Nothing happened, something happened: Silence in a makerspace

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. François-Xavier de Vaujany
of the Université Paris-Dauphine, and Dr. Jeremy Aroles of Durham University Business School. They recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Nothing happened, something happened: Silence in a makerspace,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe the motivations of this research and its significance to the present:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

Over the course of our research, we had the opportunity to visit a wide range of collaborative spaces located in ten countries. During these visits, we were particularly surprised by the role and importance of silence in these different spaces. The collaborative orientation of these spaces, together with the idea that collaboration is a noisy endeavour, made the prevalence and centrality of silence rather counterintuitive. This prompted us to look more closely into silence and its manifestations. In particular, it seemed that there was more to silence than meets the eye: we began to appreciate how silence is not an emptiness or an absence but rather both a space and process full of potentialities, possibilities for learning and creative endeavours. In our paper, we explore this initial intuition through an ethnographic study of a makerspace located in Paris.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Silence is a topic that is rarely featured in management and organisational studies. Fewer studies still have investigated silence in a ‘non-coercive context’, that is when silence is not directly forced upon people but rather chosen and actively sought. Our research is an invitation to consider the role of silence in new working configurations, and more precisely, the complex and multifaceted relation between silence and embodied forms of learning. We contend that silence creates the conditions for co-created and embodied learning. It gives visibility to the learning process of the workers and re-centres expression around gestures as well as focused conversations, highlighting how a silence ‘immediately felt’ in a physical space is not necessarily an absence of conversation.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

This is a difficult question to answer; in our case, this entailed rediscovering some fundamental texts published some seventy years ago. As our research progressed, our attention revolved increasingly more around the work of the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty. In particular, we rediscovered The Visible and The Invisible as well as Phenomenology of perception. In addition, we found Glen Mazis’ book (Merleau-Ponty and the Face of the World: Silence, Ethics, Imagination, and Poetic Ontology) particularly useful when reading Merleau-Ponty’s work. We discovered, in Merleau-Ponty’s work, a wealth of concepts and sensibilities that are particularly well suited to the study of the ‘new’ world of work. More precisely, his work invites us to rethink our perceptions and experiences through an engagement with the notions of embodiment, flesh and inter-corporeity.

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