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Demotech research wiki: SayItIsPossible / ArticlesSayItIsPossible
Articles for the Say It Is Possible Campaign
What is going on in Guatemala today?
Bram and Chinto will leave for Guatemala in two weeks. That means that the Demotech Lab is a flurry of activity as we prepare to get everything ready for them to go. A half dozen StorageStools, in various stages of completion, litter the workshop and provide constant reminder of the task at hand, lit by the mid afternoon sunshine which drifts into the room through cracked and dusty windows.
Bram is working at one of the work benches carving sticks of bamboo for Reinder to test in his latest concept for the base of the bag inside of the stool. Working next to him, the 74 year old man stands over his own bench, quickly picking up Bram's finished pieces and putting them together in the correct shape. With work going on at a steady pace, I sit at a computer and find myself wondering what is going on in Guatemala. What does the world look like that these stools are about to enter into?
A quick internet search is reveals a few bits of news. There is a general election due in September, and two candidates, one a General and one an ex-rebel have been chosen to represent a party for presidentship. The "hunger season" is coming some time in May or June, and higher than normal maize prices are a concern to poorer enhabitants. There was a murder reported recently near the capital. Coffee and Sugar cane production are normal, but there is worry that the rainy season may come late this year due to climate change. There is a whole country alive there where I have never been.
But somewhere in that country, and I must admit with a bit of guilt that I still havent asked bram exactly where, there is a village which will be invited to start producing the stools that Reinder and Bram are working on as I type. Somewhere, I tell myself, there will be people whose lives change because of what we do here.
I then remember the stool I built a week ago, with a group of children here in Maastricht. It occurs to me that for the moment, somewhere is not so important to me. My stool, sitting in my living room, seems somehow more real than the entire nation of Guatemala. It makes me laugh to think that somewhere people are going to enjoy making and having that stool in exactly the same way that I am enjoying the one that I have and made.
More. I bet they will enjoy it more.
Preparing to Leave
I keep typing and contacting people, meeting with the Graphic Designer, photographer, webmaster, and reinder to put the finishing touches on the pre-departure content for the website. Things are lively, and don't show any sign of slowing down. As soon as the tickets are booked, there will be absolutely no turning back, delays or room for slouching.
In the meantime, the workshop schedule here in the Netherlands is piling up. Do It Yourself Festival in Maastricht on the 14th of June, as well as the 23rd of May in Wageningen university were both added to the agenda this week. The Maastricht Student Workforce for Sustainability and Development are eager to get involved, and say they will help with posters and visuals for the presentations. Its all a bit surreal seeing everything come together.
Contribution by Joel, content editor
The Value of Homework
Globally, home work is a common and regularly applied process of industrial production. Any manufacturing process which includes one or a few steps which requires extensive labour inputs and very little capital input is likely to employ home-workers. There are an estamited 300 million homeworkers in the world today, as defined by the International Labour Organization, convention 177 on Home Work. In situations of povery these processes are used increasingly, and provide jobs and sustenance incomes for millions of people world wide. That such processes tend to be exploitative, paying meager wages for long hours of hapless, repetitive labour and robbing families of what little private living space they have is seldom considered; economic growth and development are much easier to measure than human discomfort at the national scale. This is the price of trade liberalization; the process is cheep, easy, and fits perfectly into a growing industrialized society. But is there another way?
Home work can be organized differently, to favour the poor rather than to exploit them. The trick is in the technology. By redesigning products, one can create situations that feed on the strengths of homework without inviting the exploitation too common to industrial systems. The StorageStools design by Demotech is an attempt at doing just that.
This article will first describe homework as it currently exists. Second, it will address the new way of seeing homework and the potential of new technology to make it possible. Finally, the StorageStool project will be examined as a possible first design of many to support new homeworkers.
Homework in industry
Homework is a simple process. Workers are comissioned to work out of their homes and raw materials arrive at the door, to be picked up assembled the next day, or later that week. This model is used in a wide variety of industries, in textiles, shoes, metal works, jewlery, food, packing and assembly, and many others. The work is repetitive mechanical labour, and payment is almost always by commission. Moreover, the worker at no point owns what she makes; she only owns the wage she is paid for it. In a market where everybody is desperate for work, any single home-worker is easily replaced, and thus has no bargaining position against the company she works for. Stacked in this way, the situation lends itself to exploitative wages, hours, and expectations by the company.
