows that local maker communities were engaged in. They implemented hands-on approaches including visual mapping and role play to explore how participants articulated and incorporated CE principles into their creative practice, and imagined alternative models of sustainable production and consumption which highlighted their concerns through 'glocal' (design global, make local) lenses. We found that participants’ lived realities and perceptions of circularity painted quite a different picture of everyday reduce-reuse-recycle flows to those found in top-level policymaking narratives.
The talk explores how people can make space for creative maker and practitioner communities to articulate global frameworks like the circular economy in ways that are locally relevant alongside further exploring our research in the CE with maker communities in Chengdu.