Were ‘Technology Networks’ the Fab Labs of the 1980s?

Technology Networks

A new article by Adrian Smith in the Journal of Peer Production looks at the story of Technology Networks – community based workshops which arose in the UK in the early 1980s. At a time of high unemployment, they provided a space for sharing machine tools, access to technical advice, and prototyping services – anticipating the hopes invested in FabLabs today. The article is available to read and download free of charge.

Technology Network participants developed various prototypes and initiatives; including electric bicycles, small-scale wind turbines, energy conservation services, disability devices, re-manufactured products, children’s play equipment, community computer networks, and a women’s IT co-operative. Ideas and enthusiasm for these workshops drew upon a wider movement for socially useful production, which in turn drew together strands of thought and activism from broader social movements, old and new. Reflecting that wider movement, Technology Networks contained tensions in terms of social purpose, cultures of knowledge production, and political economy.

A 1984 promotional booklet for Technology Networks (pdf) provides some insights into how they were advertised to the public.

This article links to a STEPS Centre project on grassroots innovations and includes references to the Lucas Plan (see our feature on the Lucas Plan and socially useful production).

Read the article online

Smith A. (2014) Technology Networks for Socially Useful Production, Journal of Peer Production Issue 5

Image: GLEB Technology Networks book advertisement, New Scientist, 9 Feb 1984