BEN JAMESON-ELISMORE, "Hackerspatial Imaginaries: Divergent Hacker Cultures in Detroit and San Francisco"



This paper examines and challenges dominant spatial imaginaries defining hackerspaces in US cities. Emerging in the US in the early 2000s, hackerspaces are shared technology workshops and art spaces facilitating open access to twenty-first-century tools like 3D printers and laser cutters within eclectic social spaces. Many hackerspaces also employ experimental, horizontal structures of interior governance verging on anarchism and becoming hubs for local subcultures. However, a narrow focus on such structures of governance and interior social systems has led to remarkably non-spatial interpretations and imaginaries. Popular media and scholarly literature alike imagine and represent hackerspaces as modular, translocal entities that look and feel the same everywhere. Some scholars examine hackerspaces to ascertain their similarities, but ignore specific regional and local characteristics, while others understand them as physical manifestations of a twenty-first-century open-source zeitgeist but give no attention to what Edward Soja called “Raumgeist,” or the defining spatial contours of an age. Popular media, including films like The Matrix and Ready Player One reduce hackerspaces to generic images of resistance enclaves and hacking subculture which are detached from urban fabrics. This paper contests these dominant imaginations of hackerspaces. It argues that hackerspaces are in fact intimately integrated with specific urban fabrics and cultures. To demonstrate this, this paper examines the visual culture, interior organization, and zoning information of hackerspaces in the San Francisco and Detroit metropolitan areas. The comparison of hackerspaces in these two metropolitan areas demonstrates that hackerspaces in both regions respond to and emerge out of divergent urban conditions, such as rapid corporate influx in the San Francisco area and urban shrinkage and revitalization efforts in the Detroit area. This analysis paves the way beyond dominant spatial imaginaries and assembles strategies for reading subcultural spaces like hackerspaces within rather than against or outside specific city environments.


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

February 3, 2020 - 7:58pm

Critical Commentary

Ben Jameson-Elismore received his BA in continental philosophy and an MA in interdisciplinary studies at California State University, Stanislaus before entering the PhD in History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is currently conducting field research for his dissertation titled “Please Hack: Makerspaces, Hackerspaces and Public Life in the Detroit and San Francisco Metropolitan Areas.”


Cite as

Kaitlyn Rabach, "BEN JAMESON-ELISMORE, "Hackerspatial Imaginaries: Divergent Hacker Cultures in Detroit and San Francisco"", contributed by Kaitlyn Rabach, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 February 2020, accessed 9 May 2021.