Making Spaces in Maker Spaces: A History of the Ethnography Lab

There is a new research group filling the spaces of Milieux. The Ethnography Lab was conceived in the department of Sociology & Anthropology, and was inaugurated on February this year as a space for exploring and experimenting with various ethnographic methods.

 Although originally constituted by two short-term project groups, the Ethnography Lab rapidly became a heterogeneous space that holds not only field-focused research groups but also a podcast, a writing circle, a conversation group, and a creative re-use project. The divergent scope of practices in this specific composition[1] find their roots in the process of making the space. So how does the story of the Ethnography Lab unfold?

The sheer fact that this initiative of social scientists has found a place in maker spaces is in-itself telling of the entanglement of material and social relations that constitute this story.

There are two key ingredients that define this research group: one is having active projects, and the other is the material construction of the space. While the projects provide fuel to the research space and give it vibrancy; it is the making of this space that has laid the foundation for an assemblage of various practices to be gathered.

In the making of the things that reside in and define the space, the Ethnography Lab has become a ‘thing’ itself.

The centerpiece of the research space is a large table that embodies the story of how the space came to be. The making of the table was a process that put the members together and provided a sense of solidarity by enforcing itself as solid matter waiting to be assembled. People who worked on crafting the table and various furniture have shared both enjoyment and frustration; we experienced pleasure that came with lunch breaks, and pain that came with carrying heavy materials in and out of places. We learned how to use various tools, and how to give material time for it to take its final form. Overall, the mundane and repetitive task that materiality requires enabled production of a collective effervescence[2], which was reorganized into sociality that informed the everyday reality[3] of this research space.

The table reflects this coming together of human and nonhumans actors into a collective[4] that now we call Ethnography Lab. The ‘things’ that define Ethnography Lab are embodiments of the intertwined materiality and sociality: the table that was gathered by ethnographers now gathers researchers from various disciplines; the ‘campfire’ brings together different schools of thought; these ‘things’ both create the conditions of the possibility for, and become witnesses to unfolding of ideas, emergence of projects, and formation of solidarities.

The space now hosts a podcast series that profiles the activities happening around Ethnography Lab; a writing circle where people engage with their scholarly work in solidarity with another; and a conversation group that aims at creating a space dedicated to crystallizing the collective aspect of knowledge production. Not to mention initiations that emerge from the gathering of the lab; for instance, a visit from students from STS program in Technical University of Munich turned into a long-term collaboration with various members of Milieux that will result in conferences and research on maker spaces. If the Ethnography Lab only worked through short-term projects, I do not think that it would turn into the lively space that it is becoming. The initial step of materially putting together the space in collective action had set forth processes that unfold into bundles of assemblages.

 Making a space in a makerspace such as Milieux is a concrete example of how making some-things makes us something.

The collectivity that constructs this space is what makes the Ethnography Lab special. The surplus of the socio-materiality spills over from the making of things and composes the research space as a place of belonging, thus enabling the coming-into-being of new collaborations and initiatives.

The Ethnography Lab became a part of the vibrancy of Speculative Life Research Cluster of Milieux, with its table gathering discussions, experiences, methods, and researchers together, setting a space for interdisciplinary exchanges to take place and innovative research approaches to emerge.