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Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Making of a Powerful Vision of Change

February 17, 2015
12:30-2:00pm CST
IIT Institute of Design, 6th floor
350 N LaSalle St
Chicago, IL 60654

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 corporations 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 implementing the visions of a 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 log-term ethnographic research, Silvia Lindtner 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 hacking, making, and technology production. 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 innovation and good design.

About Silvia

Silvia Lindtner is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Information, with an affiliated appointment in the Center for Chinese Studies and the Science and Technology Studies (STS) program. She is a co-founder of the Shanghai-based research hub Hacked Matter, focused on interdisciplinary scholarship of cultures of technology production in China. Her research investigates the role digital technologies play in global processes of innovation, work and labor, as sites of expressions of selfhood and collectivity, and in relation to political, social and economic processes of urban redesign. She explores these themes through a contemporary research project; DIY (do it yourself) maker and hacker culture, with a particular focus on its intersections with manufacturing and creative industry development in China. Her work is published across the fields of digital media and information studies, cultural anthropology, China studies, science and technology studies, and human-computer interaction. Lindtner is the recipient of a grant by the National Science Foundation, supporting her research on maker and hacker cultures in China and the United States. In additional, 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.

Silvia Lindtner will speak as part of "In the Loop", a lecture series on design, innovation and entrepreneurship organized by IIT Institute of Design faculty. The series engages a wide range of speakers that present on topics ranging from theoretical research and emerging methodologies that are relevant to the field of design as well as personal narratives and examples from current design practice.