Materiality and Making

Do you think about the materiality you ascribe to objects in the world around you? For example, do you work with objects in the ways that they were designed, or do you feel that you can shape your use of objects in different ways that they were intended to be used? The materiality you attribute to objects implies that you have a philosophical assumption about the way the world works.  Your philosophical position influences how you learn, how you teach, your conceptions of knowledge, and how you study the world around you.

Four major philosophical assumptions about how people see the world (reality) can give us some insight into how people view the materiality of making.  As you read the short oversimplified snippets below, think about where you situate yourself and where making may be positioned.

  1. Objectivist and realist views of the world are constituted by a reality that exists independently of human conception and understanding. The assumption is that reality exists through properties and relations between objects. For education, this means that learning is the recreation of correct behaviors expected in the world and the focal point is on the mastery of knowledge.
  2. Idealists and rationalists define reality as shaped by the mind. Kant would suggest that ideas are the only certainty. There is an emphasis on reasoning over sensing things when aiming to understand the world, and intellect and deduction are important criteria. For education, this means that changes in thinking, not changes in behavior, are the focal points of learning.
  3. Relativists disapprove of absolute reality and subscribes to the belief of socially and culturally constructed truths. For education, this means that learners’ opinions and experiences support the development of their reality and meaning is dependent on experiential contexts.
  4. Pragmatists discard dualist thought and reject notions of rationalism over empiricism or objectivity over subjectivity. Pragmatists operate in the middle ground and are interested in how philosophical orientations can support a situation of interest. Reality is viewed as dynamic and dependent, and knowledge has practical significance in the place and moment of use. For education, this means that knowledge serves as an action plan for the types of practical uses it aims to achieve.

The materiality of making is a worthwhile consideration when embracing a maker pedagogy approach in teaching and learning. The materiality of making, essentially its distinct principles as described by Bullock (2016) are:

  1. Ethical hacking: Deconstructing existing technology for the purpose of creating knowledge (e.g., taking an old computer apart to learn about hardware, and applying that knowledge to work with small hobby computer kids such as Raspberry Pi).
  2. Adapting: Using technology for purposes other than what it was originally intended for (e.g., using an old smartphone to learn elements of computer programming).
  3. Designing: Selecting and using technological artefacts and ideas to solve problems (e.g., using conductive tape, batteries, and LEDs to design decorative circuits that can be integrated into clothing).
  4. Creating: Archiving contextual knowledge obtained through engaging in the process of making (e.g., creating a wiki that documents how particular projects were accomplished) and, of course, enjoying the actual tangible products that come from making (e.g., playing a video game that was designed within a maker space) (p. 12).

I would suggest that the philosophical perspectives of relativism and pragmatism are useful ways to think about the materiality of making. This suggests a belief in having a deep understanding of the objects in the world through knowing how they work so that you can change and shape them for future uses.

What does this mean for education? From a teaching and learning perspective this translates to giving students agency, wherein their capacity to act on objects and technologies rests in the belief that the relationship between learning and the objects are malleable. In this way, the design of objects is not deterministic, but shaped by the environment, which offers potential for different uses of objects and diverse learning opportunities.


Bullock, S. M. (2016). Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making. In C. Kosnik, S. White, C. Beck, B. Marshall, A. L. Goodwin, & J. Murray (Eds.), Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era (pp. 3–16). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.