What is DIY culture?

with 4 Comments

‘Do-It-Yourself’ (DIY) is a mantra that has been around for a while and has strong associations with home improvement. Once upon a time many of us would have been building our own homes as there was no alternative. Now, DIY stands in opposition to getting the professionals in to do the job. In that sense the DIY approach is the untrained approach or at least the approach that does not require formal training.

I have chosen to use the phrase DIY for a much wider spectre of activities from sewing your own clothes, to amateur bike racing or homeschooling your kids and with focus on the “with no formal training” part. My main interest in the subject is autodidactism (i.e. self-taught) and information behaviour.

Here is my current list of DIY activities:

  • Textile crafts (for example: knitting, sewing, weaving, spinning, dyeing)
  • Food making (for example: cooking, baking, canning)
  • Wood and Metal crafts (for example: wood turning, smithery)
  • Education (for example homeschooling, instructor, outreach)
  • Heritage (for example: genealogy, reenactment)
  • Gardening (for example: growing vegetables, fruits or flowers, picking berries)
  • Animals (for example: training dogs, riding horses, fishing, keeping chicken)
  • Building (for example: building a shed, refurbishing the living room, painting furniture)
  • Vehicles (for example: mechanics, vintage cars)
  • Sports (for example: bike riding, golf, football)
  • Digital (for example: blogging, programming, hacking)

I use the phrase DIY culture in a testing manner, trying to answer the question of whether it is possible to talk about those who engage with DIY activities as a part of a particular DIY culture or not?

The first part of this research project is a very short survey – check it out!

I’ll leave you with this image from my Instagram of my DIY garden a couple of days ago. Some may question why I list gardening and cooking as DIY activities. I would like to leave it to the survey participants to decide whether they would define for their gardening activities as DIY activities.

If I only mowed the lawn once a week during summer to avoid my neighbours annoyance I wouldn’t think of it as a DIY activity. On the other hand, If I had a kitchen garden or experimented with growing roses I would definitely think of it as a DIY activity.

Eddie's Room DIY garden July 2014

4 Responses

  1. Agy

    Hello! I find it fascinating why DIY has suddenly become acceptable in our society. However, it appears that some are more acceptable than others e.g. programming vs. sewing, well at least in Asian cultures. The other thing is that in less developing countries, what we call “DIY” is actually a way of life to them. We recently had a speaker, Ivan of the Otakatik Creative Workshop in Indonesia come over to take about the making culture there. He said that making (or DIY) is not a hobby to them, but a means of putting meals on the table. Hope to see what your research shows!!

    • Heather

      Agy’s comment is fascinating to me. It would seem that DIY is, indeed, a “first-world problem” (though perhaps a little better than Weird Al’s song —http://youtu.be/bwvlbJ0h35A— of the same name…), but I think there’s another level to it.
      This knowledge is being treated as DIY in the States (where I am, so it’s what I am familiar with) because we’ve LOST that daily-use knowledge, which to me is sad. Simple things like canning fruit or vegetables so they will keep in the winter and through the early spring is gone (I was lucky to live next door to my great-grandmother and learned much of my cooking/canning knowledge from her). The idea of seasonal eating here is treated like it’s a new concept, never before seen on the green breast of the world.

      That we need to be autodidacts is both fascinating and a little scary.

      I joke that my arcane knowledge (perhaps arcane only in the states) will come in handy during the Zombie Apocalypse, but I’m only sort of joking. I often think that our current state is unsustainable in the long-term and that life will one day, again, be closer to to what Ivan sees.

      I, too, look forward to seeing Henriette’s research!

      • Eddie

        Thank you for your input Heather – the video is great – he’s a funny one 🙂
        I love your example with canning because it so clear cut to me. As I said in the reply to Agy’s comment, what I am particularly interested in is the self-taught (or rather no formal training) aspect of DIY. Therefore, I try to encourage people to decide for themselves whether they would regard on of the activities I have listed as a DIY activity for them. With cooking it’s not so easy. You have cooking as a chef/professional (easy – not DIY), but then it get’s difficult. Are you just putting food on the table because you have to (otherwise there is no dinner – which may not be very typical in the US or the UK anymore but in countries like Denmark it is very difficult not to cook on a daily basis) or are you making that Steak and Ale Pie from scratch because you want to try something new and researched new recipes on the internet and in books?
        With canning it’s easier. I don’t think (correct me if I’m wrong) that anyone (at least not in my part of the world) cans food today for reasons other than it being a DIY activity. Whether they learnt by watching their grandmother or through the internet they are not receiving formal training and I would class it as DIY. Hmm, but maybe canning is not so clearcut after all. Because what about those who were taught more formally (a lot of Danish women were 60 years ago).
        You are right about the unsustainability issue though and that’s why I also find it very interesting to see how many of the people who do DY activities learnt through the internet and how many learnt from past generations.
        Anyway thanks for your interest and I hope to get your input again 🙂

    • Eddie

      Thank you so much for your comment Agy.
      Yes DIY is a funny concept and I am hoping that this will bring me a bit closer to unravelling it a bit. I like to use the term DIY in a very autodidact sense and it is indeed interesting that it encompasses so many different reasons for teaching yourself skills. However, in my research I do not put DIY = hobby or DIY = maker culture. Those are two different things in my view. In these research DIY is not so much about “making” but more about “learning”. So say you learnt how to sew by watching the older generation and you used that skill to put meals on the table, then for me that would be DIY. Whereas, if you take a job to put meals on the table and as a part of this job are more or less formally taught how to sew then for me that wouldn’t be DIY.
      Sorry if it is not so easy to follow 🙂 I guess what I mean to say in short is that I am not researching “making culture” or hobbies (at least not as a part of this project), but rather the phenomenon of Doing-It-Yourself.