SCIENCE & TECH “KIBBUTZIM”: from early visions of Academy of Games and Pleasures to present day Hackerspaces, DIYbio Labs and Citizen Science Incubators

In DIYbio on July 20, 2010 at 8:21 am

Novel forms of community organised and financed science and technology labs revive the original idea on science, technology and public interactions envisioned by G. W. Leibniz in his famous “Odd Thought Concerning a New Sort of Exhibition (or rather, an Academy of Sciences ; September, 1675)”. In this original vision of the academy of sciences Leibniz ceases to discuss the advancement of sciences and technology in terms of metaphysical and philosophical issues of truth, limits of human mind or the nature of reality but defines science and technology by their ability to generate new ecologies of interest and influence, new institutions, networks and relations between different actors. Science, technology, business, art, entertainment, tourism are all part of an effort to raise human curiosity and wonder and transform the society. Leibniz’s prophetic vision of cosmopolitics modelled after his ontology of monads and interactions between different scales is a reality today in the case of hybrid organizations such as Ars Electronica in Linz, ZKM in Karlsruhe, FACT in Liverpool, Laboral in Gijón, numerous small centers around the world and alternative incubators (Hackerspace, The HUB) that connect art, design, technology and sciences in often playful and unexpected ways.  The various functions these spaces have, from the more obvious like popularization and presentation to the more professional like investment in innovation and more creative and experimental, turn cosmopolitics into practice and connect politics with design. These DIY and alternative places perform, foster and accelerate the ability of science and technology to serve different purposes and connect various actors in new networks and ecologies. The very democratic form of these institutions that support bottom-up and citizen science projects defines them as true cosmopolitical laboratories and defines cosmopolitics not only as experiments with novel networks between actors but more importantly between various scales.  The main issue of cosmopolitics for this reason is not a problem of the subject-object, animate-inanimate relations but issues of interaction between scales, relation between parts and newly defined wholes.

The alternative forms of incubators, open community labs  and high tech kibbutzim that are self-funded and organized by the researchers and entrepreneurs themselves like Hackerspace ( , The Hub (,  FabLabs etc. demonstrate well Leibniz’s early thoughts on self-supporting and autonomous “clearing houses for inventions” but also direct involvement of the public in the production of scientific results. After brainstorming on the various functions of his Academy, Leibniz is very pragmatic about the type of business model for such future and science and technology oriented institutions: “The use of this enterprise to the public as well as to the individual, would be greater than might be imagined. As to the public, it would open people’s eyes, stimulate inventions, present beautiful sights, instruct people with an endless number of useful or ingenious novelties. All those who produce a new invention or ingenious design might come and find a medium for getting their inventions known, and obtain some profit from that. It would be a general clearing house for all inventions, and would become a museum of everything that could be imagined” (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 239).  He is even anticipating the membership- fee model which is common in these alternative incubators and studio places “preferably different rooms like palace shops in the same house where private parties having rented the rooms, would show the rarities” (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 236), and in the marginal note he adds a definition of what we call incubators nowadays: “Having a fund, there would be a perpetual income from interest and from other sources, such as the formation of companies for new manufactures” (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 236). Leibniz believed that it is good to bring people from different backgrounds together and connect them, so the people that are good in “defraying expenses” will work with people that could “constantly invent new things” which is exactly the model under which these new spaces operate.

What is intriguing about this model of science and technology involvement with business, art and the general public, is the importance that Leibniz ascribes to its temporal aspects, to the events and performances that take place in such spaces. The vivid descriptions of the silly and purely entertaining events such as the “Ballets of horses. Races round a ring and Turkish head…. Power of a mirror to kindle a fire..” (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 237) are coupled with more serious ones that remind us of today’s TEDx conferences which Leibniz would describe as “comedies of the styles, debates of each country, a Hindu comedy, a Turkish, a Persian, etc. Comedies of the trades, one for each trade, which would show their skills, peculiarities, jokes, master-pieces, special and ridiculous styles. In other comedies, Italian and French clowns who would perform their buffooneries“ (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 238) or on another place as  “Amusing and colloquial disputes” (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 237). TEDs(x) conferences as this popular form of science performances that fuels the interest and investment in science and technology today shares the same values that Leibniz was expecting, the global and complex ecology of interests  and connections across the society, from the public to the state actors, that he was hoping for.  The academy and the museum in Leibniz’s understanding is basically like his monads, an expression of a new type of ontology of networks or fractals. These institutions and monads represent, mirror and interact with the whole in every part so that the “smallest particle of matter is a world of creatures, living beings, animals, entelechies, souls (more monads)”  and “a garden and a pond of gardens and ponds” (Leibniz in Wiener 1940, 66).  It is this ontology of monads that is trying to resolve the issue of the relation between parts and wholes by simply relativising any scales and ascribing agency to all of them.

Wiener, Philip P.,  “Leibniz’s Project of a Public Exhibition of Scientific Inventions,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr., 1940), pp. 232-240,

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