Abstract:  We draw from long-term research in Shenzhen, a manufacturing hub in the South of China, to critically examine the role of participation in the contemporary discourse around maker culture. In lowering the barriers of technological production, “making” is being envisioned as a new site of entrepreneurship, economic growth and innovation. Our research shows how the city of Shenzhen is figuring as a key site in implementing this vision.  In this paper, we explore the “making of Shenzhen” as the “Silicon Valley for hardware.” We examine, in particular, how maker-entrepreneurs are drawn to processes of design and open sharing central to the manufacturing culture of Shenzhen, challenging conceptual binaries of design as a creative process versus manufacturing as its numb execution. Drawing from the legacy of participatory design and critical computing, the paper examines the social, material, and economic conditions that underlie the growing relationship between contemporary maker culture and the concomitant remake of Shenzhen. 






Abstract: China is in the midst of the fastest and most intense process of urbanisation the world has ever known, and Shanghai - its biggest, richest and most cosmopolitan city - is positioned for acceleration into the twenty-first century. Yet, in its embrace of a hopeful - even exultant - futurism, Shanghai recalls the older and much criticised project of imagining, planning and building the modern metropolis. Today, among Westerners, at least, the very idea of the futuristic city - with its multilayered skyways, domestic robots and flying cars - seems doomed to the realm of nostalgia, the sadly comic promise of a future that failed to materialise. Shanghai Future maps the city of tomorrow as it resurfaces in a new time and place. It searches for the contours of an unknown and unfamiliar futurism in the city's street markets as well as in its skyscrapers. For though it recalls the modernity of an earlier age, Shanghai's current re-emergence is only superficially based on mimicry. Rather, in seeking to fulfill its ambitions, the giant metropolis is reinventing the very idea of the future itself. As it modernises, Shanghai is necessarily recreating what it is to be modern.





Abstract: In this paper, we discuss how a flourishing scene of “DIY makers” is turning visions of tangible and ubiquitous computing into products. Drawing on long-term multi-sited ethnographic research and active participation in DIY maker practice, we will provide insights into the social, material, and economic processes that undergird this transition from prototypes to products. The contribution of this paper is three-fold. First, we will show how DIY maker practice is illustrative of a broader “return to” and interest in physical materials. This has implications for HCI research that investigates questions of materiality. Second, we shed light on how hackerspaces and hardware incubators are experimenting with new models of manufacturing and entrepreneurship. We argue that we have to take seriously these bottom-up maker practices, not just as hobbyist or leisure practice, but as a professionalizing field functioning in parallel to research and industry labs. Finally, we end with reflections on the role of HCI researchers and designers as DIY making emerges as a site of HCI innovation. We argue that HCI is positioned to provide critical reflection, paired with a sensibility for materials, tools and design methods.

Lindtner, S., Hertz, G., Dourish, P. 2014

Emerging Sites of HCI Innovation: Hackerspaces, Incubators & Hardware Start-ups



Abstract: From the rising number of hackerspaces to an increase in hardware start-ups, maker culture is envisioned as an enabler of the next industrial revolution – a source of unhindered technological innovation, a revamp of broken economies and educational systems. Drawing from long-term ethnographic research, this article examines how China’s makers demarcate Chinese manufacturing as a site of expertise in implementing this vision. China’s makers demonstrate that the future of making – if to materialize in the ways currently envisioned by writers, politicians and scholars of the global tech industry – rests on taking seriously the technological and cultural fabrics of professional making outside familiar IT innovation hubs like Silicon Valley: making-do, mass production, and re-use. I trace back to China’s first hackerspace, documenting how a collective of makers began to move away from appropriating Western concepts of openness towards promoting China as source for knowledge, creativity and innovation. This article demonstrates that when China’s makers set up open hardware businesses and articulate a unique culture of “hacking with Chinese characteristics,” they draw boundaries between the professional making they saw embodied in Chinese industrial production and the hobbyist making embodied in Western histories and cultures of hacking. In so doing, they position China as site of both technological and cultural expertise, intervening in dominant conceptions of computing that split manufacturing and innovation along geographical lines. The article contributes to critical scholarship of innovation and making cultures, technological expertise and authorship. 

