Prof. Megan Boler, University of Toronto (CA)
Rethinking the “Politics of Making Culture in Networked Mediascapes

What are the implications of concepts such as “do it yourself” (DIY), and how are these distinct from the legacies of liberal individualism? What are the troubling histories associated with “citizenship,” and how might “DIY citizenship” invite us to rethink the possibilities of political, cultural, and social intervenions and practices that challenge traditional conceptions of selves and action?  The first part of this talk will focus on definitions of key terms and how this edited collection offers new imaginings of the politics of making culture.  The second part of the talk will introduce the overlapping worlds of fandom and political satire.  Drawing on my extensive research into the popularity of “fake news” programs of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the talk will address the radically changing forms and practices of politics in the context of the increasingly widespread zeitgeist of skepticism towards traditional sources of news and political authorities.

Session one– DIY Design

Ann Light, Northumbria University (UK)
Citizen Innovation: DIY Design and the Thames Water Turbine

The Geezers are a group of older men aged 55 to late 80s, who meet weekly in the East End of London. For the last six years, they have been working to realise their dream of using the River Thames to provide energy for London’s riverside communities. In October 2013, in a loosely- aggregated team including an engineer, artist and barge-owner, they launched the first prototype of an ultra-low-cost water turbine in the Thames.

The project was initiated during an art commission responding to the Democratising Technology research project at Queen Mary University of London that questioned why the extensive life experience of older people was failing to inform new developments in technology. It has continued exclusively through the determination of the project partners. But, over the six years since inception, the work has struggled for funding and continued to win arts money and small charity donations, but no commitment from more usual innovation sources.

Patchwork funding has led to patchwork activity, involving a proposal for installing tidal turbines at the Thames Barrier, renewable energy workshops at a local school, a wind-driven public light-work for the roof of an Age UK centre, prototyping workshops at University of East London and art exhibitions in both the UK and USA that have brought energy issues to public attention. The most recent phase, with the turbine launch, again served to raise questions about the use of the Thames as an energy source. However, the turbine, designed specifically for slow-moving tidal rivers, is also thought to be the first of its kind and capable of low-cost replication for developing regions as well as major cities. What can this extraordinary case of going it alone, while doing it with others, teach us about design and the conditions we need to carry it out?

Katerina Alexiou, Open University (UK)
Community-led design: crossroads of community, creativity and citizenship

The presentation will focus on community-led design initiatives in which people are engaged in, and become responsible for, developing their environment, including buildings, open spaces, services and neigbourhoods. It will situate community-led design in the traditions of co-design and participatory design and planning, and attempt to uncover ways in which the field is being transformed due to the use of new forms of media. The presentation will draw on a series of examples and case studies in order to delineate different types of creative DIY citizenship and discuss the opportunities and constraints creative citizens face in this field.

Joel McKim, University of London (UK)
Distributed Design: Media-enabled Participation in Architecture

This talk considers how changing media and communication technologies are impacting public participation in contemporary architecture. Although the discipline has not historically been very receptive to DIY design movements, the talk begins by highlighting two past examples, the work of Aldo van Eyck and Lucien Kroll, that provide important precedents for current participatory practice. The recent growth of social media suggests that we may be entering a new era of democratic design and the talk outlines several ways in which these technologies are intersecting with architectural practice. The expansion of architectural debate through new online forums, the use of web-based public consultation tools, new crowdsourced funding models and the development of forms of dispersed, collaborative practice are examined. The talk argues that the most productive outcome of this encounter between architecture and social media is not the promotion of a “do it yourself” public working independently from or in opposition to the design professions, but rather the establishment of innovative participatory strategies that confront complex urban problems by combining expert and popular knowledge.

Session two – DIY Making

Mandy Rose, UWE (UK)
Making Publics: Collaborative Documentary as DIY Citizenship

For most of the twentieth century, documentary was a professional world in which there was little potential for do-it-yourself. While amateurs shot footage which they shared in private with friends and family, an exclusive cadre of documentary professionals observed and interpreted the world on our behalf, shaping footage into real-life stories that circulated in the public sphere. The idea of the documentary subjects’ rights has surfaced notably alongside political movements through which those excluded from systems of power have fought for their voice to be heard.  This DIY current within documentary was expressed in Community Media and Access TV, at the margins of dominant media practice.

Today we can see co-creative documentary practices emerging in the context of digital culture. A conception of DIY in its original sense of amateur making can help to situate these emerging practices in relation to the counter-history within documentary in which subjects have taken on forms of agency and editorial control in the production process.

However, awareness that a DIY approach to documentary making is not universally available prompts a questioning of the valorisation of the concept of DIY in the context of complex media production. Through the lens of co-creativity I will discuss collaborative documentaries as a strategic response to the ‘participation gap’ (Jenkins 2006, 23). The concept of DiWO (Do-it-With-Others) is better equipped to capture the dynamics and importance of these projects. A co-creative, DiWO approach to documentary provides a progressive re-working of documentary’s historic role in the public sphere, as an open space for dialogue and a stage for the performance of citizenship.

Shawn Sobers, UWE (UK)
The bold agency of making something out of nothing

From slave trade tours, music videos, activist documentary and independent journalism, Bristol has a vibrant tradition of DIY culture which links creativity to civic engagement and personal and social impacts. This talk draws on a range of examples including from a large scale AHRC research project called Creative Citizens, which is looking at what impacts an informal network of dreamers and makers with DIY ethos at their heart, are having on localised commerce, education, popular culture and civic engagement and accountability.

Session 3 – DIY Media

Red Chidgey, King’s College London (UK)
Mediated Youth: Zine Making and DIY Political Cultures

This presentation discusses the do-it-yourself citizenship practices bound up in international zine cultures. Zines are self-produced publications, predominately made by young people. Aesthetic, political and autobiographical, these DIY publications continue to thrive in the digital age and form part of a wider transnational network of self-producing writers, artists, publishers and distributors. By focusing on zine texts themselves we can begin to understand situated discussions around what ‘DIY’ culture means, how ‘resources’, ‘skills’ and ‘expertise’ are being constructed, and how participatory cultures intersect with wider systems of privilege and inequality. This talk draws upon zines currently being selected for the “Making Art, Making Media, Making Change!” project – an initiative working to create a zine archive and handbook for educators and community workers, to facilitate zines being used as social justice tools for young people.

Hannah Nicklin, UWE (UK)
First Person Political

First person performance as a political form: defining interaction in performance, and examining its political potential in the context of the contemporary digital age. Touching on three case studies of reactive and interactive performance (Slung Low, Coney, and Hide & Seek), this paper will examine what we mean when we talk about interaction, and how this do-it-yourself form constructed around the easily understood context of rules and play enables emergent personal-as-political awareness; ways of understanding our complicity in live and cross-digital society.

Amy Spencer (UK)
Lo-Fi Tech: Tracing DIY Digital Histories

Do-it-yourself culture has always celebrated the idea that anyone can take part in cultural production. If you don’t see yourself represented in the mainstream media you can create your own alternative. New technologies have long played a part in transmitting this form of independent cultural production. This paper considers how technology is used and appropriated in DIY culture, from the photocopied zine to the online participatory platform. It examines the explosion of social media and participatory platforms as a continuation of DIY cultural practices and traces these through the history of independent media production. It concludes by asking what the continued blurring between the roles of consumer and creator in mainstream digital culture means for the future of DIY culture.