DIY ethic

Boy building a model airplane

DIY ethic refers to the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks without the aid of a paid expert. Literally meaning "do it yourself," the DIY ethic promotes the idea that anyone is capable of performing a variety of tasks rather than relying on paid specialists. The DIY ethic requires that the adherent seeks out the knowledge required to complete a given task. The term can refer to a variety of disciplines, including home improvement, first aid or creative works.

Rather than belittling or showing disdain for those who engage in manual labor or skilled crafts, DIY champions the average individual seeking such knowledge and expertise. Central to the ethic is the empowerment of individuals and communities, encouraging the employment of alternative approaches when faced with bureaucratic or societal obstacles to achieving their objectives.

Punk culture

In the punk subculture, the DIY ethic is tied to punk ideology and anticonsumerism. It espouses the rejection of consumer culture, using existing systems or existing processes that would foster dependence on established societal structures. According to the punk aesthetic, one can express oneself and produce moving and serious works with limited means.[1] Arguably the earliest example of this attitude was the punk music scene of the 1970s.[2] Emerging punk bands such as Death, who recorded their earliest demos in a bedroom without any professional equipment, began to record their music, produce albums, merchandise, distribute and promote their works independently, outside the established music industry system. So extreme was their desire for independence that they often performed at basement shows in residential homes rather than at traditional venues in order to avoid corporate sponsorship and ensure their creative freedom. Since many venues tend to shy away from more experimental music, houses and other private venues were often the only places these bands could play.

Riot Grrrl, associated with third-wave feminism, also adopted the core values of the DIY punk ethic by leveraging creative ways of communication through zines and other projects.[3]

Adherents of the DIY punk ethic can also work collectively. For example, punk impresario David Ferguson's CD Presents was a DIY concert production, recording studio, and record label network.[4]

The German punk band Mono für Alle! perfected the mass production of the self-made DIY album. Their album included a tinkered wooden cover and sold over 6000 units from their website and other alternative sources.[5]

The DIY punk ethic also applies to simple everyday living, such as:

Some educators also engage in DIY teaching techniques, sometimes referred to as Edupunk.


DIY music has its origins in the mid 1970s punk rock scene.[6] It developed as a way to circumnavigate the mainstream music industry. In 2014, speaking about the 80s and 90s, Steve Albini told of the difficulties of getting record and played on the radio, saying "So these independent bands had to be resourceful. They’d built their own infrastructure of independent clubs, promoters, fanzines and DJs." He sees internet culture as a continuation of this scene, "They had their own channels of promotion, including the beginnings of the internet culture that is so prevalent today – that being bulletin boards, and newsgroups."[7]

DIY music bands do everything themselves or with independent collaborators, from album production to marketing and communication. This choice primarily reflects a need to emphasize its independence in relation to big record labels and the music industry in general.

Advances in technology and lowering costs have progressively made it easier for bands to be independent. The mass market electronics industry has brought music recording and production to the consumer.

By controlling the entire production and distribution chain, DIY music bands can develop a closer relationship between artists and fans. The DIY ethic gives total control over the final product without need to comprise with record labels.[7]

This opposition between DIY and the music industry generates raging debates between both camps: the majors assuring that record labels still have a crucial role to play in the production of recorded music, whereas famous artists defend the autoproduction model (Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails for example). Numerous terms are employed to qualify DIY music bands (autoproduction, indie bands, direct-to-fan...) and this 'DIY vs Industry' opposition can be found in the terms of 'independent music', or the term 'music craftsmanship.'

Skateboarding and cycling

In the skateboarding culture, DIY skateparks often refers to parks or skate spots made by the skaters themselves. That involves woodworking, concrete work and a vast variety of craftsmanship to build the most original and creative spaces to skate.

The most world-renowned, and probably first, DIY skatepark ever built was Burnside Skatepark, located in Portland, OR. Built without permission, by skateboarders and later sanctioned by the city, Burnside is the preeminent example of action. The Park appears in the movie Free Willy in 1993 and years after that, in 1999, the park is part of Tony Hawk's Tony Hawk (series) video game. In 2007, it becomes the epicenter for Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park (film).

After that the culture spread over and other parks started to appear. Philadelphia's FDR Skatepark, San Diego's Washington Street, San Pedro's Channel Street, Seattle's Marginal Way, St Louis' King's Highway and most recently Portland's Brooklyn Street Skate Spot.

The DIY skateboarding culture made its way to Europe, Brazil's Praça Duó and other parts of the world, being the main style and theme for Pontus Alv's unique approach to skateboarding film making in Strongest of the Strange.

