Prototype Nation: China & the Contested Promise of Innovation, with Silvia Lindtner

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 M. Lindtner is associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and associate director of the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing (ESC). 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 and racism shape the global political economy of technology production and science and technology policy. Her first book “Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation” (Princeton University Press, 2020) offers a transnational analysis of how the promise of democratized innovation and entrepreneurial life has shaped China’s governance and global image, revealing 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 vision of China as a “new frontier” of innovation. Lindtner’s work contributes to the fields of science and technology studies, science and technology policy, China studies, digital studies, HCI (human computer interaction), cultural and feminist anthropology, and global communication studies. 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.