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 digital 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 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. Lindtner is affiliated with several interdisciplinary centers and initiatives on campus including the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, the Science, Technology and Society Program, the Digital Studies Institute, Precarity Lab, and the Michigan Interactive and Social Computing Research Group. She directs the Tech.Culture.Matters. Research Group and is the associate director of the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing (ESC) at the University of Michigan. Together with Professor Anna Greenspan and David Li, Lindtner co-directs the Research Initiative Hacked Matter, dedicated to critically investigating processes of technology innovation, urban redesign, and maker-manufacturing cultures in China.

She is currently finishing her book "Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation," forthcoming with Princeton University Press. Prototype Nation 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; it examines how the promise to regain control by hacking things was extended to prototype at scale - the self, the city, the economy, and the nation - and became deeply intertwined with the political project of prototyping a “new” China, a China that was future-oriented, optimistic, and attractive to the speculative markets of finance capital.  

Her work contributes to the fields of: STS (science and technology studies), China studies, digital studies, HCI (human computer interaction), CSCW (computer supported cooperative work and social computing), cultural anthropology, global communication studies, science and technology policy, and design.

Before joining the University of Michigan, Silvia held a two-year post-doc position, jointly appointed at the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing and Fudan University, Shanghai. She received her Ph.D. in 2012 in Information and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine, with Paul Dourish as her advisor, and Tom Boellstorff, Mimi Ito, Melissa Mazmanian, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom as her committee.

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NSF AwardS 


“Making ‘The Future of Work’ Work: A Multidisciplinary Workshop on Experiments in Tech Work – Maker Culture, Co-working, Cooperatives, Entrepreneurship & Digital Labor” (2017-2019)

PI: Silvia Lindtner.

The workshop brings together those who experiment with new forms of tech work outside the large corporate and university laboratories and those with experience in studying the economic, social, and political processes of tech work, labor, and industries. An underlying goal of this workshop is to work through alternatives and openings for solidarity in a neoliberal moment that is often broadly perceived as granting “no alternatives” to contemporary capitalist processes. We aim to identify opportunities and challenges at various scales of intervention from writing software code to engaging with policy makers, from local interventions to translocal collaborations, from one-time off events to sustained and long-term activities.

The rise of unemployment and unstable, precarious work conditions sit in deep tension with growing bureaucratic and corporate interests in automating work across sectors. The question of who defines and understands the risks, impact, and benefits of this rapidly changing socio-technological landscape remains an open question. Scholars, policy makers, politicians, and media have responded with sharp critiques of digital labor platforms such as Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk as they have furthered precarious conditions of work and life for minorities rather than brought about equal opportunity. Maker and tech entrepreneurship advocates, on the other hand, argue that the problem of future of work can be “solved” by encouraging people to become self-reliant, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and make their own tools, instruments, and machines. While such ideals of regaining control via technological ingenuity might mask continuous violence against those deemed unfit to self-upgrade, their critiques have been met with suspicion. While techno-optimistic approaches are challenged for their naïveté, their critics are seen as incapable to produce alternatives in practice. This workshop invites participants to join us for two days of engaged debates, talks, and design sessions aimed at moving beyond naive techno-solutionism on the one hand and familiar critiques of an ever further expanding and all consuming capitalism on the other. What alternatives are possible in an age of “no alternative”? Do we have to reconsider what counts as intervention into existing structures and conditions of work and labor in order to challenge persistent inequalities and exclusions? How can perspectives from policy, economics, information technology, critical race studies, and feminist studies form a robust and committed scholarship to “making the ‘future of work’ work”?

"Innovation and TEchnology Entrepreneurship Cultures between Ghana, South China, and Silicon Valley" (2017-2020)

PI Silvia Lindtner, CO-PI Seyram Avle

In recent years, Chinese technology design, production models and distribution chains have made their way into the technology market across sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, various kinds of Chinese-made information technology devices sit next to Silicon Valley-made ones, while local technologists develop software to function on both kinds. Tech startups test out apps on high-end phones like the iPhone and Huawei, midrange types like Tecno, and no-name/no-brand devices. In marketplaces, traders have become adept repairers of a wide range of low to mid tech/cost devices imported from Shenzhen, a manufacturing city in southern China. In Shenzhen, several hardware companies now design exclusively for the African market. All the while, Silicon Valley companies are scouting for startups to acquire across these regions. In both the high-end spaces of technology production and in the street-side low-tech stalls, technology entrepreneurs combine a range of tech skills and business acumen across borders to design, acquire, modify and distribute information technologies. All of these developments speak to a larger and currently unfolding transformation of where and how technology design and innovation takes place. The proposed research will investigate contemporary social and technological processes that connect in new ways across Accra (Ghana), Shenzhen (China), and Silicon Valley (USA). 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.


