Making Futures 2019

People, Place, Meaning: Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making

This is the sixth edition of our Making Futures biennial international research conference and now closed. Making Futures VI was held on Thursday 19 and Friday 20 September 2019 at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth, Devon, UK.

Biennial Conference Programme


Making Futures investigates contemporary craft and maker movements as ‘change agents’ in 21st century society, particularly in relation to global sustainability agendas, social entrepreneurialism and community regeneration. Convinced of the transformative potential of small-scale making and its capacity to contribute to new progressive futures, Making Futures seeks to situate these material cultures at the centre of the critical issue facing global society: how we move beyond the reductive instrumentalism of ‘homo-economicus’ and mass consumption, towards political economies capable of valuing our needs for social well being and resilient communities, whilst also incorporating concerns for non-human natures.

As such, our purpose is to examine and promote the possibilities for maker ecologies built around contemporary craft, design-to-make and related creative micro-entrepreneurs and neo-artisanal movements. We explore whether and how these activities have the potential to consolidate into nascent post-industrial maker economies that, while not replacing global consumer manufacturing, can nonetheless contribute substantially to progressive economic and social change at local and regional levels, and beyond.

People, Place, Meaning:
Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making

Community is at the heart of the Making Futures agenda, and in ‘People, Place, Meaning: Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making’, this 2019 edition will, as well as appreciating the value of makers as singular creative agents producing material objects, focus on the social dimensions of maker practices and how these can positively contribute to the construction and regeneration of communities.

Of particular interest is how individual practices can develop and promote socially and environmentally responsible making practices, but also how these singular enterprises can cluster into ‘place-based’ creative maker-ecologies capable of producing value through the enhancement of community life in ways that encourage more progressive circuits of engagement, production and consumption.

These ideas will be explored through seven overlapping parallel sessions (for full details see 'Workshops & Thematic Sessions' page) to which delegate-presenters are invited to submit abstracts:

Crafting Value, Social Making: A Way of Contributing to the World: the use of making and craft in community engagement and the social worlds that makers create, including how objects often mediate social relations, and how caring for things helps us care for each other; thus, the health and well-being benefits of craft processes.

Sourcing Craft Materials in the 21st Century: acknowledging we live in a world in which makers are often globally separated from the communities that extract and supply materials, what can and should practitioners in the 21st century know about the material supply chains they rely on to make objects.

Making & Leading: Diverse Futures: the underexploited potential of makers as leaders and the value of creative maker practices in developing qualities that contribute to good leadership, not just within contemporary craft and maker worlds, but in wider work and social contexts.

(Re)making meaning – valorisation in a wasteful world: the contexts of sustainable design-to-make practices, including notions of meaning and making and (re)making meaning in the context of sustainable practices.

Digital Platforms: Collaborative Distributed Design & Micro Manufacturing: the relationship of analogue to digital maker systems, including the opportunities afforded by the use of digital platforms to coordinate and build communities around collaborative design and distributed micro-manufacturing practices.

Encounters and Translations Across Local-Global Divides: how craft and maker practices and artefacts enable (or constrain?) cross-cultural encounters and translations across local-global divides, exploring cross-cultural exchange and conflict, historical and contemporary, as represented through making practices and the resultant artefacts we share, buy and exchange.

Making Thinking – Crafting Education: how might we best promote thinking through making in the context of craft and design-to-make education. A thinking that not only promotes personal independence and resilience, but also incorporates ethical and environmental stewardship, in tandem with a clear sense of social responsibility and contribution to wider notions of community.

Making Futures functions as a critically intensive, but extremely personable and supportive, two-day event. Assisted by our Keynote provocations, ‘People, Place, Meaning: Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making’ invites submissions from the international community that challenge and develop our central topic through the above thematic sessions from the perspectives of various creative alignments: arts based, crafts-based, design-led making, Fab-Lab and maker movement enthusiasts, campaigners and activists, curators and theorists, projects geared around the private spaces of domestic DIY or the public spaces of the commodity form. All exist, within Making Futures, as parts of a relational field where interconnections are generally more compelling and enriching than differences, in ways that help the Making Futures community take these agendas forward.

Coda: some brief remarks on community,
craft and the politics of social engagement.

