Svanborg R. Jónsdóttir, University of Iceland
Mark Payne, University of Sheffield
Exploring Makerspaces in Bucharest, Romania provided us with a set of exciting opportunities. We were able to see at first hand some of the issues and constraints of working in a post-Communist country where economic development still lags behind many other OECD developed countries. For example, of the participating countries within the Makerspace project, Romania ranks last with a GDP of $23,406 against a European average GDP of $42,074 (OECD, 2015).
To understand the economic context we needed to know much more about the history of Romania, the revolution of 1989 and the transition to democracy and capitalism – a not always easy journey for Romanians as recent demonstrations have proved. We both learnt a lot from our kind hosts Anca Velicu and George Maruşteru and found ourselves on our own journey of discovery. Svanborg seized the bull by the horns and undertook a visit to Ceauşescus’ former palace, said to be one of the largest buildings in the world, and now turned over to housing the national Parliament and various museums.
We also had the opportunity to find out more about the setting up of a Makerspace and addressed various issues: Who can or should set up a Makerspace? Where should it be situated? Who should staff it? Who should be encouraged or allowed to attend and do the making? And how is such a facility sustained and developed to be sustainable? Whilst we could discuss these issues in a fairly abstract way, George is faced with putting this into reality, not a straightforward task.
As visiting academics we also had our own research interests to follow up and so within this we were often found pursuing various leads:
My research background is in language and education and for the last four years I have been actively researching the Slovak Roma community in Sheffield (Payne, 2014; 2016). This often marginalized, impoverished and persecuted demographic faces various challenges in settling into the community, finding housing, employment, schools for the children and negotiating the associated bureaucracies. I was provided with the kind opportunity to present my research at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest, and my warm thanks go to Anca for facilitating this!
As there is also a large Roma community in Romania I was very interested to explore how they live their lives in Bucharest and what the daily challenges are. In terms of the financial constraints within Romania as outlined above, it would seem that the Roma in Bucharest may be living on the margins of the poorest country in Europe and thus be one of Europe’s poorest populations.
With the kind assistance of Anca, I was able to visit a Roma homework club situated within Școala Gimnazială Numărul 136 (Middle School Number 136). The Roma homework club is open to the children of this area of Ferentari, both Roma and non-Roma and it is well attended with a mix of children. There is a variety of games, activities, puzzles, books and toys and the children are also provided with an afternoon snack. They were simply delightful and despite my lack of Romanian we were able to communicate courtesy of Google Translate! A walk through the immediate environment afterwards underscored the lower socio-economic demographic and, corralled within that, the Roma apartment blocks in a poor state of disrepair with uncollected rubbish strewn on waste ground. It was shocking but after visits to many Roma communities in Eastern Slovakia, not surprising (see Figure 1 below). Again, this underscored the social position of the Roma within the context of Ferentari.
Regarding this visit in light of the Makerspace project, I asked myself some questions: In this context, one of the poorest areas of Bucharest, would a Makerspace still be a possibility? Would someone want to set one up, staff one, and provide the resources and consumables? And it also raises questions about what a Makerspace is actually for. If it is to be a self-sustaining business, for example, then this requires parents and children with the means to participate. If it is to be for the benefit of children, all children, then it needs to be subsidised; someone needs to compensate staff and provide those consumables.
This brings me to my final perhaps more troubling reflections.
Considering the evidence from the literature and my observations of the Maker movement, with the need for, inter alia, staffing, expertise, resources and organization, this seems to lead to Makerspaces largely benefitting the middle classes and providing middle class parents with yet more enhancement opportunities for their children (see the Makey Literature review). In other words, are these Makerspaces contributing to societal problems rather than providing a solution? Are these spaces potentially another site of social reproduction? As Barton points out, “The movement remains an adult, white, middle-class pursuit, led by those with the leisure-time, technical knowledge, experience and resources to make” (Barton, 2017:2). Furthermore, as a reflective practitioner, I wonder about the setting up of Makeyspaces for the purposes of research – what will happen to the children after the researchers have departed? However, it is also clear from the literature that Makeyspaces can be a force for good within communities and for individuals and have the potential power to effect positive change in those communities and individuals (Barton et al., 2016; Hughes & Hughes, 2017; Taylor et al., 2016).
I came away from Bucharest enthused about the project and full of admiration for the Roma inhabitants of Ferentari, and the staff and pupils at the homework club. Establishing Makerspaces in areas of low SES and the concomitant challenges is one area that I am now exploring as part of this project, with the extra dimension of exploring Makerspaces potentially catering for Roma children in similarly impoverished circumstances.
