British Council Living Research 

Exploring maker cultures in China 

In 2018, I was selected to join a delegation of 7 makers and academics on the British Council's 'Living Research' project in China. We began fieldwork in the second-tier cities of Chengdu and Xi'an, investigating the local circumstances and practices of over 40 spaces for making, craft and design in both regions, from design labs in corporations to open hardware factories and rural villages built around around creative practices aimed at promoting intangible cultural heritage.

Our first field study in 2018 concluded that in China, there is a very close relationship between local makerspaces and national government policy, with makers positioned as key catalysts of economic transformation. In 2019, I was the co-investigator of a £15,000 grant from the British Council which gave us the funding to return to Chengdu, where the concept of the Circular Economy (CE) will soon be instituted through a new set of compulsory recycling laws, to conduct a more directed investigation of how local creative producers and policy-makers understood and enacted the CE through their everyday practices. We conducted a series of in-depth interviews with locals, and facilitated two participatory workshops to explore applications and limits of the CE in China with more than 60 local makers, designers, businesses and government officials.

Details on the Living Research project and our outcomes can be found on the project’s introduction, and in the following two articles which I wrote with project collaborators: Making as national transformation? and WeChat and makers in China. More outputs are on the way.