Maker culture is dynamic and growing both in the UK and abroad. Maker communities are transforming the creative process - developing innovative products and forming new models of social, civic and educational practices. This new and emerging sector is internationally focused and digitally connected, but to date, there have been few formal opportunities for cross cultural exchange between makers.

Makerspaces have exploded across the UK but, as a self-identifying movement, maker culture is relatively new to China.  It was only in 2015 that the Chinese government’s annual work report introduced the idea of mass entrepreneurship as a new engine of economic growth.  It also mentioned makers for the first time.

Shanzhai used to refer to the cloning process which produced knock-off consumer electronics under thinly disguised versions of brand names like “Nakia.” Driven by the pace of Shenzhen’s continuous economic and technological development, shanzhai has evolved rapidly. Copy-cats have become innovative brands in their own right, collectively shipping 400 million mobile phones and tablets annually, as well as millions of other “smart” devices. Shanzhai is now more of an ecology, with networks of manufacturers and designers creating products for the markets often neglected by major brands. Open source components and casings allow for rapid iterative processes and shanzhai’s innovations are sometimes hugely successful; from dual-sim card phones to cheap handsets for migrant workers.

This is just one Chinese context which could provide insight and opportunities. We think UK and Chinese maker cultures - the former with a tendency towards small-scale, experimental prototyping, and the latter with an entrepreneurial drive accompanied by perceived historical issues with fostering creativity - could mutually benefit from research which brings them into intimate contact.  

Therefore, we're undertaking the first comprehensive study of the maker movement in China. To complement this wide ranging mapping of makerspaces, we partner with Nesta and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to launch a new approach we’re calling 'Living Research', as well as 'Hello, Shenzhen' programme.