Making Techne, Techne in the Making

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By Jon M. Wargo, Boston College, USA

In April 2018, I had the opportunity to present at the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In a session titled “Techné in the Making: Literacies, Technologies, and Wonder in Research and Practice,” I, alongside session participants, took up Susan Delagrange’s (2011) Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital Worldto consider the role of techne in making. Using Delagrange’s text, we spoke to the wander of wonder in making and highlighted the embodied practice of what Kristin Arola(2018) calls ‘making as culturing.’ Through disparate empirical projects of in-school and out-of-school making, each of us examined our own understanding of ‘making techne.’ In this post, I join in the larger blog collective to talk across my project “Civic MakEY: Exploring Early Learning and Civic Action through Makerspace Technologies and Project Based Learning.” In it, I detail how I see making in the early years as a project of ‘making techne.’

Civic MakEY and Imagining Making as Speculative Design

Through disparate and geographically diverse scenes of early making, “Civic MakEY…” adopts a multi-site sensibility to consider how young children imagine pathways to becoming civic actors through ‘making’ a difference. Making, thus, is a form of speculative design. It is not a project of considering preferable futures, but of making possible ones. We use the term imagine to generate possible practices grounded not in the world as we know it now, but in the world as we imagine it could be. Making grounds inquiry in familiar realities for children. It questions and critiques everyday habitats and it conceives of alternative presents.

“Civic MakEY…”, a partner project to the larger MakEY collaborative, is guided by the following research questions: (1)How are ‘citizenship’ and ‘civic engagement’ discursively produced and ‘made’ in the practices, processes, artifacts, and classroom conversations of students and teachers engaging in maker-based learning?;(2)How do early learners use making as a means to ‘construct’ action, practice participation and take informed action?; and(3) How does taking a “maker-oriented” approach to early civics, cultivate new imaginings for children’s participation, deliberation, and action? While I could speak at length about initial findings and share maker artifacts that illustrate these possible, if not preferable, futures of civic and community life, I want to stay at the conceptual level to consider what envisioning a framework of “techne in the making” may entail in researching everyday childhood making.

Making Techne

Making, as we see it, occupies a middle ground between theory and practice. It incorporates both abstract and applied knowledge. Making is what Aristotle called a productive art, or techne (other productive arts for Aristotle included medicine, architecture, and rhetoric). In contrast to being defined as a productive art, others name techne more simply. Techne is a form of craft knowledge; or, a set of skills to create useful products (material and discursive artifacts included). Making, as I want to argue here however, is revealed through the act of techne rather than manufactured by it.

Adapted from Delagrange’s approach to examining visual techne, exploring making as techne includes four dimensions.

Making is:

  1. a heuristic, a process of making, and thinking, and re-making, through which meaning, knowledge, and action are made through joint production and mediated action
  2. situated, specific to the embodied and material conditions of a particular time and place
  3. mobile and strategic, adaptable to changing circumstances and new challenges of community injustice
  4. ethical, founded in specific beliefs and values of equity, reflective of participants.

Techne in the Making: Composing a Response to a Community Problem

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Reflective of the aforementioned presuppositions, I want to now quickly zero in on a site of early making from the “Civic MakEY…” project. This spring, I partnered with a Pre-K3 classroom where I designed, facilitated, and co-led a project-based unit focused on the common good. A central concept in both NAEYC’sframework for social studies content and the C3 Framework for Social Studies, the common good presented a unique yet accessible avenue into examining how young children could ‘make’ a difference in their classroom and local community. The larger project was guided by the question, “How do we create spaces that are welcoming to and representative of our community?” Through a 23-session project that occurred in both whole group and small group settings, students practiced civic action, deliberation, and participation through a series of maker-infused activities. For example, when given community members needs of street lamps, children worked with squishy-circuits to light the aerial map they constructed of the playground, park, and community. Similarly, when students received “letters from the community” detailing individuals’ wants and wishes for the neighborhood park and playground, they deliberated and discussed what items (e.g., a food truck, slide, teleportation chamber) would have the greatest impact. While these examples, quite literally, only touch the surface of the artifactual making children engaged in, they are representative of making techne. As a collective we saw making as an activity of joint production. We situated our study and project in a particular time and place. Children adapted to new challenges and responses were reflective of community values and classroom conceptions of the common good.

So What?

I want to close by suggesting that theorizing the role of techne in early making highlights not only the technological means through which young children intervene in the physical world but also the representational means through which they generate meaningful accounts of speculative futures. Making brings forth new understandings of possible civic action and participation. Making techne becomes rhetorical through each child’s ability to generate information regarding a shared referent and to legitimate their own work through processes of production that can be documented and disseminated as productive knowledge for a citizenry in its own right.

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