PI Silvia Lindtner, with Co-PIs Jeff Bardzell and Shaowen Bardzell.

“Making” has been widely envisioned to enable a transition from tinkering to prototyping and entrepreneurship and, finally, to help revive industrial production across regions. Through empirical research, hands-on design workshops and international comparison, this project will examine and document successful pathways from making as hobby to socioeconomic driver, and how they are supported by technological, policy, economic, and pedagogical infrastructures. Broadly, this research will provide a contribution to studies of technology innovation in regions beyond more familiar technology hubs like Silicon Valley: Asia and the American Midwest. It will contribute to discussions that place models of technology innovation and design in relationship to local histories, cultures, and sociopolitical contexts. This includes debates around non-linear stories of technological progress, creativity, and design. This research will also contribute to a growing body of research focused on investigating the tools, techniques, and social organization of maker collectives, hackerspaces, and repair practices by providing both an ethnographic foundation and technological insights for emerging issues concerning making’s transition into production and entrepreneurialism.  

"How Do-It-Yourself Makers are Reinventing Production, Labor, and Innovation" (2013-2016).

PI Silvia Lindtner, Co-PI Garnet Hertz  

The contemporary landscape of information technology production is one that has been profoundly influenced by the emergence of so-called 'maker culture' since the 1960s and 1970s, with the technology landscape full of products that depend upon open source and similar alternative models of production. Society currently finds itself in the middle of a new maker movement through a growing network of 'hackerspaces' or 'makerspaces' that expand ideas and practices of the Web generation into hardware and manufacturing. Hackerpaces are cooperative studios where people develop new approaches to technology design based on the open sharing of software code and hardware designs through the use of technology such as computer controlled laser cutters, 3-D printers, and microcontroller kits. Hackerpaces are places where new models of innovation are explored, where values of openness and participation are re-assessed, and where new relationships between people and technology are forged. To understand these phenomena, this NSF-funded project will conduct one of the first multinational ethnographic research studies of hackerpaces in the United States and China. The goal of the project is to understand the relationship between cultural and material practices in the maker movement. Accordingly, the focus is on the daily practices in makerspaces, with particular attention to how they experiment with models of social organization, distributed collaboration, and peer production.

Together with my collaborator Xianghua Ding, I received a Michigan-Fudan Social Science Collaboration Grant 2014/15 from the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies for our collaborative research on making and hacking practices out of necessity in China (including such things as shanzhai culture, repair work, manufacturing, making-do, etc.).


Talks & EVENTS:

Nov 15, 2019: Invited Speaker at the Rutgers Center for Chinese Studies. I will be talking about “How the Chinese Copy became the Prototype: Shenzhen and the Moral Perils of Technological Promise.”

Nov 9-13th, 2019: I will be attending CSCW. Hilda Tellioglu and I will be co-hosting the Diversity & Inclusion Lunch on Monday, Nov 11, 12:30-2:30pm.

March 21-25, 2019: Accepted Paper at AAS (Association for Asian Studies), Denver, Colorado.

February 8, 2019: Invited Speaker at GIDEST (Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought) Seminar, New School, New York.

November 18-20, 2018: Invited Speaker at Conference on Maker Cultures, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

September 14, 2018: Invited Speaker at ICOS (Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies), University of Michigan.

April 22, 2018: Invited Speaker at the India China Institute (ICI), the New School, NYC.

April 19-20, 2018: Panelist & Speaker at "Supply & Command: Encoding Logistics, Labor, and the Mediation of Making" conference at NYU, Department of Media, Culture and Communication.

Nov 3, 2017: Invited Speaker, Jacobs Design Conversations Lecture Series, Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, University of California, Berkeley.

Sep 28-30, 2017: Host and organizer - workshop: Neoliberal Fever: Precarity, Hope and Future Making, University of Michigan.

May 7-8, 2017: Invited Speaker, Re-Publica, Ex Oriente Make:

November 28, 2016: Invited Speaker, NYU Shanghai, IMA, Anna Greenspan & Clay Shirky. 

