LRCCS Noon Lecture Series: Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Making of a Powerful Vision of Change
In a 2013 State of the Union address president Barack Obama stated that open-source 3D printing and “making” will help guarantee “that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America.” The US president, here, speaks to a growing interest in the potential impact of the so-called maker movement on technological innovation and economic development. Around the globe, governments, venture capitalists, and corporates are investing in the open hardware 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, 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 a future of making. In this talk, drawing from long-term ethnographic research, I will explore how China’s makers are refitting the ideal of hacking as tool for individual empowerment and liberation, simultaneously challenging and adopting Western stories of what counts as hacking and innovation. Mobilizing values and practices of Shenzhen’s shanzhai production culture, China’s makers are driven to demonstrate that “making” is all but a Western import – rather a mode of tech entrepreneurship that has been Chinese all along. They simultaneously appropriate and challenge China’s political discourse of creativity and global definitions of what counts as good innovation and quality design. The city of Shenzhen, in particular, came to figure in people’s imaginary as a new innovation hub, where small- and large-scale entities such as makers, start-ups, and tech giants like Intel and Foxconn forge new relationships in their quest for a future of making.
Silvia Lindtner is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Information. 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 (NSF HCC, 2013-2016), supporting her research on maker and hacker culture 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.