LEWI Research

Evolving Spaces and Scales of Innovation in China: The Emergence of Makerspace Innovation in Digital Fabrication in Shenzhen  

Professor Charlotte YANG Chun

Research on innovation processes in China has been mainly conducted at national and regional levels, whereas studies at individual and community levels, such as on makerspaces that have emerged since the 2010s, are limited. Digital fabrication technologies, such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), advanced automated equipment and artificial intelligence (AI), have become increasingly accessible for independent innovators and maker communities at various sites of makerspaces. Despite the implications of the intertwined development processes being acknowledged in policy circles, makerspaces as emergent spaces and scales of innovation in digital fabrication remain poorly understood and under-researched, in comparison with formalized innovation activities in traditional production. Existing literature on makerspaces has focused on local networks in specific territories, but research on extra-local connections of makerspace innovation is scant. Studies on technological innovation systems have largely neglected the distinct spatial effects of digital fabrication, especially in the emerging makerspaces in the global south, such as China. Drawing upon the multi-scalar relational perspective in economic geography, which is developed to study the non-territorially bounded dimension of innovation, this project examines the emerging makerspace innovation in digital fabrication in China and particularly in Shenzhen, known as China’s Silicon Valley. This project has a threefold goal: 1) to identify the salient economic, social, cultural and institutional contexts and motivations in which the makerspaces have emerged and generated innovation in widespread digital fabrication; 2) to understand the nature, locational patterns, operation and organization of open-source innovation involving individuals and communities of makers in various makerspaces in association with digital fabrication technologies, particularly addictive manufacturing; and 3) to recognize the role of makerspace innovation in digital fabrication in the evolving dynamics and processes of innovation in China, especially their interconnections with the formalized innovation systems at the regional, national and global levels. The project will be conducted through on-site field investigation, participatory observation, semi-structured interviews and multi-case studies of the emergent makerspaces engaged in digital fabrication innovation in China and Shenzhen in particular. By extending the Western-oriented empirical research to China and particularly Shenzhen, the project contributes to the innovation research by shifting the focus away from the established firms and institutions and towards a comprehensive understanding of digital technological innovation involving individuals and communities of makerspaces. The project has practical implications for various innovators, producers and consumers of digital fabrication, as well as policy makers and practitioners at multi-scalar spaces in the digital age of the global economy.



Professor Charlotte YANG Chun, as Principal Investigator


Hong Kong Research Grant Council, General Research Fund, HK$ 816,600