It is just a few days ago that I left Maastricht and stills it is not the end of my internship at Demotech. The three weeks I have been there were realy to short time to understand this organisation, the man behind it, developing a project, do everyday side-jobs and learning practical skills for myself and my studies. Well that is what I, what we probably all thought in the beginning, than after working everyday (well nearly) for hours and hours at the spot, going through many disappointments and being confronted with a number of communicational and mental obstacles, needing to understand many new concepts, working closely together with very interesting people, I finally reached a point of being able to open for other concepts and thinking patterns.
What brought me to this stage was the idea of an “old man”, that I should find “the patterns of hands-on work” and a way to teach them to fellow students. This task in combination with many discussions and a little training in hands-on work triggered some practical understanding and an insight into the connections between a realistic practical understanding and our world view.

About the value of hands-on work

In short:
Regarding the latest developments of our society it seems like a historical implicitnes that hands-on work has a lower status than theoretical brain work. One part of this development is our economy beeing based on specialisation, efficiency and consume. These are three different reasons that our education systems do not prepare people anymore for basic technical and hands-on work. Social and theoretical skills are seen as more important and do not only take over higher education but also already primary school education. That has the effect, of hands-on education being left for people whose talents are disregarded by our school system. It is an economical question connected to materialistic efficiency and the fast “technicalisation” of society that often creates the image of lower social value of hands-on work.
On the other hand, providing people with a hands-on education experience would make them realize how easy it can be with just a bit of technical knowledge to repair and to create things by themselves, offering an opportunity to realize the real value of material, labour, environmental and social costs. At least as I imagine, it it would emwpower these people and would eventually effect their consumtion patterns which then could endanger current power structures. Since a value change towards more sustainable usage of resources is absolutely necessary it might be a good idea to give people an image of the real value meaning also the real costs of products. This involves readjusting their opinion about hands-on work (towards a more realistic social view).
That hands-on work is simple and without training easily done as well as hands-on work being a big invincible monster, are two quite common but in my opinion wrong pictures.

What is the reason this wrong picture is commonly regarded as true? Whe does profit from this way of thinking? Julia, can you comment on this issue?

During my internship at Demotech Reiner van Thejn gave me the idea that theoretical work is just a simplification of hands-on work while I at the same time could experience that on the other hand there are many structural parallels.
From experiences we found out that communicating technical understanding to university students is an example of the fatality of the early specialisation in education towards theoretical sciences and soft skills and the indoctrination of the social system. They are often not able to grasp the complexity of hands-on work. This should not be seen as insult (since I count myself to these people as well), but as an attempt to think about how to teach especially university students of all disciplines to get an understanding of what it means to physically work. The problems with practical understanding might be different for students of technical studies and soft sciences, but these differences should be disregarded here, since they are of minor importance for an overall picture. It might be a possibility to make a division between the three following categories of “technicism” to work with.

  • people used to physical work
  • not used to physical work but willing to learn
  • not willing to do physical work

Counting my self to the second category, Reinder and I decided for a self study, with the purpose of finding a way to readjust theoreticl thinking patters to practical work. First we discovered that it is not that much of physical ability which makes it difficult for us to manage practical tasks. It rather seems to be a question of experiences and technical knowledge. Experiences can be gained through practise, thus repeating, mistakes and various changing attempts to reach a solution. Technical understanding is composed of technical knowledge and practical understanding. Both can be gained through experiences but need even more willingness to understand the background.
So leaving strength and physical ability aside, the first difficulty I encountered was my insecurity towards the task and towards the instructor, my second problem was my little understanding of the technical and material properties.
The first task to introduce me to my new mission was to simply fire a stove; in the first place seemingly easy. I was told about the special properties of the stove and the task itself. Having in the first moment the impression of a simple task, being maybe disappointed about it’s banality, or insecure because of the unclear purpose (next to warm room), I acted confused and half-assed. Of course I made mistakes and even damaged the stove a bit, since I didn’t think about what it meant when I was told from which materials the stove is build. Dispite my frustration from the first day I did it again the next day, and the next and wile I gained more information about the background and the development of the stove I began to think about the process of making a fire, of it effects, warmth, energy use, cleaning of the smoke. Still when I was asked to teach another person how to fire the stove, I forgot some essential things which I either took for granted or not that important or which I just didn’t know at this point. After that we both had the feeling of failure, a thing which is definitively to avoid if you want to teach. So I shifted my thinking to the process of teaching and learning and the next day when I taught another person, it went better. He managed to do it very well and understood the essentials an indication for me that I did a good job.
Already in the first days I prepared a mind map about hands-on tasks, based on the experiences with the stove, my discussions with friends from the organisation and Reinder, my “teacher”.