DIY bicycle projects can include creative ways to revamp or transform your bike, but are primarily built on empowering cyclists to understand how their bikes work and how easy they are to fix themselves in order to make cycling an even easier transportation option. Cycling has also seen an explosion of DIY style shops, such as the Bicycle Kitchen in Los Angeles, where anyone can come in and be mentored by a volunteer and get access to tools for maintaining and modifying their own bicycle. [8]

Around the world

United Kingdom

Having originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the form of the free festival movement, mutating through protest camps (thus incorporating elements of earlier radical tendencies such as the beat and peace movements) and into punk through bands such as Crass, DIY culture became something of a recognised movement in the 1990s in the UK, where the protest (the direct action) and party (the festival) converged. The prime example of this movement was the Exodus Collective. This development constituted a significant cross-pollination of pleasure and politics resembling the anti-disciplinary politics of the 1960s. During the 1990s, demonstrating the desire for an economy of mutual aid and co-operation, the commitment to the non-commodification of art, the appropriation of digital and communication technologies for free community purposes, and the commitment to alternative technologies such as biodiesel. From 1991–1997 the Conservative government cracked down on squatting, animal rights activists, greens, travellers, as well as raves, parties and dance culture.

In 1994, the United Kingdom passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which contained several sections designed to curtail the growing free party and anti-road protest movements (sometimes embodied by ravers and travellers). It empowered police to arrest citizens who appeared to be preparing to hold a rave, waiting for a rave to start, or attending a rave.

United States

DIY culture in the United States can be linked to many of the same philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1900s, which sought to reconnect people with hands-on activities and the aesthetics associated with them. This was in direct opposition to the prevailing industrialization and modernization which was moving many aspects of the culture's aesthetics away from the hand-made artisan-created styles of the past and toward a mass-produced sleek modern vision of the future. DIY culture in the US arguably evolved from a simple cost-saving activity of the 1940s and 1950s to an increasingly radical political activity which stood against the increasingly visible trends of mass-production, conspicuous consumerism, waste, and the industrial corporate philosophy of planned obsolescence. DIY culture in the US is a current and evolving loose coalition of various individuals. There are many members of DIY culture with distinct and activist philosophies and goals, such as Betsy Greer who coined the term Craftivism in 2003. There are also many people with a staunch neutrality of political and social issues adopted by other members of the DIY movement. The largest group fall into an area somewhere between these two opposites, as varied in the spectrum of political and social philosophy as members of any large and thriving subculture.

In John Isaacson's book Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting, published by Portland, Oregon's Microcosm Publishing, who gained fame by publishing and distributing a wide variety of zines, Jason Munn is quoted in a "screenprinter profile" as relating to the medium as follows:

I loved the idea of designing or illustrating something and doing the printing myself. Most of my time is spent in front of the computer so the printing is a great way to get my hands dirty again, so to speak.[9]

In modern society, it is uncommon for people to go more than a part of a day without interacting with computers or other modern technology. This leads to disconnect between the person and the physical world around them - including other people - and is a secondary significant motivating force in leading people to embrace DIY culture.

Carla Sinclair, Editor in Chief of Craft attempts to describe the DIY community: "This DIY renaissance embraces crafts while pushing them beyond traditional boundaries, either through technology, irony, irreverence, and creative recycling, or by using innovating materials and processes...the new craft movement encourages people to make things themselves rather than buy what thousands of others already own. It provides new venues for crafters to show and sell their wares, and it offers original, unusual, alternative, and better-made goods to consumers who choose not to fall in step with mainstream commerce."[10] Ellen Lupton embellishes these thoughts in her book D.I.Y. Design It Yourself: "Around the world, people are making things themselves in order to save money, to customize goods to suit their exact needs and interests, and to feel less dependent on the corporations that manufacture and distribute most of the products and media we consume. On top of these practical and political motivations is the pleasure that comes from developing an idea, making it physically real, and sharing it with other people."[11] The articulation of both Isaacson and Lupton is that DIY activities and culture not only are unique in a modern world of consumerism, they give pleasure to its members simply due to the lack of corporate control or thoughts of profit and marketability which are often assigned to the act of creation outside the world of fine art.

These views are not universal or without variation, however. In Tsia Carson's introduction to her book 'Craftivity: 40 Projects for the DIY Lifestyle,' she muses that "the kind of agency one gains over their life by making their things is certainly powerful, heady stuff. But I can't honestly say that is why I make things. Do I make things for spiritual reasons? I wonder if I'm ready to speak of crafting as a form of meditation when I compare the crochet hats I make for my daughter's stuffed monkey to venerable practices like making Tibetan sand mandalas. We make things for two reasons: pleasure and because we can."[12] While some ascribe political or social context to their DIY activities, others ascribe personal or spiritual dimensions.

