Coworking spaces, maker spaces, fab labs: true communities?

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After a set of new visits of coworking spaces and fab labs this week, I am more than ever skeptical or at least, lost, about the use of the notion of ‘community’.


You will join a community, share a space, collective events. I’ve even heard the word ‘family’!

Let’s make a short detour. An historical detour again towards the history of western universities. It is often reminded that the word university comes from the latin word ‘universitas, universitatit, f’, which means (among others) ‘community’. Unversities have emerged for the Middle Age period. They are a typical collectivity of the Middle Age. The archetypal community of that time are monasteries (see previous post). With a strong set of rules, a major time and space unity. Monks of that time (and most monks today) are fully involved in collective life, day and night. Everybody is expected to respect the same rules, the same space the same temporality. And the first universities of the Middle Age were deeply religious spaces. All teachers were laymen.

This detour is also a way to raise a key question: do communities and their emergence require a deep unity of place… Not necessarily. And this is epitomized again by the History of universities, and the epitome of them: Bologna University. Bologna University has been founded in the 11th century. But this is only in the 16th century, with the construction of the Archiginnasio that the university became a centralized place. Before, courses and teaching were delivered everywhere, in palaces, private appartments, on the street, and of course, some specific distributed buildings.

Were there an academic community in Bologna before… probably. Shared values, common practices and rituals, shared rituals, were at the core of it.

Has Bologna experienced a golden age after the centralization? Not sure of it.

Community do not necessarily imply a place-unity. For sure, they require time, socialisation, and convergent events.

Of course, the word community in English has different connotations that in French. Some authors insist on the idea of ‘intentional communities’.

But for sure, it is full of spatial, temporal, material, social promises in the context of collaborative spaces. Are they kept?

Is it really the key question?


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