Though it may not be obvious, a central factor that makes that process possible is product design, at the technical level. Embeded in industrial production, nearly all products available in the market are designed with factory production in mind. Mass production, long supply chains, buying materials and selling products, the factory floor, standardized parts, all these are elements in the minds of designers who construct the technology through which we live. Homework, in its traditional form, thrives in a specific niche of the industrial process: when it is less expensive to perform one stage of a long line of processes by hand than with machines. That niche is part of a larger context. It is a stage of industrial production. Home-workers are a part of a larger production system.
Homework is exploitative because of its context. Products designed for industrial production will only be able to use industrial homework. This is then a problem of product design.
Changing the concept of homework through design
Ideally, a homeworker would set her own hours, and work at her own pace. A homeworker should own her product, sell it at her own price, and be in a strong bargaining position to deal with whoever supplies her materials and buys her product. She should be able to earn a secure wage, enough to support a small family comfortably, without being forced to work unreasoanble hours or enlisting the help of her children when they should be at school. Most of all, a home-worker should enjoy her work, learn and develop a skill, and be able to improve herself, her product, and her standing in life through hard work and dedication.
Can we design a product that makes that possible? Yes, we can.
That is possible because of a different kind of product design. If we design a product for the homeworker herself, rather than for industrial production, every stage of production becomes different. It also becomes much more sustainable. The challenge is to build a product that people will want to buy, which can be built entirely by a single home-worker, which is cheaper and better than its industrial alternative. By working from the strengths of a home-worker, this is indeed possible.
A homeworker will be functioning locally, and will therefore prefer to use local materials. While a factory is limited to materials that it can buy in bulk quanitities, a homeworker is free to use anything available locally. Thus, production using bamboo, scrap metal, rough wood, hand woven cloth, local clay or sand, animal parts and other farm waste, and recycled consumer products become options which are not available in industrial processes. Because an industrial product must be made in large quantities, customized products and orders are seldom possible. A homeworker is not held by that constraint, and can produce customized variations of her product, uniquely tailored to purchaser's demands. Functioning in the local market, the homeworker is ideally placed to identify her customer's desires. Such workers, generally called 'independent' or 'own account' workers exist as a small minority of homeworkers in the market today.
Industrial products are designed to be made by machines. Homework products must be designed to be made by hand. While factories rely on economies of scale to justify the cost of machines for production, it is often possible to achieve similar cost saving through clever, hand built products. There are obviously a range of products that cannot be constructed without machine inputs, but it is a common false assumption to presume that machine production is always more efficient or desirable.
A Home-worker could have a product she produces herself, from raw materials bought or gathered locally. If she could gain the knowledge of how to build that product and the materials for the first set (a simple micro-credit situation), she would then be the owner of a range of custom made consumer products made for the local market. As owner she would have control over production, hours of work, and how and when she decides to sell her product. If with the product came a template business model, for purchasing to production to distribution and accounting, a homeworker could be as well an entrepreneur, or an autonomous partner and supplier of a local business.
Earning a fair wage would depend on the quality of the design, and the skill of the homeworker. While neo-classical economists or business school students may be skeptical, there is no evidence that such products and profits are impossible. Existing 'own account' workers provide plenty of evidence to the contrary.
The StorageStool Design for Homework
The StorageStool design has been designed as a consumer product that is suited to an individual or small group who want to produce them to sell and earn a living. Rather than working for manufacturers in industrial processes, building stools at home allows control and ownership of the product to move from companies to individuals. If combined with some basic education on how to run a small business, the stool can empower a small group of people in every village to produce a lifestyle improving product for people in their surrounding, rather than mass produce a consumer product for people overseas. Working wiht their hands, stool producers could earn a living and improve their skills in production, artistic design, and running a business, and thus provide themselves a way of improving not only their own poverty, but the poverty of those people around them by providing a valuable product at local price.
Hello dear Patria people!
I respond to a mail you did send around about your projects and the volonteers that go in and out. Therefore I wonder if you would like to participate in a project encompassing many aspects that will be relevant to you, such as:
Last but not least: empower your self to get income from manufacturing and empower others to gain income from similar manufacuring as well.
What material stuff are we talking about? It is about Demotech latest design initiative: the storage stool and this smart design fits into a campaign with the name: Say it is Possible. The StorageStool is Appropriate Technology of an innovative kind. It is a next-to-no-cost approach towards a long list of purposes or functions:
Now look, here are the drawings and a first video clip.