Matt Maranian, author of 'Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living,' a guide to making your own home decor specifically intended not to look like it was purchased in any store, illustrates another aspect of DIY culture: "Pad is not a book for the helpless, the aimless, or the clueless, Pad is a book for the empowered, the inspired, and the creative. It's a book for people who forge their own trail, and who know how to make the very most of what they have at hand — or can find cheaply. Pad is the guerrilla approach to home decorating."[13] Matt articulates the sense of community and subculture present in DIY culture, perhaps even hinting at a kind of intellectual succession from a society deemed "helpless...aimless...clueless."

The first lines of Amy Spencer's 'DIY: The Rise of Lo-Fi Culture' sum up the juxtaposition of DIY culture's aspects by pointing out "the DIY movement is about using anything you can get your hands on to shape your own cultural entity: your own version of whatever you think is missing in mainstream culture. You can produce your own zine, record an album, publish your own book — the enduring appeal of this movement is that anyone can be an artist or creator. The point is to get involved."[14]

New Zealand

The Shed is a New Zealand bi-monthly magazine created by Cadenza Publishing as a reflection of the DIY culture and activity of "blokes in sheds" in the New Zealand way of life. Published in Auckland, New Zealand, The Shed magazine features projects in woodwork and engineering, as well as My Shed and Shed of the Month articles, Tool Talk and regular features on topics like welding. The Shed magazine is viewable at the website


Technological developments, new internet platforms, applications and innovations in the last ten years have made it easier for artists, makers and creators of all types to circumvent professional studios and create high-quality work themselves. Developments in media software and the proliferation of high-speed internet access have given artists of all ages and abilities from across the globe, the opportunity to make their own films, records, or other creative content, and distribute it over the web. Such works were usually displayed on a private homepage, and gained popularity through word-of-mouth recommendations or being attached to chain letters (known as viral distribution).

Sites like Newgrounds and DeviantArt allow users to post their art and receive community critique, while Instructables allows DIYers to exhibit their works in an instructional how-to format. It is becoming common for content creators to share and receive compensation for their work online. Musicians can distribute their wares over the internet, independently of commercial funding, using the same computer they used to record.

See also


  1. David Byrne, Jeremy Deller (2010) Audio Games, in Modern Painters, March 1, 2010. "I think I embrace a bit of the punk aesthetic that one can express oneself with two chords if that’s all you know, and likewise one can make a great film with limited means or skills or clothes or furniture. It’s just as moving and serious as works that employ great skill and craft sometimes. Granted, when you learn that third chord, or more, you don’t have to continue making 'simple' things, unless you want to. Sometimes that’s a problem."
  2. "Oxford Journal of Design History Webpage". Retrieved 2007-09-24. Yet, it remains within the subculture of punk music where the homemade, A4, stapled and photocopied fanzines of the late 1970s fostered the ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) production techniques of cut-n-paste letterforms, photocopied and collaged images, hand-scrawled and typewritten texts, to create a recognizable graphic design aesthetic.
  3. Bennet, Andy; Peterson, Richard A. (2004). "Music scenes: local, translocal and virtuas". pp. 116–117.
  4. Jarrell, Joe (26 September 2004). "Putting Punk in Place--Among the Classics". San Francisco Chronicle. pp. PK–45.
  5. MONO FÜR ALLE ! - Meinung zum Urheberrecht
  6. Mumford, Gwilym. "Eagulls, Hookworms, Joanna Gruesome: how UK music scenes are going DIY". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  7. 1 2 Albini, Steve. "Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry – in full". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  8. 24 Imaginative DIY Bicycle Projects
  9. Isaacson, John: Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting Microcosm Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9770557-4-6 Page 173.
  10. Various: Craft Magazine, Vol.1, Issue 1. O'Reilly Media, 2006. ISBN 0-596-52728-4 Page 7.
  11. Lupton, Ellen: D.I.Y. Design It Yourself Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. ISBN 1-56898-552-5 Page 18.
  12. Carson, Tsia: Craftivity: 40 Projects for the DIY Lifestyle HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-0-06-084130-0 Page 11.
  13. Maranian, Matt Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living Chronicle Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8118-2653-8 Page 7.
  14. Spencer, Amy DIY: The Rise of Lo-Fi Culture Marion Boyars Publishers, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7145-3161-8 Page 11.

Further reading

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