Travel Scholarship Winner for #AoIR2017 – ​Kat Braybrooke

by | Aug 17, 2017 | Awards, Conferences

Photo of Kat BraybrookeWho are you?
Kat Braybrooke (@codekat)
I am a designer, curator and digital anthropologist. Over the past 10 years, my work with open technology organizations like Mozilla and the Open Knowledge Foundation has explored unexpected and rebellious interactions between machines and communities. I’m in my last year of a doctorate in Media and Cultural Studies with the University of Sussex Humanities Lab and the School of Media, Film and Music, where I am exploring the effects and implications of a new generation of sites for digital making and learning, which I am calling collections makerspaces, that have started to open at large cultural institutions in London like the Tate, the V&A and the British Museum.

Where are you from?
As a classic third culture kid, my national identity is a bit muddled, and all too often I find myself changing my answer to this question depending on who is asking it. I grew up in the heat-wave deserts of Las Vegas for 18 years. I then moved to Vancouver, where I was born, to do my first university degree. Las Vegas and Vancouver raised me, but I really came of age in another much crazier city across the world: London. I’ve lived here, on and off, for the past 7 years, and am proud to call myself a Londoner. Despite having had a tough few years, London’s global nature continues to breed a unique kind of chaotic, creative, defiant energy that is very special.

What is your current area of study?
My current doctoral research looks at the effects of digital making and hacking practices on users and communities – specifically in the cultural sector. This project builds on findings from my MSc Digital Anthropology dissertation at the University College London (UCL) where I studied the complexities of gender and identity for 30 female Millennial-aged F/LOSS (Free, Libre, Open Source Software) hackers under the age of 30, where I found a much more nuanced set of interplays between the digital identities of hackers than expected.


My research examines circumstances and realities at three sites in London – the Tate Britain’s Taylor Digital Learning Studio, the British Museum’s Samsung Digital Discovery Centre and the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room. An interdisciplinary researcher-in-resident model has been employed at each site over the past year which has combined action research, critical making and ethnographic methods. The goal of this work is to build a replicable, theoretically-grounded empirical framework to explore the qualitative efficacy of these collections makerspaces for the first time, drawing theoretical inspiration from the critical perspectives of spatial power-geometries (c.f. Massey 2005, Löw 2008, Bishop 2012) and material semiotics (c.f. Anderson and Wylie 2009; Haraway 1992, Latour 2005).

Describe the research you will present at AoIR 2017.
I will present preliminary findings of this work through a paper entitled ‘Digital studio, reading room, discovery centre: Emergent practices at ‘collections makerspaces’ within cultural institutions in London’ which I am currently writing for the Journal of Peer Production Issue #12 on the institutionalization of shared machine shops, which I am editing with Adrian Smith. This paper will be presented as part of the AoIR panel “When does IRL matter? Location and networked creativity in gamer, hacker and maker publics” with collaborators Tim Jordan at the University of Sussex and Annika Richterich and Karin Wenz at Maastricht University. Our panel examines four different case studies wherein which communities engaged in digital practices have relied on both offline and online environments for public and private interaction. We argue that understanding how these kinds of spaces are used for private and public interaction is crucial in order to make sense of the networked practices of digitally grounded communities.

With the four papers that make up the panel, we will analyse gamer, hacker, and maker communities as examples of networked actors known to rely on and create digital technologies, discussing how different kinds of networked publics create different kinds of public/private divides. We will examine ‘online founded’ networked groups of hackers and gamers, both of which generate their own sense of what they make public and what they try to keep private. In contrast, we will also explore communities of makers who are heavily afforded by networked technologies but, unlike gamers and hackers, require physical collocation to create their public/private divides. In taking a site-specific approach inspired by practice theories drawn from the works of Bourdieu (practices as habitus), Wenger (communities of practice) and Löw (spatial structuration through practices) my paper will examine the uniqueness (or lack thereof) of user practices at each site with regards to their spatial, structural and social environments.

Have you presented at AoIR in the past? If yes, what has been your experience? If #AoIR2017 Tartu is your first AoIR conference, what made you choose this conference? What do you expect from it?
This is my first-ever AoIR. I have spoken at – and curated – many other conferences and festivals, mostly in the open technology sector, but I’ve never made it to this one despite hearing many good things about it and being a passive participant of the excellent AoIR discussion list for years. What attracts me to AoIR is its specificity – in bringing together thinkers from around the world who are exploring critical perspectives regarding the effects of digital technologies, it’s doing something special. Critical approaches are all too often absent from the largely adulatory tech conferences I am used to, so it’s refreshing to be able to engage more thoughtfully with these issues. I look forward to learning from the AoIR community and its members.