xHain / Berlin (Germany)
xHain (https://x-hain.de/de/) is a hacker and makerspace located in Friedrichshain/Berlin, Germany. The space was founded in 2016 in Friedrichshain, Berlin, in order to create a space and the opportunity to learn from others. The space is not only open to members, but to everyone interested.
The space is organised as non-profit entrepreneurial company with limited liability (‘gemeinnützige Unternehmensgesellschaft’), not as cooperative, in order to allow an easy process of exclusion of members or participants, who do not respect xHain’s code of conduct and do not constructively work on their behaviour after being communicated to. Decision making processes are taken in a democratic manner, however, not every small idea needs to get discussed. Individual members are allowed to make their own decisions and to realise their ideas as long as they are respecting the code of conduct. Uncomfortable decisions, such as the exclusion of members or users of the space, are made by a small group of 2 to 3 persons, who are officially in charge of the space. So far, however, only one person had to be excluded for their destructive behaviour.
At the moment, xHain has about 100 members. While the space was originally settled in a small room, they changed to a bigger location, which offers a lot of space for equipment and 2 co-working rooms. The space has a window façade, enabling those walking by on the street to see the tools and creations inside. This caused a lot of people getting interested in their activities.
Interestingly, also during Covid-19 pandemic xHain’s membership has risen. Most of the members are white male-identifying makers and hackers, however the space also has several female, gay and trans members.
Gender and other inequalities
From the outside the space does not seem particularly inclusive. However, xHain’s culture is welcoming to everyone, providing for an atmosphere of openness and respect, where everyone is encouraged to show their interest and their expertise in any topic, independently from their gender, background or appearance. Sexism, homophobia, racism or other forms of discrimination are not tolerated in the space, which is also clearly communicated in the code of conduct visible on the space’s website. These rules do not have to be enforced by persons who are discriminated against, e.g. a woman listening to a sexist joke made by a man, but rather by the other supportive and sensitive members of the space.
For doing so, the xHain has recently introduced xRoots, based on the concept of CCC mentors (Pat*innen). xRoots are dedicated and visible mentors, who are present at events, workshops etc. in order to help individuals not to feel lost or isolated, but welcome. They actively reach out and try to integrate newcomers in a sensitive and friendly way. Especially in cases of introverted personalities, people on the autistic spectrum or someone who does not speak the language too well, this type of mentoring is very important. In addition, the space has an awareness team, consisting of two persons in the role of confidents, who can be addressed by anyone, who feels the need to reach out.
xHain wants to provide entry points to those who are not typically represented in the maker movement. This is also why gender is not the only dimension addressed by xHain. By emphasising that their space is also accessible for wheelchair uses, (but unfortunately lacking a wheel-chair friendly toilet, which would require constructional changes not easily implementable in the rented rooms), they clearly emphasise that also dis_abled persons are welcome in the space. Although none of the current members is dis_abled, xHain wants to be a positive example for fostering welcoming environments and being an open space for all.
The founder of xHain himself did not feel in the position of organising an activity dedicated specifically to girls, being a man himself. Therefore, a female member of the space was asked to organise girls’ day activities. Since then, the space offers activities specifically dedicated to girls and nonbinary children and teenagers.
While at xHain they feel that this limited offer specifically targeting girls and nonbinary makers might not be necessary for younger children, a safe space is particularly important for teenagers when getting in touch with tech for the very first time. This allows them to explore maker technology without fearing that they might be harassed or made fun of. It is equally important that a woman leads these workshops. However, also in open workshops, female makers are important for boys and men to change ideas of who can do what based on gender stereotypes.
The space also organises monthly discussions with invited speakers called “discussion under trees” (‘Gespräche unter Bäumen’), which are not explicitly focussed on gender-topics. Invited speakers are, however, always female-identifying and talking about their work in the field of technology. These discussions are interactive in nature, which is why it is difficult to organise them online in times of COVID-19.
The space is embracing an inclusive culture within, starting with spatial features and the way their facility is designed. Glitter is a quite present element. The technical equipment and the spatial areas are colour-coded. E.g. the sewing area is purposefully coloured in blue, while the room providing for heavy machines and tools, such as a CNC mill, is coloured in pink and decorated with a lot of glitter. While 2 members of xHain took this decision on the specific colours, all community members approved of this decision.
The space has a unisex toilet, decorated with the typical symbols for ‘men’ and ‘women’, however the icon of ‘men’ was decorated with breasts, whereas the icon of ‘women’ was decorated with a penis. The accompanying text on the door says: ‘men, women and everyone else’.
Best practices and challenges
The male-domination of hacker- and maker culture can make it difficult for girls, women, nonbinary and trans persons, especially those, who are new to the tech field, to feel welcome and invited. It might be the case that someone goes to a place and does not feel comfortable there, without being able to explicitly say why. It is therefore important to create safe entry-points as exemplified by xHain with their exclusive workshops led by respective members of the group, mentors enabling newcomers to establish a connection with an unfamiliar field, and a code of conduct openly visible for everyone.
The interviewee compared social inequalities with a game-controller, which has a slight left-hand twist. Whenever one person just presses forward, they will also move to the left, in other words, in case you do not counteract these left-hand twist, which are inequalities, you are likely to reproduce them. In order not to reproduce inequalities, a maker space needs to take inequalities into account in every decision taken.heir destructive behaviour.