This thematic session will explore the relation between product lifetimes and new production/consumption patterns involving distributed production, distributed manufacturing, open design, open hardware, ‘making’ and digital fabrication. As design researchers, we have been interested in the environmental and social sustainability issues in these emerging modes, the potential for circularity, and the implications for design.

There have been growing numbers of initiatives, research calls and policy changes around the potential of fab labs and makerspaces as localised nodes of distributed production. Many researchers and policymakers perceive open peer production in fab labs as a key niche in which to prototype and diffuse circularity practices, underpinned by open design file and information sharing and their open access, as well as openness of the design, production and post-use processes. “Circular” makerspaces are seen as connecting the dots between maker ecosystem actors for local circular economies. Distributed manufacturing is seen as environmentally better than conventional mass production via reduced transport emissions, active user involvement in locally attuned design, production and post-use (e.g. repair, remanufacturing) processes, socio-economic empowerment of local and regional actors, and so on. On the other hand, novel digital fabrication technologies are not developed to a point where they can assure no production defects, impacting waste volumes, standards of reliability and consumer trust. The knowledge to repair and maintain products is constrained by the authority to do so according to current IPR regimes. And research on these issues is fragmented across disciplines and regions using different terminologies and approaches (Kohtala 2015; Bakırlıoğlu & Kohtala, 2019).

With this thematic session, we aim to create a shared platform for researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds to engage in critical and in-depth discussion, towards consolidating these fragmented efforts.

We invite paper submissions from the perspectives of design, engineering, management, geography, sociology, and so on. Papers can address the following topics or similar:

– Distributed networks of fabrication/production and value recapture (repair, reuse, refurbish, etc.);

– Roles, capabilities and involvement of active users, makers, and local, regional and global/mass-producers, in e.g. case studies;

– The impact of openness of design, production and post-use data, knowledge and processes on product lifetimes;

– Empowerment of local actors, vulnerable and marginalised groups, and individuals in general through localised fabrication, repair and remanufacturing;

– Critical reflection on new and emerging practices of distributed production and their potential for product longevity / environmental sustainability / improved circularity;

– Imaginaries, narratives, future scenarios around distributed production and localizing design/manufacturing;

– Experiments or local pilots with circularity.

Session owners: Dr Yekta Bakırlıoğlu and Dr Cindy Kohtala, Middle East Technical University and Umeå Institute of Design.

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