November 3, 2016: Invited Speaker, Design 3.0 Forum, ID KAIST, The Next Paradigm of Design, Daejeon, Republic of Korea.

October 15, 2016: Invited Speaker, Maker Week, Shenzhen, China

September 22 - 25, 2016: Invited Speaker, GLOBART Academy 2016, Krems, Austria

September 16-17, 2016: Co-founder, co-organizer and programming committee, First MIDWESTS graduate student workshop, IIT ID Chicago; Critical Computing, STS, Making and More.

August 30 - September 3, 2016: Track Organizer & Speaker, 4S/EASST "Science and Technology by other Means", Barcelona, Spain - "Utopias and Critiques of Making", with Jeffrey Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell, Anita Say Chan, Denisa Kera. 

August 25-27, 2016: Invited Speaker & Panelist, European Forum Alpbach, Technologie Gespraeche, Austria.

May 5, 2016: Invited speaker, Department of Communication, University of Washington, 2016 Colloquium Series. 

April 18 - 22, 2016: Invited speaker, Princeton University, co-hosted by the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP), Center on Contemporary China and the Ethnography Workshop. 

March 11-12, 2016: Invited speaker, hosted by the India China Institute, The New School, Conference on "Spatial Politics of Work"

February 22, 2016: Invited speaker, Indiana University, Hosted by the Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Group.

September 27 - 30, 2015: Speaker & co-organizer of International Conference on "Rethinking Technology Innovation: Fabrication, Factories & Design Research," at the Center for Human Computer Interaction at University of Salzburg. 

July 31-Aug 2, 2015: Invited speaker at Sketching in Hardware 2015 "Utopias", at Biosphere2, Arizona. Many thanks to Seth Hunter and Intel Research to make this happen!

May 7, 2015: Invited speaker at the IxD Lab at ITU (IT University) Copenhagen, Denmark. Many thanks to Anna Vallgårda for the invitation. 

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April, 2015 Invited talk at the 2015 ACM CHI conference in Seoul, Korea, based on an HCI Journal Article Amanda Williams, Silvia Lindtner, and Paul Dourish: "Multi-sited Design: An Analytical Lens for Transnational HCI"

February 17, 2015, Invited Speaker at "In the Loop" series of the IIT Institute of Design's lecture series on design, innovation, and entrepreneurship, organized by Assistant Professor Laura Forlano in cooperation with the ID Faculty. 

January 22, 2015: FH JOANNEUM & ESC Medien Kunst Labor Graz, Austria, Guest Lecture: "Making, Shanzhai & Manufacturing", many thanks to Reni Hofmüller, Daniel Fabry, and the School of Communication, Media and Interaction Design (FH JOANNEUM)

Op-EDs & Blog Posts:

Tech.Culture.Matters Research Blog

"Mass Making in China: Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset" Reflecting on my impressions at the Shanghai Pujiang Innovation Forum, October 2015.

Atlantic Article

With Anna Greenspan and David Li: Shanzhai: China's Collaborative Electronics-Design Ecosystem

Gongban - public board for a smart watch. China's version of open source.

The article discusses shanzhai innovation, visions of computing, and open source in manufacturing.

Blog Post for Ethnography Matters:

with Amelia Guimarin.

Making! The Other Story: Robot#10, Twins Separated at Birth, and Hacker Mama

Article for Slate

This Manufacturing Hub is also become the Center of Chinese Creativity.

A piece about "innovate with China," Shenzhen, Seeed Studio and its CEO and founder Eric Pan. It begins like this: 

The 30-year-old city of Shenzhen, which is in the southern region of China, is typically thought of as a place where copycat and large factories pump out products designed elsewhere. While Silicon Valley is heralded as the site of unparalleled technological creativity, China is rendered as its unimaginative counterpart: Silicon Valley comes up with the ideas and China manufacturers them. The evidence of this approach towards innovation is emblazoned on the iPhone: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.”

But in Shenzhen, there is a company at the forefront of changing this idea that “made in” inherently stands for China and “created in” inherently for California.

NYC Resistor Zine

From January 18-19, 2014, Garnet Hertz and I hosted a zine-making workshop at the NYC Resistor Hackerspace. Check our the awesome zine that the resistors made with us in the video below and photos here.

In December 2013, I spoke at the DOIT Open Innovations Festival in Taipei. Above is the video of my talk.

