Political discourses in China and Ghana have over the last ten years coalesced around a shared demand. Governments in both countries have variously called upon their citizens to transform themselves into tech entrepreneurial agents—on behalf of their nation and to become competitive in a global market of finance capital, venture capital investment, and future making. These political processes in China and Ghana are not unlike various experiments with neoliberal techniques of governance elsewhere, yet their particular forms are shaped simultaneously by national histories of colonialism, economic and political transformation and the globalized promise of both individual and national empowerment via technological ingenuity and creativity. In their GIDEST talk, Silvia Lindtner and Seyram Avle will present findings from ethnographic research they conducted in Ghana and China, zooming in on various forms of entrepreneurial labor deemed necessary to produce markets of national future making.
They will demonstrate how entrepreneurial labor is a site of contestation that, unlike older forms of labor struggle, seldom holds collective political power and tends to be fragmented and conflicted, granting (at times) individual empowerment over collective well-being. They will unpack this dynamic by providing insights into the workings of “two generations” of entrepreneurs, who have been working in the shifting markets of Africa-China trade and transnational technology production. They will pay particular attention to dynamics of gender, postcolonial desires for entrepreneurial agency, and regional contestation.
Seyram Avle is Assistant Professor of Digital Global Media at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research is on digital technology cultures and innovation in and from the global south, particularly tech entrepreneurship, digital production, design, and the intersections of old and new media. This work spans sites in Africa, China, and the United States, with the most recent project examining transnational innovation and tech entrepreneurial cultures between Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, and Accra. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), ProQuest, and the University of Michigan. Her peer reviewed publications can be found in Proceedings of the ACM on Human Computer Interaction CHI and CSCW, Journal of African Media Studies, Information Technologies & International Development, Journal of Information Policy, in addition to a number of chapters in edited volumes including the Oxford Handbook of Networked Communications. Dr. Avle is also co-founder and editor of Tech + Africa, an online publication focused on telling stories of tech makers and entrepreneurs in and from Africa. She has written for other online publications such as Africa is a Country and the ThingsCon Report.
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 innovation and technology entrepreneurship, making and hacking cultures, shifts in tech work, labor, industry, policy, and governance. This work unfolds through a deep engagement with issues of gender, inequality, and enactments of masculinity in engineering and computer science fields, politics and transnational imaginaries of design, contemporary political economy, and processes of economization. Lindtner draws from ten years of multi-sited ethnographic research, with a particular focus on China's shifting role in transnational and global tech production alongside research in the United States, Taiwan, and Africa. 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. She is currently finishing her book, Prototype Nation. The Maker Movement and Promise of Entrepreneurial Life in China, under contract with Princeton University Press, that unpacks in ethnographic and historical detail the visions of the global maker movement to prototype alternatives to the precarious conditions of neoliberal capitalism by democratizing entrepreneurial life; Prototype Nation unpacks how the promise to regain control by hacking things was extended to prototype at and across scales - the self, the city, the economy, and the nation - and became deeply intertwined with a national project of prototyping the new China, a China that was future-oriented, optimistic, and attractive to the speculative markets of finance capital.