Hacking with Chinese Characteristics

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Silvia Lindtner is giving a Lab Talk on May 7 at 14:00

Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Remaking of Innovation Expertise

A powerful vision roams the world:silvia3 “makers” are on the rise.From the growing number of hackerspaces to the increase in hardware start-ups, “making” is promoted as the new hacker culture and the harbinger of the next industrial revolution. Around the globe, governments, venture capitalists, and corporates are investing in the creations of makers including but not limited to wearable technologies, robotics, smart home devices and biotech. It is China, however, that has come to play an increasingly central role in the implementation of these promises of the maker movement. The city of Shenzhen, a manufacturing hub in the South of China, in particular, figures in people’s imaginary as a new innovation hub, where small- and large-scale players such as makers, start-ups, and tech giants like Intel and Foxconn forge new relationships in their quest for bringing to the market the next generation of computational devices. In this talk, drawing from long-term ethnographic research, I will examine the remake of Shenzhen from an emblem of copycat to today’s innovation hub. I will demonstrate how this remake is rooted in the work of a collective of self-identified “makers,” who have come together in China since 2008 around a shared interest in hobbyist making as entrepreneurial practice and creative industry development, simultaneously challenging and adopting Western narratives of hacking and innovation. Mobilizing values and practices of Shenzhen’s manufacturing culture, China’s makers are driven to demonstrate that “making” is not a Western invention, but rather a mode of tech entrepreneurship that is intrinsically Chinese. I will demonstrate that through their businesses and their articulations of a “hacking with Chinese characteristics,” China itself is remade as a site of expertise in global IT development.


Silvia Lindtner is assistant professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Information, with affiliations in the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and the Science, Technology and Society Program. She is also the co-founder of the Shanghai-based research hub Hacked Matter focused on interdisciplinary scholarship on cultures of technology production in China. She researches, writes and teaches about DIY (do it yourself) maker and hacker culture, with a particular focus on its intersections with manufacturing and creative industry development in China. Her research explores questions of labor and the reorganization of work, the relationship between technology production and China’s urban redesign as well as China’s creativity and modernization discourse. Her work is published across the fields of China studies, media and communication studies, cultural anthropology, social computing and human-computer interaction. Lindtner is the recipient of a grant by the National Science Foundation and a grant by the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, supporting her research on maker and hacker cultures in China and the United States. In addition, her work has been supported by the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation, two Intel Research grants, a Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship, and a Chinese Government Scholarship.