And the best news: all this is free for
Collumn – A false Divide
Sustainability seems to be divided between two incongruous sides of an unfair coin: rich-sustainability and poor-sustainability. On the one side, we have sustainability for people who are already way above and beyond their ecological footprint, who live in societies where waste is the norm, and who function as tiny parts of some economic monolith that nobody seems able to steer. The other, lighter side there are people whose income level is too low to afford waste, who consume too little to meet their fair ecological share, who are generally seen as being on the fringes of the economic system peering in through the cracks and hoping to some day live like the rich. For each of these, there is a different story told about sustainability.
I wonder why we make the distinction? Sustainability, being a long-term prospect, seems to embody in its conception the inequalities of the present; why should the rich still be rich and the poor still be poor in a sustainable world? The divide to me seems a false one. Wouldn't a truly sustainable world be one where people in poor and rich countries live in more or less the same way? Or, at least, can afford the same things? Otherwise, some people will still be living unsustainably, while others live more poorly to make up for the difference. Socially speaking, I doubt that is sustainable.
The Storage Stools are a means towards sustainability. They are a product that everybody can enjoy, rich and poor, but that is produced without excess resource waste, or energy consumption. They do not have to be shipped around the world, because they can be produced at the village level, and can be differentiated by their art and quality, not by their cost. Storage stools are valuable in every part of the world; they embody the equality implied by sustainability.
Inovation - Creating lifestyles
Technical design and the use of a particular technology are inseparably connected. The division between things social and things technical, the artifact and the user, is a false division that is ever prevalent in our society. It is not possible to divide an object from the way it is used and create meaningful results, although it is done all of the time. An engine cannot be called more efficient without looking at the car it is in and how that car will be driven, nor can cell-phones facilitate communication without depending on language and the willingness to listen.
Though people consider the idea of a technological lifestyle to be a modern concept, it is untrue to say that people throughout history have lived in the absense of technology. When men and women of antiquity began wearing furs and pelts to stay warm in the winter, their lifestyles changed, and many of them migrated northwards. The first bows and arrows inevitably changed the way people hunted and ate. Iron working and masonry were as much founders of the roman empire as any emperor or king or populace. Assembly lines, catapults, woven cloth, printing presses, nuclear bombs, gas lanterns and aluminum hulled ships all shaped society in ways never imagined by those who invented them.
And they continue to shape society in ways even we fail to see. Technology, objects which have been shaped and tailored to have a function is so embeded in our society that there is nothing we do without it. We eat with forks, we poo in toilets, we sleep in beds, even the clothes that cover our bodies are technological artifacts. These objects change the way we live.
New objects are being invented all of the time through the process of innovation. That process however cannot be seen as simple, technical improvement on a standard theme. As is most stronly demonstrated by recent developments in information technology, changing technology will shape the way we live our lives. The process of technical inovation drives social change.
The flow is however definitely not a one way phenomenon. As technology shapes society, so too does society shape technology. Academics like Wiebe Bijker, Bruno Latour, Winner, Kleinman, and many others have since the 1980s been showing human potential to drive and alter the movement of technology. Artifacts now are in no way the logical conclusion of artifacts of the past: they represent a myraid of social desires and goals, a mix of opinion, belief, imagination and desire make technology what it will become. The process of technical inovation is driven by social change.
It is therefore the responsibility of the designer to account for the social implications of the technology she is creating. In every field where knowledge is put to work in creating objects, the question must be raised what the implication of those objects are. Such implications are never simple. Social implications shape the world around us in complex and often unprecedented ways.
While a small percentage of the objects that shape our lives face the scrutiny of the scientific community, academic discussion, and political discourse, the vast majority of the objects we use daily are assigned the catch-all lable "product" and left unquestioned. The chairs we sit in, the clothes we wear, the plates we eat from, are seldom if ever put the social test. Where they came from, what they are made of, how they are used, how long they last, and uncountable other questions implicate these object's social relevance.
It is therefore more often than not up to the designer alone to determine what characteristics an object will have. Those characteristics will influence its use, its price, and all manner of other aspects of the user's life. The user on the other hand is more often than not offered an inflexible and static object designed to change her life, and is asked to make a yes/no decision. Moreover, objects are not only designed for users, but also for producers, who will be inticed to produce the object in a perscribed way. It is for that very reason that designers are so powerfully controled, in companies, corporations, governments or universities, paid high wages and set strict tasks in order to forward one agenda or another.
As mediator between social change and developing technologies, the Designer plays a crucial role in the development of the world around her. Born of knowledge, experience, skill and intuition, innovative capacity is a resource which will alter the way the world works at the social level. The social structures of the world are thus responsible for guiding the values and beliefs embeded in designers to a direction that will produce the most desirable designs.
How the stool was developed
The Value of the Storage Stool
Noticias del Agua
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