How to use hands

Thoughts of a typical type of brain person:
I am used to:

  • order information in patterns accoding to paradigms
  • interpret & assess
  • try to understand
  • use what I learned, because that is what I learned

Now before to start:
forget about the paradigms and the things you think to know

The task:

  • locate the goal
  • develop the way to get there
  • plan
  • What do I want to achieve? – task is clear
  • Do I know already why? – pupose is clear =motivation
  • What do I need?
    • material properties: stability vs. pupose, availability, costs, workability
    • tools: purpose, usage, availability
    • information: adequate, sufficient, location/source
  • How to proceed?
  • Could there be anything else of importance? – things to take special care of

Take your hands & get started:

  • check materials maybe practise tools
  • let somebody show you how to use them if you are unfamiliar with them
  • which tools to use for which materials

Have a heart try it out:

  • what works fine, what doesn’t?
  • are there maybe ways to make your work better, easier, faster?

When you finished - You are not yet finished:

Is the result similar to the target?

What if I don’t like the result?

What if I like it?
1st ask another opinion
Do other people like it aswell?
What went wrong?
Did I follow all planned steps?
Did I plan wrong?

Find the Problem:
If not why?
? continue there If yes, well done Practical issues: What can I do to change? Could practise help? Could explanation of tools and method help? Are there any tricks? Still please evaluate: Did you encounter difficulties? How could you improve the process/ result? Would you be able to teach it? Planning issues: wrong tools? bad materials? wrong order? Try again, you are never perfect? Possible solutions: try it again get some practise try other materials, tools, methods try to get a feeling for differences develop another way

Evaluation of the learning process? What did I learn? How did I learn? How does it fit to what I knew before? Did anything change in my thinking?

When you repeat tasks: Check what do you still know? What do you need to know again before you start? Do you have all needed materials/ tools? Did you plan to do things diffenretn than last time (why was that again?)? Does it feel the same? (e.g. level of security, ability)

According to this structure I did my own evaluation of the stove firing:

1. direct making: What did I do/learn? chipping wood (wood properties, handeling) vaguely understanding the mechanism building a fire 2. indirect making: - How was the stove build? - What are the properties of it’s materials? - Heat, fire, air circulation - Faults of the stove 3. What to do better: - think about the purpose, not just do things - be consciously with your hands - take yourself serious - get more background information

Evaluation of what you did and learned during a task is the first step to get a better insight in hands-on work. In fact evaluation and drawing conclusions and consequences might be more important in the learning than the actual result. So once again the motto is learn from your mistakes but also learn from the good experiences. For oneself a deep help in understanding methods and processes is teaching. Another person unfamiliar with the task will have questions you might don’t have an answer to. Also s/he will make mistakes because the teaching did not prepare for the encountered problems. That could have different reasons; the message did not meet its purpose, instructions were insufficient, things were taken for granted without ever consciously being thought through, the method of teaching was wrong. For my self I can say that I didn’t explain the material properties nor the process well enough, leaving the special qualities of the stove aside. Partly this was because of my insufficient knowledge partly because I felt insecure in teaching and didn’t want to tell boring stuff which anyway everybody knows. This was a stuid assumption, since you can in the first part only know what you know and not what other people might know. Therefore it would have been a good idea to make sure before how much knowledge, experiences my counterpart already has about this or similar hands-on jobs. This might be an important thing if you are not used to teaching, be clear about whom you are teaching.

