In 2014, a series of stories appeared in international media outlets, stipulating that the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen in the South of China was transforming into a rising “Silicon Valley of Hardware” and a "Hollywood for Makers." From individual blog posts of enthusiastic makers to articles and documentaries by high-profile tech media outlets such as Wired Magazine and Forbes, many suddenly agreed that Shenzhen was the dream place of any maker, providing unlimited access to a whole “ecosystem” of industrial production. Shenzhen, in these reports, is portrayed as a place where things were still made and where – to paraphrase Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab – “kids make cell phones like kids in Palo Alto make websites.” What has happened that transformed within only a couple of years the world’s largest electronics manufacturing hub from a place largely known -- if known at all -- as a place of low quality, copycat, and cheap production into a place of contemporary technology innovation?
Drawing from more than six years of ethnographic research, this talk provides a glimpse into who and what has co-produced this imaginary of Shenzhen as a rising innovation hub. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of makers have travelled to Shenzhen to turn prototypes of smart wearables, the smart home, robotics and the Internet of Things into products by partnering with local manufacturers. To turn their open hardware ideas into products, these makers-turned-entrepreneurs productively leverage an informal economy that has grown in Shenzhen over the last 20 years in the shadows of large contract manufacturing such as Foxconn-Apple. While start-ups and makers celebrate this history of professional grassroots production culture, the Chinese government, with the help of international corporations, is eager to dismantle and replace it with makerspaces, incubators, and innovation labs. What is at stake, I will show in this talk, is not only the remake of the city of Shenzhen itself, but a much larger, nation-wide project of "hacking China" that rests on the idea that "making" is uniquely positioned to cultivate an entrepreneurial attitude and innovation thinking amongst millions of Chinese.
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, 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 Research Initiative Hacked Matter, dedicated to critically investigating processes of technology innovation, urban redesign, and maker-manufacturing cultures in China.
This talk is organized by the OutsideTheBox Researchproject at the Institute of Design and Assessment of Technology.