Digital DIY as global redesigning of politics?

today we republish, with permission of the author, some excerpts of an interesting post on this topic from Yannick Rumpala titled "Additive manufacturing as global redesigning of politics?". We have highlighted the points that are most relevant from the point of view of our own research, and changed the title to show that, for us, the post is relevant for all forms of digital DIY, not just addictive manufacturing or, as it is more frequently called, 3D printing (for links to sources, please see the full, original post).

[Addictive manufacturing] suggest potentially important changes in the way of making a range of everyday objects. But this is not the only possibility. Certainly, there are technical and economic implications, but beyond this, there could also be more structural and far-reaching political effects. It is these effects that this contribution aims to explore.

It is this potential to transform the political order that also deserves consideration, especially insomuch as such an evolution could be even felt on a global scale. It is not a question of merely saying that there are political elements in technologies, which is now commonly accepted, but that some contain potentialities for change which go beyond their designers.

The register in which 3D printing has developed is not really one of frontal resistance against the dominant terms of the economic system, but the latter could nevertheless find itself destabilized. This type of new technology seems to offer renewed capacities (control and mastery of the techniques used, unlocking of desires of creativity, etc.) for individuals or communities, especially the possibility of putting these capacities in social spaces that appeared to have been dispossessed of them. Could this be seen as a new form of empowerment by technology?

[These tools] seem to reveal new patterns of production and consumption, and therefore potentially different relationships between individuals and commodities. For individuals, such a technology could thus represent a way of reducing their dependence on the industrial system. In addition, this technology, which is also designed so that some machines can become self-replicating, makes the presence of certain intermediaries almost unnecessary, including commercial intermediaries or logistics services.

These additive manufacturing technologies appear to provide autonomization possibilities, or at least they can give margins of autonomy [and] free up individuals to do or complete other tasks than stultifying and binding work. With this decentralized mode of production, which is a priori suited to individual needs, we can also assume that the utility value could tend to prevail over the exchange value, since anyone can make the desired object and that the exchange becomes superfluous (except perhaps when special characteristics must be added).

The potentialities of this type of technology are also linked to the social bases on which it grows. A large part of its development is indeed favoured by collaborations in networks... It thus has a strong rhizomatic potential, in the way it can spread (thanks to advances in the digital world), but also in the way it can challenge installed hierarchies and subordinations. The change would be possible not by an impetus from economic or political hierarchies, but diffusely, with a technology enabling new practices which, when generalized, could themselves have systemic effects. Thanks to the techniques developed, capacities seem to be given back to communities, like those that have qualified themselves as “makers”.

If 3D printing tools bring the productions of objects back on more decentralized bases, it is likely to become difficult to speak of international division of labor... It is obviously too early to say whether such tools can bring a halt to economic globalization, but at least we can assume they can contribute to dynamics of relocalization and reduction in the volume of international trade. From this point of view, one could compare this technology to an innovation such as the container but with almost opposite effects. Additive manufacturing can contribute to further destabilization of hierarchies of scale, but in distinct forms, even adverse to those that could have occurred with globalization.

In order not to yield to technological messianism, we should however be aware of the obstacles that the diffusion of these technologies is likely to meet, starting with those posed by the various actors who have opposite interests to their development, and those resulting from ecological constraints and the availability of resources.

To know more...

You may read a more recent, more in depth article on the same topic from the same author, or contact him directly.

Image source: How Long Until the 3D Printing Revolution?