Making Futures 2021

Introduction to Session Two:
Resilience Through Leadership and Organisational Form

The seventh edition of our Making Futures biennial international research conference will be held on 16th September 2021.

This session will explore how makers are re-appraising the support and value to be found in organised ‘communities of practice’ or associations, as ways to more safely navigate the crises we face. Such reappraisals must often take account of appropriate ‘leadership’ models, and how they intersect with organisational form to help communities become more equitable and resilient, and able to shape the Local-Global relationships explored in this conference edition.

Considering organisational form, this session is interested in the types of association that makers might be developing to establish supportive communities of practice, and the aims and intentions of such associations, their benefits and drawbacks. Many non-Western maker communities can trace long place-based histories centred upon a particular village or region. Such communities continue to exist as important social groups and sources of cultural/material production. Seen as sanctuaries of long-standing making traditions, some operate around development programmes to update maker skills and competencies, such as design and marketing. Others exhibit outstanding inventiveness and entrepreneurialism by, for example, organising cooperatives around digital platforms which, in some cases, represent the most robust and progressive examples of this emerging phenomenon. Such communities typically seek to reinforce identity and solidarity and empower makers to control more of the value chain by bringing collective pressure to bear on raw material costs and/or by maintaining the value of their labour by displacing ‘middlemen’ (merchants and buyers) to address consumers directly. In the West, communities of practice formed around the guild system to control access to the skills necessary to perform types of material production. The factory system division of labour allied to increasing mechanisation, and the development of public schools of design, put an end to guild control. Aside from institutional pedagogical communities, contemporary Western communities of practice tend to operate at smaller scales than their non-Western counterparts, as small groups of independent makers, or as loosely affiliated ‘associations’, collectives, and just occasionally as more formal cooperatives. As well as sharing expensive workshop and production resources, these groupings typically operate as social networks facilitating group interaction, a function that has perhaps proved more useful than ever in the face of pandemic enforced isolation.

Allied to organisational form is the issue of leadership. High-quality leadership is vital if maker communities are to address the global challenges facing the sector. This session will therefore also explore the underexploited potential of makers as leaders, suggesting that good leadership is not oppressive, that it seeks just and equitable outcomes, and that it can promote and empower otherwise marginal or disadvantaged makers. Moreover, that many of the qualities that make for good leadership are, in fact, embedded in the practices that constitute creative maker behaviours, such as patience, determination, empathy, dialogue and collaboration, and (above all) the sorts of intelligent problem-solving and innovation that makers regularly exhibit through their work.