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16 December 2016

Call for researchers: the ethics of makerspaces (CLOSED)

As part of Hello Shenzhen the British Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) are working in partnership to support further academic research into the Chinese maker movement phenomenon


This call will aim to build on the previous ‘Living Research’ and ‘China’s Creative Communities’ projects and deliver a more in-depth and focussed piece of research.  Both of these previous activities have uncovered the need for further collaborative, immersive and hands-on research in this emerging and relatively under-theorised area of the Chinese creative economy.  A number of recurring themes and topics have come up, such as issues of community, design and different kinds of value creation and measurement, several of which are underpinned by ethical considerations. With this in mind we are setting the following challenge as the main research question for the activity:

What are the ethics and implications of making: what is being made? Why? and to what effect?

Ethics is a very rich challenge area that can be explored from a number of different angles. We would suggest narrowing the scope of the research proposal by identifying a sub-theme. We suggest the following sub-themes as potentially rich areas of investigation (please also feel free to suggest an alternative sub-theme):

(1) Intellectual property and open source

(2) Making-based design and/or production practices focused on other kinds of value creation, such as social innovation or sustainability

(3) Access and inclusivity in terms of makerspaces and making culture in regards to education and/or community

(4) The role of technology within making: technology as tool vs. technological-determinism in light current maker movement discourse.

Whilst research proposals should be primarily focused on China, proposals are welcomed to incorporate a comparative approach that looks at both UK and China making cultures. For as the Living Research and China’s Creative Communities projects have demonstrated, comparative analyses can bring about unique insights and learnings that can be applied to help both Chinese and UK makerspaces develop, as well as strengthen links and opportunities between the two countries.

Aims of the research component

  • Provide an opportunity for knowledge exchange and new collaborations between creative industries and academic research, and between the UK and China
  • Build upon a growing UK-China network of leading organizations and creative practitioners to drive new, innovative practice and research
  • Analyse to what effect international exchanges have upon the development of ethical practices in maker communities within China and the UK. (Please refer to the Hello Shenzhen Programme section below for more detail)
  • Inform new ways of carrying out research
  • Highlight examples of best practice in making
  • To contribute towards the creation of a relevant output, for example, an ethical guideline or ethics roadmap for makerspaces, which can be made publicly accessible
  • Raise issues of critical debate around making practices in the UK and China.
  • Inform future policy change: Increased investment in social innovation, better infrastructure for creative enterprise, new models for resourcing emerging creative enterprises.

Official Development Assistance

As the funds for this call come from the AHRC’s Global Challenges Research Fund allocation, any funding must contribute to economic development and welfare in China. Please describe how the proposed project is ODA compliant. Further details on ODA can be found here.

The Funding

The project should have a maximum budget of £35,000 for a period of up to 6 months, which will cover investigator(s) salary costs, travel and subsistence, visas, seminar/conference/networking costs, modest materials and small equipment costs where clearly linked to the project’s aims.

Costs for non-academic team members both in the UK and China (e.g. creative practitioners and artists) may be included on a ‘consultancy’ basis (e.g. on the basis of a daily rate). The proposal must carefully detail their expertise and demonstrate that it is vital to the success of the project. If a non-academic team member is providing their time and/or other resources free of charge, they may be included as an ‘In-kind’ project partner.

Payments will be made directly by the British Council in the form of a grant via BACs

Link with the wider Hello Shenzhen programme

Hello Shenzhen is intended to support cross-cultural exchange between UK and Chinese making cultures through a series of in-depth residencies, the first of which will take place in Shenzhen and the UK in March 2017. Although these residencies will not be the sole focus of the academic research component, we would like the successful applicants to see them as a vital resource in gaining a practical, human-focussed, inclusive and participant-led understanding of the research question and related sub-themes.

Find out more about the selected UK and Shenzhen host organisations

The British Council will hold a networking event for the makers that will be participating in the residencies on 2 March 2017 . The academic research team will be required to join the group in order to make initial contact and discuss possible collaborations.

Wider Chinese partnerships

The AHRC and British Council view collaboration with Chinese organisations, researchers and makers as an important part of the research component. We see it as vital that the researcher team does not work in isolation and from afar in order to gain a nuanced insight into the particular social and cultural settings that Chinese makerspaces are situated in. In short, we will be looking for a team of researchers that does not do research solely on or about Chinese makerspaces, but in and with them too. We appreciate that the short timescales on this call might make it unrealistic for named Chinese collaborators to be mentioned in the application; however we will be looking for a strategy for engaging Chinese academics and partners throughout the project and opening avenues to productive knowledge exchange.   

How to make an application

Applicants should submit a 4-page (max) document outlining their approach to the above research question, including relevant expertise and experience, along with 2-page CVs for all named investigators, to the following email address:

The deadline for the submission of this email will be 10pm on 29 January 2017.

Applicants must be of post-doctoral standing, or equivalent, be research active and based at a Research Organisation (RO) eligible for funding by the AHRC.

Applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • Track record - a demonstrated history of high quality, innovative research and how this is relevant to the key aims of the call.
  • An original and compelling articulation of the theme and its potential.
  • A clear rationale for the methods used and why they are appropriate to deliver the proposed research.
  • The potential for the proposed project to contribute to economic and welfare development in China according to the principles of ODA.

Applications will be assessed by a panel comprising of AHRC and British Council staff and academic reviewers. We will let all participants know if they have been successful by 10 February 2017.

Timetable of activities

16 December: Call for academic research projects launched

29 January 2017: Deadline for submission of research proposals

Week of 30 January:

  • UK and Shenzhen makers announced
  • Panel meeting to assess academic research proposals

By 10 February 2017: Outcomes for academic research proposals

2 March 2017: Welcome event for Shenzhen makers, academics, UK host organisations and UK makers

3 March 2017: British Council/Maker Assembly global maker event in Edinburgh inviting makers and experts from China, South Africa, Nigeria, Turkey, Mexico, Ukraine and the UK.

6-24 March 2017: Residencies in the UK and China

27-28 March 2017: Outreach events in Shenzhen