Figure 1: Apartment blocks for Roma in Ferentari, Bucharest (photo Mark Payne)
My background is in primary school teaching where I got to know what we in Iceland call innovation education and I was impressed by its simplicity and potentials. Later I pursued my interest in the area with my PhD research and am now a teacher educator and researcher in education.
Reflecting on Mark´s ponderings about the Makerspace – privileges, I have repeatedly come back to thinking of how well the approach of innovation education could be a starting point for a low-tech or no-tech makerspace. The concept makerspace is though “taken” it seems for spaces for creative work with the support of technology, computers and digital tools. But still if you look at the maker-ideology it can be seen to be at heart: … making is fundamental to be human and you become a more complete version of yourself as you play, give and learn and discover the joy of making (Hatch, 2013).
After visiting Romania for just a few weeks we may not have a thorough knowledge of the conditions of young learners in this country but we know that Makerspaces for children hardly exist there yet. It seems to me that a more realistic and more democratic approach to cultivating the creative culture a maker space presupposes might be to start with applying the simple, low-tech or no-tech approach of the (one of the Icelandic partners in MakEY) courses I observed in Iceland as a part of the MakEY project in the summer (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Dismantling throw-away utilities (Innoent workshop, photo Svanborg R. Jónsdóttir)
The children would learn about the heart-head-hand process (heart: finding needs, head: finding solutions, hand: producing or making the solutions) (Jónsdóttir & Gunnarsdóttir, 2017). They would practise finding solutions and presenting them as drawings or making them out of simple materials such as paper or polystyrene. They would also work with dismantling “trash” of their own choice and they would make something new by combining the parts with other materials and giving them a different purpose (Figure 3).
Figure 3: An old “Walkman” gets a make-over as a piece of art (Innoent workshop, photo Svanborg R. Jónsdóttir)
However, there is something exiting and promising about the intentions of our MakEY colleagues Anca and George who intend to give a series of Makerspace workshops for young learners in three series of 12 workshops in three locations in Bucharest. It will be interesting to follow the process and to see how the different social and economic conditions of the schools and the learners embrace the makerspace experiences that will be offered by Anca, George and their collaborators. They are now (September 2017) preparing the MakEy workshops and have just received the first tools and gadgets they will use in the workshops (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Inspecting the newly arrived tools for the Makerspace space-workshops (photo Svanborg R. Jónsdóttir)
The workshops will revolve around the theme of outer space. One of the fundamental issues they are negotiating is how much control they as teachers or mentors will have over the process and how much agency the children will be allowed. For now George is on the directing side of pedagogy, offering a very structured path and Anca wants to have a more open process with a weaker framing. It will be very interesting to see what kind of pedagogy they will adapt and what kind of responses the children will show to the framing of the workshops.
Barton, A. C., Tan, E., & Greenberg, D. (2016). The makerspace movement: Sites of possibilities for equitable opportunities to engage underrepresented youth in STEM. Teachers College Record: 1-31
Hatch, M. (2014), The Maker Movement Manifesto. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hughes, J. M., & Hughes, J. M. (2017). Digital making with “At-Risk” youth. The International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, 34(2), 102-113.
Jónsdóttir, S. R., & Gunnarsdóttir, R. (2017). The road to independence: Emancipatory pedagogy. Rotterdam: Sense.
OECD Data (2015). Gross Domestic Product. Available at: https://data.oecd.org/gdp/gross-domestic-product-gdp.htm
Payne, M. (2014). The integration of Roma Slovak pupils into a secondary school in Sheffield: A case of school super-diversity? Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies 101, Tilburg: Babylon.
Payne, M. (2016). The inclusion of Slovak Roma pupils in secondary school: contexts of language policy and planning. Current Issues in Language Planning, pp.1-20. DOI: 10.1080/14664208.2016.1220281
Taylor, J., Capel, T., Vyas, D., & Sharp, T. (2016, December). Facilitating digital participation through design projects with economically-marginalized communities. In Workshop Proceedings of Digital Participation: Engaging Diverse and Marginalised Communities: 1-5
Taylor, N., Connolly, P., Hurley, U. K., & Macleod-Iredale, J. B. (2016, January). Breadth, depth and height: early findings on engaging disabled people with digital fabrication. In CHI 2016 Workshop: Fabrication & HCI: Hobbyist Making, Industrial Production, and Beyond. CHI: 1-4