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During an official “inspection tour” to the manufacturing hub Shenzhen in the South of China in 2015, the Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang visited the local makerspace Chaihuo 柴火. The prime minister lauded Chaihuo for its entrepreneurial mindset and proclaimed that its innovation attitude was to be supported by the government. Only two weeks later, the national government announced a new policy, entitled “mass makerspace” 众创空间, followed by a series of initiatives such as “mass innovation” 大众创业 and “mass entrepreneurship” 万众创新. The underlying vision was that “making” would help democratize technological and scientific innovation beyond a set of privileged few and mobilize many – if not masses of – people to start-up their own tech venture.
How did it happen that “making” came to be seen a central enabler of transforming China into a producer of knowledge and innovation? In this talk, drawing from long-term ethnographic research in China spanning more than 6 years, Lindtner traces how a grassroots movement of free culture advocates morphed within only 5 years into a high-stake sociopolitical project aimed at upgrading China from a manufacturing to a global knowledge economy. Building on a line of research invested in the cultural politics of global innovation discourse and technology production in science and technology studies (STS), Lindtner investigates “the making of” making, i.e. how making came to be seen by diverse actors as enabler of participatory values, intervention in the status-quo and eventually a form of life that addressed contemporary environmental, societal, and economic challenges. More specifically, this talk will show how sites of industrial production in China became enrolled in the vision of making and were made into a key site to experiment with new models of work and education, techno-urban renewal, and technoscientific advances.
Silvia Lindtner is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Information, with a courtesy appointment in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. Lindtner’s research and teaching interests include transnational networks of innovation and entrepreneurship culture, DIY (do it yourself) making and hacking, science and technology studies in China, and Internet and digital cultures. She is currently writing a book on the culture and politics of “making” and transnational entrepreneurship in urban China. Her research has been awarded support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), IMLS, Intel Labs, Google Anita Borg, and the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation. Her work has appeared at ACM SIGCHI, ACM CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing), ST&HV (Science Technology & Human Values), Games & Culture, China Information, and other venues. Lindtner is affiliated with several interdisciplinary centers and initiatives on campus including the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, the Science, Technology and Society Program and the Michigan Interactive and Social Computing Research Group, and directs the Tech.Culture.Matters. Research Group. Together with Professor Anna Greenspan and David Li, Lindtner co-directs the China-based Research Initiative Hacked Matter, dedicated to critically investigating processes of technology innovation, urban redesign, and maker-manufacturing cultures in China.