While much of the discourse of making and hacktivism falls into the well-established 20th-century DIY (Do It Yourself) ethos of the hobbyist and the dedicated amateur, the activity in many contemporary hybrid labs has also been described with the acronym DIWO (Do It With Others)—or, in a word, collaboration.14 The material activity of lab work has an epistemological side that points to the possibilities of collective work, and to a bundle of related terms and activities: challenging, activating, sharing, co-working, engaging, digging, deconstructing, (re)designing, and redefining.15
The lab is literally and figuratively at the centre of collaboration, but collaboration is not always the same thing as inclusion or equity. What’s at stake are issues of credit, credibility, and actionable knowledge that are defining a field of civic technoscience in a manner strikingly like that which Carolyn Marvin describes as the emergence of electrical expertise at the end of the 19th century.16 Collective work, including the collaborative making and remaking that characterizes much of contemporary technological culture, can and does redefine social ties and disciplinary relations. However, these new collectivities may exclude as well as include insofar as, for example, they may determine who is considered an amateur and who is an expert, and thus who is permitted to engage with the inner workings of machines, or who is credited during publication.
Lab-centered collaboration happens in many ways and across many levels of intensity. In addition to the more obvious collaborative activities associated with labs, such as group experimentation and project development, a shared discussion or reading group, a weekly team meeting, an email list, a joint article, or the well-established format of the seminar are all collaborative activities that take place in and around many labs. Outside of academia, cryptoparties, hackathons, game jams, and other sorts of activities combine affective attachment with curiosity, expertise, dedication, and focus. These and other kinds of events create multiple informal ways of engaging with machines and social events around them, from coding and hardware hacking to knitting and weaving. As Daphne Dragona puts it, workshopping as an artistic methodology deployed in “artists spaces, media art centers, festivals, and other venues” has been able to combine education about particular technological skills such as exposing “technology’s inner workings” with forms of dissensus.17 In other words, collaborative activity becomes a way of articulating change. While Dragona outlines the significance of workshop formats in media arts of the past decade, her thinking also applies to critical hybrid labs more widely. In hybrid labs, questions of skill and social justice can be enacted in collective collaborative work. In such a scenario, pedagogy becomes a format for sharing technological equipment and space as well as a catalyst for wider social change.
As we saw with the example of Bell Labs in chapter 5’s discussion of lab imaginaries, collaborating in the same space can redefine how we think of disciplinary ties. Particular administrative affiliations can place people with different interests and practices into the same space, producing a particular DIWO phenomenon that Marcel O’Gorman calls “elbow-rubbing”:
A laboratory, institute, or centre that promotes such exchanges, or even better, that promotes ‘elbow rubbing’ between scholars with various research interests, is an effective way to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration. Moreover, such collaboration requires scholars to question their own research methods. For example, the projects outlined here rely on the willingness of humanists, social scientists, and artists to take “things” more seriously, or perhaps to take things into their own hands.18
The power of elbow-rubbing derives from the fact that conversation is a key technique that sustains the lab as a unit of interaction. Renaissance spaces of collection were admittedly a very different cultural and historical situation than modern laboratories, but they were already in many ways spaces of methodological interaction, or, in Paula Findlen’s words, “conversable spaces.”19 Drawing inspiration from early modern ars conversandi, it is fruitful to consider the current conversational spaces in labs as more than just occasions for chit-chat.20 Conversations are not merely off-the-shelf tools for creating a discussion; they also include the possibility of critical pedagogy that can articulate individual experiences into a collective, political experience. Under these conditions, conversational spaces become forms of knowing.
To return to the legacy of the seminar, the lab can be a space of debate and sharing, where words and discussions can feed into various forms of collective making. They may be a source of open-ended, aberrant notes on current projects that end up as conceptual riffs, or they can be a means of solidifying informal questions about this and that into concrete action with others. A minimum amount of framing can be enough to facilitate the switch from verbal exchange to critical epistemology as a (conversational) method. To quote Allucquere Rosanne Stone’s elaboration of collaborative activities that took place at the ActLab: “During discussion period, which could be an intellectual free-for-all the only requirement of which was that ideas had to be backed up by evidence and, if appropriate, by critical analysis—out of the blue someone would pop me a question about particle physics or organic chemistry or neurology, and, as accurately as I could, I’d pop back with an answer.”21
Finally, collective discussions are also a crucial aspect of the technique of collaborating. They are a potentially radical pedagogical form of collaboration that does not involve consolidating around a set hierarchical structure but instead emphasizes opening up new avenues of investigation. For example, the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) has developed a tried and tested set of techniques for “an anti-oppressive, horizontal, equity-based meeting”22. Their meeting techniques, which fall into the larger categories of Facilitation, Round Robins, Consensus-Based Decision Making (CBDM), and Collaboration, consist of chains of more specific operations, which they have detailed in internal lab protocols. Protocols defining the operations involved in CBDM, which they derive from Tim Hartnett’s Consensus-Oriented Decision Making23, have been condensed into a “cheat sheet” freely downloadable from the lab website24. Such techniques are formative of a lab as an dynamic entity of people, words, technologies and interactions. As low tech of an approach as it might seem, it is important to understand how the often-mentioned theme of sharing and collaborating are already nested in adjacent forms of university pedagogy.