Concrete utopias of an open technology. The practices and futures of open design

Project description

"The future is open source everything." With this quote, Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux project anticipated developments of the last years. Open source practices that originated from software development are diffusing in a high pace together with their normative aspects into many areas of society. Amongst others, Wikipedia, open access, and open design are based on them.

In my PhD project I will focus on the sphere of open design in which experimentation with open source practices is taking place to establish the open and collaborative design and usage of material objects. With this transformation of open source practices due to the inclusion of physical things, new forms of knowledge and objects emerge mainly in contrast to dominant industrial regimes of knowledge and of technology. Accordingly, I understand open design practices as the "re-design" (Latour) of the relations between people, knowledge, and objects. This re-design not only includes artifacts (famously 3D-printers, for example) but also new spaces of knowledge (such as Fab Labs or Hackerspaces) as well as demands to subjects (being a "maker" instead of a consumer). In the research project I conceptualize open design as part of a larger societal project of open source that connects visions of the future and goals to its own practices. That the future could be "open source everything", respectively the open source-ing of many material artifacts, is as a vision part of many open design practices. I understand this "not-yet" as part of the social construction of the sphere and I analyze open design as a present form of "concrete utopia" (Bloch).

Part of open design and its visions is the – mainly through the Internet – enabled potential globality of the practices. Transcending national and cultural boarders, some open design communities are producing knowledge with objects and about them which is highly mobile. Accordingly, my empirical entry to open design is based on the tracing of the mobility and the circulation of objects and visions of the future. This shall show in what way objects and visions are constitutive for the sphere of open design. Together with them new forms of design and usage of technology are emerging which stand in sharp contrast to dominant ways of the constitution of technology.

The project aims to understand what visions and goals are raised in open design and in which way they relate to the societal project of open source. In this way it shall be reconstructed what new forms of knowledge and objects are being produced in open design. The emergence of open design alone does not guarantee that the "future will be open source everything" but new possibilities are coming into being that contribute to this potential outcome. To conceptually and empirically grasp these is the aim of my PhD.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Maasen
Advisor: PD Dr. Andreas Lösch
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Dr. rer. soc. Christoph Schneider
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe