Silvia Lindtner

December 18, 2020

"Prototype Nation: China & the Contested Promise of Innovation"

How did China’s mass manufacturing and “copycat” production become transformed, in the global tech imagination, from something holding the nation back to one of its key assets? Prototype Nation offers a transnational analysis of how the promise of democratized innovation and entrepreneurial life has shaped China’s governance and global image. Lindtner reveals how a growing distrust in Western models of progress and development, including Silicon Valley and the tech industry after the financial crisis of 2007–8, shaped the rise of the global maker movement and the vision of China as a “new frontier” of innovation.

Lindtner’s investigations draw on more than a decade of research in makerspaces, tech incubators, corporate offices, and factories. She examines how the ideals of the maker movement, to intervene in social and economic structures, served the technopolitical project of prototyping a “new” optimistic, assertive, and global China. In doing so, Lindtner demonstrates that entrepreneurial living influences governance, education, policy, investment, and urban redesign in ways that normalize the persistence of sexism, racism, colonialism, and labor exploitation.

Prototype Nation shows that by attending to the bodies and sites that nurture entrepreneurial life, technology can be extricated from the seemingly endless cycle of promise and violence.

Silvia Lindtner (she/her) is Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Information and Associate Director of the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing (ESC). She is a founding member of Precarity Lab, a research collective working on various forms of insecurity, vulnerability, and social and cultural exclusion that digital platforms produce, and mediate. She is the co-founder of the China research collective Hacked Matter, dedicated to critically investigating processes of technology innovation, urban design, and production cultures in China. Lindtner's research interests include cultures and politics of technology innovation and entrepreneurship as well as shifts in tech labor, industry, policy, and governance. Lindtner draws from more than ten years of multi-sited ethnographic research, with a particular focus on China's shifting role in global tech production, unpacking how enduring colonialism, racism, and sexism shape the global political economy of technology production, economic development, and science and technology policy. Lindtner’s work contributes to the fields of STS (science and technology studies), cultural and feminist anthropology, China studies, HCI (human computer interaction), global communication studies, science and technology policy, and design. Her research has been awarded support from the US National Science Foundation, IMLS, Intel Labs, Google Anita Borg, and the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation.