The study of peripheral sites precludes a decentering of normative views of technology’s role in society. It contests the core/periphery structure that divides west and east (or west and the rest), first- and third-world, developed and developing, and other such binaries, continually challenging them and hegemonic notions of design and innovation. It seeks to legitimize the fluidity, hybridity, and transgression of borders, categories, and identities.

The tech culture matters research group shares a commitment to this approach across our various research projects and sites. Our current field sites include less visible sites of technological culture and practices in the global south such as Indonesia, Ghana, and Southern China; rural and urban areas of the American Midwest disproportionately affected by the decline of manufacturing (sometimes called “The Rustbelt”); and sites historically ignored by studies of cultures of computing, such as those associated with gender, sexuality, class and race.

 

Ongoing Projects

Tech use among rural populations (Jean Hardy)

Using ethnographic and archival methods, this project explores and situates technology use among LGBT people in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Upper Peninsula constitutes one-third of the land mass of the state of Michigan, yet only 3% of the population. Current discourses of design and technology, especially those associated with ubiquitous computing and the Smart Cities movement, envision a constantly (and everything) connected world wherein density is a key feature. New technologies for LGBT people, particularly location-based social networks on smartphones, also privilege density in their design and deployment. This project wonders then, where does this leave rural LGBT people?

Innovation sites: Center/periphery narratives (Seyram Avle & Silvia Lindtner)

Drawing from ethnographic research in Accra (Ghana), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), and Shenzhen (China), this  project illustrates how design is as much about making artifacts as it is about producing national identity, reputation, and economic gain. We show how technology entrepreneurs take from and resist the discourse of their cities as emerging sites of Silicon-Valley type innovation. We show how they render the narrative of “catching up with the west” overly simplistic, ahistorical and blind to situated practices of design. See here for an example of our publications on this project.

The Politics of an Archipelagic Ecology (Cindy Lin) 

Broadly, my project concerns itself with the technological futures and material practices of design and DIY making, particularly when considering the capacities of collectives and organizations concerned with socioenvironmental change and ecology in Indonesia. My current research extends from my ethnographic engagements with DIYbio and maker collectives to also consider how other organizations across Indonesia interrogate the political and environmental consequences of a highly uneven global economy, examining the social worlds, material practices and infrastructure that mark the legibility of particular claims to knowledge, land and lives while keeping competing others invisible. This includes attending to various kinds of technoscientific practices ranging from DIY drone making to citizen science tool production and analysis which breach the boundaries between nature and culture, west and east. I also follow how categories such as science and technology are reconstituted through the work of DIY makers, designers, environmentalists and technologists, all the while accounting for where such knowledge-making processes are located, however discontinuous, throughout the archipelago.

Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship Cultures between Ghana, South China, and Silicon Valley (Silvia Lindtner & Seyram Avle)

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under award #1617898

Emerging design, production, and distribution of new technologies across the world speak to a larger and currently unfolding transformation of where and how technology design and innovation takes place. This project investigates contemporary social and technological processes that connect in new ways across Accra (Ghana), Shenzhen (China), and Silicon Valley (USA). In particular, this ethnographic project will examine what motivates and brings together specific actors shaping transnational networks of technology design and innovation. Who is at the forefront of molding these emergent relations of global tech production? What are the daily practices in the design and implementation of new technologies in between these regions and, what are the social, cultural and economic processes that shape them? Specifically, it engages with two groups of tech entrepreneurs: 1) transnational tech entrepreneurs making software and hardware products; 2) hardware sellers and manufacturing entrepreneurs who assemble, distribute and repair electronic devices. The underlying goal is to identify how circulating concepts in tech entrepreneurship and innovation like start-up culture, design thinking, and Internet of Things shape both local strategies and transnational relations of technology production.