Sept 28-30, 2017

University of Michigan
School of Information
Department of Communication Studies

Organizers: Silvia Lindtner, Aswin Punathambekar, Seyram Avle, Cindy Lin, Jean Hardy

The notion that we live in a moment of precarity and instability is central not only to scholarly work but also to broader discourse, mobilized by political leaders and media.  Across diverse political and economic regions, entrepreneurship, innovation thinking, and hands-on tinkering are touted as solutions to this economic and social instability, all the while masking behind a rhetoric of techno-utopianism a further expansion of neoliberal ideals.

Let’s take three examples. Since January 2015, the Chinese government has been implementing a policy called “mass makerspace – mass entrepreneurship – mass innovation”, which describes how the buildup of incubator spaces and the cultivation of an entrepreneurial mindset amongst the masses will address what the government calls China’s “new normal.” The notion of the “new normal” refers to a state of heightened instability, precarious work and life conditions, and insecurity from the rise of college graduate unemployment to the increasing informalization of work. The future of the nation, so leading members of the Chinese party argue, rests on Chinese citizens to transform themselves into entrepreneurial tinkerers, who create their own jobs and livelihoods. Similarly, in the United States, politicians and educators have begun installing entrepreneurship programs and design thinking curricula at colleges, universities and companies to motivate people to not only make their own technologies but also their own jobs, social security and safety networks. Across Africa, tech hubs and entrepreneurial training spaces have emerged to promote tech entrepreneurship as a viable source of employment, and necessary labor in the remaking of specific countries and the continent at large. At recent count, there are now over 100 of such hubs scattered across the continent, all enthusiastically endorsed by a range of people, from governments, to business organizations, to the world bank, and Silicon Valley insiders.

In many ways ironic, values at the heart of the neoliberal project, from flexibility to self-entrepreneurship and individual reinvention, are promoted by technologists, researchers, politicians, and activists alike as ideal to intervene into the consequences of neoliberalism. These consequences include, for instance, the dissolution of stable welfare structures and safety nets, the privatization of resources, and broadly environmental and social instability. How do we make sense of these seeming contradictions, and the fervor with which they are being endorsed today? Are we witnessing an extension of neoliberal tendencies or their dissolution or something altogether different? Do frames such as neoliberalism, globalization, and capitalism accurately describe these contemporary shifts? What role do tech industries, science networks, digital media and entrepreneurship networks play in regional governance and shifts in global relations? And, crucially, do we have to rethink what counts as resistance and as potential intervention into contemporary neoliberal and capitalist structures?

This workshop brings together researchers and practitioners from multiple disciplines who work in and across various regions to unpack this current moment of shifting political, economic, and technoscientific relations. An underlying goal is to create an account of the relations between technological, scientific and political processes as they currently unfold globally and in specific regions and locales. Fundamentally, we want to help advance our thinking on the topic and learn from our respective research endeavors across sites, different cultures and political processes.

Themes: global shifts in work and labor, precarity, digital labor, physical labor, neoliberal governance, post-neoliberalism, austerity, global trade relations, discourse of tech innovation and future making, techno-governance, politics of design and digital technology/media.


Alex Taylor (City, University of London)

Andrew Schrock (Chapman University)

Angela McRobbie (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Aswin Punathambekar (University Michigan)

Cindy Lin (University of Michigan)

Gina Neff (University of Oxford)

Holly Okonkwo (University of Denver)

Jean Hardy (University of Michigan)

Jeffrey Bardzell (Indiana University)

Leah Horgan (UC Irvine)

Michelle Murphy (University of Toronto)

Paul Dourish (UC Irvine)

Seyram Avle (University of Michigan)

Shaowen Bardzell (Indiana University)

Silvia Lindtner (University of Michigan)

Stephanie Steinhardt (Michigan State University)

Steven J. Jackson (Cornell University)

Victoria Hattam (The New School for Social Research)



This workshop is sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Division: CISE-IIS-CHS (PI Lindtner).