ABOUT DOIT: Taipei 2013 DOIT Open Innovations Festival The annual event aims to stimulate exchanges between creative minds from around the world, promoting greater cooperation through linking to the outside world. DOIT Annual Event 2013 highlights Digital Fabrication, Social Network Business Model(social product), Wearable Device and Application Solution, and Innovation System with the spirit of encouraging openness, co-creation, and innovation.


New NSF funded Research Project:

“Regional Experiments for the Future of Work in America” with Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell, and Tawanna Dillahunt.

soft launch of our new center for ethics, society, and computing (ESC)!

NSF HTF Future of Work workshop:

“Making ‘The Future of Work’ Work: A Multidisciplinary Workshop on Experiments in Tech Work – Maker Culture, Co-working, Cooperatives, Entrepreneurship & Digital Labor” (2017-2019), May 31-June 1, 2019, Detroit and Ann Arbor Michigan.


Silvia Lindtner, Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell. 2018. Design and Intervention in the Age of “No Alternative.” Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human -Computer Interaction - CSCW.

Silvia Lindtner. 2017. Laboratory of the Precarious: Prototyping Entrepreneurial Living in Shenzhen. Women Studies Quarterly, Vol. 45, Nr. 3&4, pp. 287-305

Silvia Lindtner and Seyram Avle. 2017. Tinkering with Governance: Technopolitics and the Economization of Citizenship.

Bardzell, J., Bardzell, S., Lin, C., Lindtner, S., Toombs, A. 2017. HCI's Making Agendas. In: Foundations and Trends in Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 11, Issue 3. 

Elizabeth Kaziunas, Silvia Lindtner, Mark Ackerman, Joyce Lee. Lived Data: Tinkering with Bodies, Code, and Care Work. In: Special issue "The Examined Life: Personal Uses of Personal Data" (Editors: Dan Cosley, Elizabeth Churchill, Jodi Forlizzi, Sean Munsen):

Silvia Lindtner and Cindy Lin. Making and its Promises. Journal of CoDesign, Special issue: Participatory Design in an Era of Participation (Rachel Charlotte Smith, Claus Bossen and Anne Marie Kanstrup, eds

Jean Hardy and Silvia Lindtner. To appear 2017. Constructing a Desiring User: Discourse, Rurality, and Design in Location-based Social Networks. Proc. of ACM CSCW 2017. Recipient of Best Paper Honorable Mention Award.

Seyram Avle, Silvia Lindtner & Kaiton Williams. To appear 2017. How Methods Make Designers. Proc. of ACM CHI 2017.

Tawfiq Ammary, Sarita Schoeneback & Silvia Lindtner. To appear 2017. The Crafting of DIY Fatherhood. Proc. of ACM CSCW 2017.

Elizabeth Kaziunas, Mark Ackerman, Silvia Lindtner, Joyce Lee. To appear 2017. Caring through Data: Attending to the Social and Emotional Experiences of Health Dataification. In Proc. of ACM CSCW 2017. 

Silvia Lindtner, Shaowen Bardzell, and Jeffrey Bardzell. Reconstituting the Utopian Vision of Making: HCI after Technosolutionism. Recipient of SIGCHI Best of CHI Paper Honorable Mention Award.

Seyram Avle and Silvia Lindtner. Design(ing) "here" and "there": Tech Entrepreneurs, Global Markets, and Reflexivity in Design Processes. 

Based on my long-term ethnographic research in China, I trace back to the early days of China's maker movement, from the opening of China's first hackerspace XinCheJian 新车间 back in 2010 to contemporary intersections with manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and innovation discourse. [PDF]

"Designed in Shenzhen" publication at aarhus conference 2015: 

"Designed in Shenzhen: Shanzhai Manufacturers and Maker Entrepreneurs" (with Anna Greenspan and David Li) Aarhus Conference 2015 on "Critical Alternatives" -  decennial conference on critical computing.

CSCW paper won BEST PAPER AWARD 2015: 

Our CSCW 2015 paper "Reliving the Past & Making a Harmonious Society Today: A Study of Elderly Electronic Hackers in China" has been awarded a best paper award. Big congratulations to my mentee Yuling Sun, whose excellent ethnographic research this paper is based on.

article in the Journal of China Information:

"Hackerspaces and Internet of Things in China"   

ACM CHI Conference PAPER: 

Our paper "Emerging Sites of HCI Innovation: Hackerspaces, Hardware Startups & Incubators" with Garnet Hertz and Paul Dourish has been selected to receive a SIGCHI Best of CHI best paper award! It is published as part of the proceedings of the ACM Conference CHI'14. [pdf]