Build it Better is my exploration of feminist maker pedagogy, a blend of deconstruction and construction, in which making, doing, building, and tinkering are incorporated into interdisciplinary classrooms as a way to democratize science, technology, and engineering. Put simply, a feminist maker pedagogy is one that takes the “learn by doing” model employed in laboratory courses and applies it more widely; put more theoretically, a feminist maker pedagogy is one that assumes, from the outset, that what one “learns by doing” is not just the task at hand, but something fundamental about how the world fits together and how we fit into it.
In 2017, I developed the first project for Build it Better: a experimental interdisciplinary course aimed at bringing technology (and the practice of engineering) into the humanities classroom. Students in the course will participate in a “maker lab” where they will produce an electronics or programming project of their own choosing.
Students in this course, which is called Tinkering in Feminist Technoscience, engage in semester-long technology-inspired projects in introductory robotics and computer programming. Although the projects themselves may be individual or collaborative, students work on them in a collective group think space. The course aims to encourage and explore engagements with material cultures, to provide a space where students can build a new thing, and to use the process of building, not as a means to an end, but as a metaphor for engaging theory, specifically, in this case, feminist theories on science and technology.
Feminist science studies is populated with dense theoretical texts. I want students to engage these texts fully. A feminist maker pedagogy argues that spending time building in a lab environment gives purchase for ideas in two important ways. First, it contextualizes some of the questions and ideas posed by practicing scientists (e.g. Deboleena Roy, Sandra Harding, Evelyn Fox Keller, Banu Subramaniam) who draw from their own lab work to think critically about feminist theory. Second, it uses the concrete experience of trial and error to anchor the idea that some problems require a period of frustration and confusion before they can be solved. Just as the code you write may not run the first time, the text you read may not be fully understood at first encounter. Take notes. Try again.
More abstractly, feminist science studies, politically, is deeply devoted to the democratization of science – empowering amateurs, tinkerers, and critics alike to engage in the process of scientific knowledge formation – to understand, to ask questions, and to tinker. It also, as a field, challenges the norms of both science and feminism. Science is not a dead, sterile thing, nor is feminism a critical theory that revels in dismantling alone. This course, in the end, aims to teach students one thing: it is not enough to take things apart; you must also learn how to put them back together.