Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Cliggett


“Makers” around the world cohere in a digital and physical network of technology hobbyists. “Makers" are open-source hardware enthusiasts who use machines like 3D printers and laser cutters - manufacturing tools that have only recently become accessible to laypeople - to make things. “Makers" share a vision for a world where everyone would be able to make almost anything, supplanting top-down economic systems and channels of production. This ethnographic research examines a subset of the “maker” community: “makers” in “FabLabs” in Japan. These “FabLabs” are small workshops that house the machines that “makers” need and make them open to the public.

Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Japan, this dissertation argues that the network of people, spaces, and machines remains coherent not because of common cultural forces like capitalist ambition, religion, geographic proximity, or even nationality. Rather, the coherence is more precisely understood - in the frame of science and technology studies - by examining the cohesive force of newly invented rituals and “active” ideas that engender hope and spur action toward a shared vision. Furthermore, the FabLab community in Japan exemplifies a novel culture of expertise wherein laypeople call on experts as-needed to accomplish their personal ambitions, flipping the usual understanding of expertise as a guarded product of insular cultural systems. I examine this unique culture of expertise and outline types of expertise developing from this dynamic, disparate, and impressively coherent FabLab network in Japan.

Drawing on my ethnographic observations, I argue that laypeople, still bounded by political-economic forces in Japan, nevertheless are exercising a degree of agency that was previously the domain only of experts in manufacturing. This action by laypeople is what activates sufficient cohesive activity to sustain the community in the absence of more traditional social cohesive forces.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science: Doctoral Fellowship, 2014-2015 Dissertation Enhancement Award, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, 2014 Research Grant, Intel Inc., 2013