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The making of a makerspace in Ethiopia: a study of legitimacy using Actor-Network Theory

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Makerspaces are typically community-based design and fabrication spaces that enable the development of local solutions. Since the first Maker Faire was held in Africa over a decade ago, an increasing number of makerspaces have been established in Africa. Yet these makerspaces have been largely understudied in the academic literature. In particular, it is not well understood how these makerspaces gain legitimacy. Legitimacy is widely recognised as a critical factor for long-term sustainability and for securing access to resources. It is particularly relevant for makerspaces, as it is reported that they suffer from various legitimacy challenges, including from beneficiaries, formal institutions (e.g. regulators) and manufacturing organisations. To this extent, makerspaces are often labelled as non-professional spaces. This study aims to illuminate the process by which a newly established makerspace in Ethiopia seeks to gain, maintain and defend its legitimacy as a site for local innovation and production. It introduces Actor-Network Theory as a novels lens to study organisational legitimacy. The Actor-Network of this makerspace is analysed over time to show how a makerspace can establish itself as an Obligatory Passage Point via a networked legitimisation process. This study enriches organisational theory on legitimacy, by introducing a new theoretical perspective that presents a procedural view of legitimacy that is continuous and bi-directional. For practitioners, this study identifies several practices that can influence the gain, maintenance and defence of legitimacy for a makerspace in Africa. This is particularly valuable for stakeholders who are involved in the establishment and development of these spaces.



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Africa Journal of Management

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The research was funded by EPSRC DTP Doctoral Fellowship Award grant number NAAG/070 and Cambridge-Africa Fund grant number NMZM/453.