Some thoughts on the relevance of citizen scientists – hackers, makers, tech enthusiasts, DIYers – and open source hardware. Writing this commentary might have been a bit of a coping mechanism, but it nevertheless raises issues that are crucial for allowing and supporting volunteers in exploring (technological) means for fighting covid-19.
In this time of crisis, many people are willing and eager to help tackling the challenges related to covid-19. While medical staff fight the pandemic and key workers maintain indispensable infrastructures and services, also people outside of these sectors explore possibilities for contributing to emerging issues. An important domain of civic support emerges at the intersection of citizen science and ‘disaster technology’.
Disaster technology refers to technological, often ad hoc developments and appropriations aimed at addressing crisis-related problems. In the context of covid-19, citizen scientists and civic collectives quickly started examining what technology would be needed and feasible for them to develop. Stories about their activities and contributions, like the example below, are more than just a silver-lining in otherwise largely devastating news: citizen scientists offer valuable local, technological support and expertise that require further attention. In this opinion piece, I therefore reflect on the relevance and implications of citizen science during the covid-19 pandemic.
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When I saw that the long-awaited notification email from the European Commission started with “Congratulations…”, I almost couldn’t believe it: I was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship for my project “Hacking your way to IT literacy”. I will investigate what digital societies can – and need to – learn from digital learning in UK hackerspaces. By now, the grant agreement has been signed and I am thrilled to start the fellowship at University of Sussex, Brighton.
This would have been impossible without the fantastic supervision of Tim Jordan (Sussex). Special thanks go to him – and I would also like to thank those people from Sussex and Maastricht University who commented on earlier versions of the proposal, helped me navigate the application process and encouraged me to resubmit the proposal when my first application was not successful. I am immensely grateful for all the support I received. Also, the reviewers’ detailed feedback was extremely helpful for revising my proposal. If you are preparing an MCIF proposal this year – stay posted: I will write another post on the reviewers’ feedback soon, since it helped me a lot to understand what reviewers are looking for and how they evaluate proposals.
While I could not be happier about this chance to focus on my research and to acquire new skills, I regret having to leave Maastricht for two years: it is an amazing place to work and live. I will really miss working with my colleagues from the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences and other UM faculties, and I look forward to returning in 2021!
We made it: thanks to all the authors and reviewers who contributed to the Digital Culture & Society journal issue on Making and Hacking! It’s been great editing this issue together with my colleague Karin Wenz.
So in case you were ever wondering: Is making the new hacking? Are we indeed all makers or is this just part of a larger (techno)myth? How do members of hacker- and makerspaces deal with issues such as sustainability and what does the prevailing “just do it” philosophy in hacker cultures mean for ethnographic research? The authors who contributed to this issue address these (and many other) questions: among the contributors are Kat Braybrooke and Tim Jordan, Jeremy Hunsinger, Sabine Hielscher, and Sebastian Kubitschko. The introduction is available online for free; the issue and individual articles can be purchased here and here. All articles will be made available as open access on the journal website after 12 months.