During my former work with Demotech and the SWSD, I experienced difficulties of nearly everybody to cope with hands-on work and with Demotech’s requirements for design. I think the problem might be the way in which we are used to learn. When we are taught something then we know from school or university that we are now expected to do a task and we need to do it in the right way. But with learning to do hands-on work it is not always that there is one right way to do it. If you get a task, you might not be expected to do it in a certain way but to actually solve a problem. Solving a problem does not only need experience but also affords the willingness to try different ways of solutions and develop them. Recognizing that one way of doing a task might not be the right one, is an essential step in solving a problem but often it also needs the readiness to also change own patterns of thinking. Since one of Demotech’s goals is to create design for selfreliance, also the learning process should be based on the same philosophy. Thus it is important to draw the connecting line. Self-reliance must overcome the paradigm of “wanting to know ” or “wanting to change” without willingness to learn. Learning means in this case, the wish to solve a problem, to put effort into it and to take new ideas from mistakes and failure. By the way for me that is also the motivation of activism. Demotech has in my view a special philosophy of making, especially since it’s design are made for self reliance. As I understood the design procedure, it is first once again necessary that every design is to solve a problem. That means it needs to develop in a way that it reduces frictions. Since each design is made to be used by everyone, it asks for special requirements: In material use it needs to be flexible enough that it can be produced everywhere to no or reasonably low costs. It can only require tools which are either available or which can be produced everywhere. The design must be simple enough that other people can repeat it (while language difficulties need to be taken into account as well). Thus try to reduce the design steps to a minimum of quantity and complexity. To be able to make the design independent from money and tool-availability it makes sense to develop own tools. Often they can be made out of rest-materials. Often also the materials for the design are available from scrap. Well, this probably needs the readiness to change away from the bad image of “garbage”-usage towards recognizing the value of recycling and redesigning. Since Demotech is also aware of the coming overpopulation, its design take into account environmental and social impacts. The designs should add as little as possible to the environmental degradation and in the best case even work against it. Therefore it is necessary to think about recycling, reusing and repairing. This goes together with requirement that the designs should be also applicable in poverty. On the other hand it must be kept in mind that they are as well usable in richer societies, since they are anyway based on highest possible efficiency, cost reduction, aesthetics and HYPERLINK "" practicability. I already mentioned that one must be able to switch methods and recognize dead-end ways. Taking the case that somebody is not a natural talent or a genius, it is important to give the person a variety of different methods to choose from since then it will be easier to develop new methods.

So how to repair what our education has failed to teach us, namely the ability to use our hands? – I thought of different handicrafts which people already might be familiar with instead of starting with the more complex Demotech designs. Just the basics of woodcraft s, metal handling, clay working, but also knitting, sewing, baking/cooking, gardening could make them familiar with doing hands-on work. These are furthermore skills which some people, here with special look on the members of the SWSD, might already have. In this case a work shop exchange system could be developed. In a big style this could be a work camp where for five days people learn everyday a new skill, but it could also be a series of weekly workshops. While these workshops are done it would be important to make the people also think about the philosophy of making and communicate a feeling of empowerment through self-reliance. Furthermore it is important to encourage people to take on their own projects. That includes research either on own ideas or already stated projects, to discover the actual range of problems connected to the issue, and to design a solution. This is not only motivating but also gives them the opportunity to practise and develop their new skills and get a better understanding for the philosophy of making. During this process they might need help from an advisor with skills or ideas, but also the exchange with friends or colleagues. Thus it might be a good idea to work together with one or two other people on one project.

During my internship I didn’t experience this, so it could just be seen as a proposal from my side how to create a teaching method. I know that this is up to now very general and probably doesn’t add much to our current knowledge. Still I think it was/is necessary to hink about this topic more intensively, since it is a very good tool to empower people.

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