Community is typically understood as a group bounded by common interests, or a common fate, with both real and imagined characteristics, sometimes freely entered into, sometimes imposed. A subject participates in and contributes to, perhaps even makes sacrifices for, the community in order to be bestowed with its sense of identity and belonging, purpose and even protection. This notion of community invariably draws a boundary inside of which there is a ‘we’ or ‘us’ who belong, and beyond which there resides a ‘you’ or ‘other’ outside. Indeed, the current global wave of popularist politics, with its turn to a militant nationalist sentiment, tends to an understanding of community that is, fundamentally, rooted in an ‘us’ and ‘them’ in an attempt to (re)construct community in the face of the widespread social dislocation wrought by economic globalization, and especially since the crash of 2008.

Issues of community identity and belonging (or not) are often communicated through the artefacts we make, surround ourselves with, share and exchange. Indeed, willingly or not, craft is often seen as a stand-in for a politics of identity and therefore often has a role in the nationalist agendas touched upon above. Indeed, the issue of how to ensure the continuity and relevance of identity through craft is a contested field in which interpretations of past, present and future, linked to regional, national and international boundaries and the communities they are said to represent, are negotiated under the impact of indigenous and colonial histories, global capitalism, and the characteristically modern experiences of diaspora, migration, refugee displacement and exile. Of interest in this respect, is the relation of craft cultures and their products to other popular folk forms of expression, including storytelling and oral histories, historical memoirs, music, dance, and film, etc.

Against the understanding of community drawn above, in which there is the ‘we’ or ‘us’ who belong, and the ‘you’ or ‘other’ outside, Roberto Esposito famously seeks to develop a broader, more radically open, conception of community. In his interpretation, developed through a close etymological reading of the Latin communitas, as ’co’ (‘with’, ‘alongside’, ‘in support of’) and ‘munitas’ (‘common’, ‘service’, ‘obligation’, ‘gift’), community is understood as nothing more or less than our common fellowship in finitude, with the idea that this finitude can only be endured, and perhaps to an extent, made tolerable, through an acceptance of (or form of love) that recognizes the unavoidable necessity to live a shared life within the shadow of this finitude. Thus, in Esposito’s reading, community is a mutuality or reciprocity of necessary giving, a gift that must be given, in the face of the shared understanding of our non-belonging.

These philosophical musings on community might seem far removed from the practicalities that artists, craftspeople and designer-makers might engage in when initiating, or participating in, community-based initiatives. But is that really the case? In the last two decades or so, there has been a huge development in art, making and design, that seeks to engage in the construction of social relations through encounters, gatherings and events. These are often staged as localized therapeutic interventions that that seek to support the development of communities that have been marginalised, undermined or shattered, for example, by the policies of neo-liberal market economics. Certainly, while we can probably think of many examples of artistic interventions that fit the first model of a bounded ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, it seems to me that some artist’s projects, as presented and discussed in previous Making Futures, are much closer in spirit to Esposito’s notion of community, of a gift that must be given, in the face of the shared understanding of our (non)belonging.

What this suggests is that each project must be judged according to its merits. What we can perhaps agree, however, is that at the heart of crafts claim to support community is the event of making itself, an experience often characterised as an immersive encounter with material that is fundamentally embodied, performative and time based. This encounter has the potential to generate processes of alterity, identity formation and becoming, with these processes of subjectivity formation emerging through iterative procedures that formulate a ‘conversation’ between maker and matter, subject and object. The intensity of these 'conversations' can occasionally blur the two polarities, to a point where object leads, if not determines, subject. This transformative encounter is charged with the potential of a “freedom to” that binds it to concepts of affirmative agency and intentionality, integrity, identity of self and identification with ‘the community’ of makers and users, to particular configurations of space and place, and often to the wider social good. In doing so, these significations bring the non-instrumental “freedom to” into the social-political dimension of a “freedom from”, and at this point the experience crosses from the subjective ‘I’ to the ‘we’, and the world of systemic social experience and the contested terrain of crafts political, social and ethical claims, including its broader purchase on the idea of community, be it the group bounded by common interests or a common fate, or Esposito’s more radically open sense of a necessary giving.

—Malcolm Ferris, Making Futures Curator
Plymouth College of Art

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