The Future of Work & Manufacture in East Asia – conference review

This is a post from project team member Dr Luke Heemsbergen, who presented our research on East Asia with Dr Jiajie Lu earlier this month in Hong Kong.


The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is perched atop lush green hills that guard the entrance to the Pear River Delta and its globally-prolific manufacturing channels. It was here at HKUST that we were invited by notable scholars of the region to present some 3D printing knowledge local to SE Asia, gained in our 3DPIP project and workshops.


Our goal was to think through issues of technological determinism, innovation, and social change as they concern work and manufacture. The one day workshop presented a well curated grouping of research projects to do so that focused on accelerating automation, platform capitalism, the gig economy, 3D printing, and the future of manufacturing in South East Asia. Our own contribution on 3D printing considered the regional differences and similarities found in Shenzhen and Singapore in terms of 3D printing futures, as well as how 3D printing technologies are integrating into these societies.

We also considered how the cultures that surround 3D printing in SE Asia, as a manufacturing tool, differ from the cultural assumptions of the West. For instance, Westerners seem use 3D printing sharing sites via metaphors of markets or personal sharing as seen on Thingiverse or Shapeways. However, existent sharing services for 3D printing designs in China (see Simpneed and Mohou) offer metaphors of purpose closer to a new industrial vanguard and educator resource, respectively.


We were especially interested in joint discussion put to workers – as their practices and potentials evolved with new uses of digital technologies in processes of manufacture. Here, the group moved past a simplistic technological determinism. In its wake the group’s diverse considerations offered some key insights to how local knowledge and practice were both shaping and being shaped by new manufacturing technologies as they came online in the pursuit of new product and profit.


We look forward to future collaborations with our new friends in Hong Kong and beyond, and again wish thank organisers Naubahar Sharif and Yu Huang, for their generous invitation to present at the workshop.



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