Lindtner, S. 2015

Hacking with Chinese Characteristics. The promises of the maker movement against china's manufacturing culture


To Appear in the ST&HV Journal












Abstract: What is the role of creativity in contemporary visions of economic and social change in China? Chinese politicians and countercultural technology makers seem to agree that creativity is central to China’s development, but do they have the same thing in mind? How is the notion of creativity simultaneously woven into the governance of everyday urban space, ideas of selfhood and citizenship, and stories of personal and corporate innovation?

Creativity is a powerful narrative invoked to justify investments in China’s creative industry, to motivate regional efforts in urban renewal, and bolster grassroots efforts promoting open source and related forms of commons production. This dissertation examines in ethnographic detail how creativity is cultivated by Chinese politicians, urban planners and a group at the forefront of China’s burgeoning creative vanguard, DIY makers. Politicians and DIY makers align in their arguments that China’s remake can be accomplished through the making of particular kinds of spaces and particular kinds of people, but differ in how they envision change unfold. Politicians argue that creative industry development will make China into a cultural leader of the 21st century. DIY makers believe that individual liberation and a bottom-up approach lead to social and economic transformation. 

This dissertation shows that China’s “remake” is accomplished through partial alignments and parasitic collaborations between seemingly opposing groups such as countercultural makers, Communist politicians, urban planners and policy makers. It explores a series of productions by these actors such as DIY maker manifestos on free and open technology, governmental policy, space making projects such as the set up of creative industry clusters as well as China’s first hacker space and coworking space, and the open source productions at a hardware incubator in Shenzhen. To understand the wider ramification of China’s remake it is crucial to take making itself seriously as a narrative of change and a mode of material and cultural production. This focus on making includes studying the ways in which people re-imagine the world and how they in so doing also make worlds such as alternate spaces of work and leisure, conceptions of work and innovation and ideas of selfhood and collectivity. 

Lindtner, S. 2012.

Cultivating Creative China. Making and Remaking Cities, Citizens, Work and Innovation. PhD Thesis, University of California, Irvine.



John Seely Brown

Nov 24, 2013, by Silvia Lindtner & Anna Greenspan

Highlights from the Interview 

"I don't think it's a question of open versus closed, I think it's a question of explicit versus tacit knowledge. The whole issue is, that there a strong tacit component in the production of what's in this stuff. If it's mechanical, if it's physical stuff, it has been produced by people who often have a huge amount of tacit component to that knowledge. There is no particular reason to try to codify that knowledge, because they aren't trying aren't trying to replicate it across the entire corporation. It's a small operation. And so, it lives tacitly, and this goes back to the great to the bricoleur notion too, is that suddenly I get new raw material and slightly different properties that I quickly figure that out and I know how to work with it. So, it's constant. What I'm really doing is modulating a conversation between my tools and the materials that I'm working on for some end result. And I am overseeing that dance in its own right. That is a huge tacit component to it [hardware]."

"So, in software that's not an issue, because everything is a description. But in the hardware, if you are doing 3D printing, for example, that's more apt to call an explicit knowledge. There are recipes that can be replicated. But not if I'm actually working a lathe myself, if it's totally machine controlled then already it's a description."


Terry Cheng

December 12, 2014, by Anna Greenspan & Silvia Lindtner

Highlights from the interview

"Chinese are very good businessmen. They want to be their own boss, and actually they are very creative. If you give them a free economy, then they will make their own opportunities very quickly. I think the Maker Movement is happening in China just in time. From my speech last night, I believe that large enterprises may not be good. Because they suck in all the resources, and they are working on things of very small common means from a very large market segment.

They have all the best engineers. They have all the money they need, and government gives them a lot of incentive. They cannot innovate. They don't look at the small segment. They don't look at the consumer needs. I believe that the long tail, the innovation will come from the long tail. Unfortunately, the government only looks at the large enterprises.

Even the schools, for example, the school in Taiwan, they train technicians, but they prepare them to work for a large company, not train them to work at a small company. That's why Taiwan's economy is in trouble. Japan's economy is in trouble, and I hope China will not repeat that history. Therefore, I'm now standing on the other side. I worked for a large company for 35 years, I think that's enough. I want to help the younger generation. I want to help Maker's to be successful."


Bunnie Huang

We interviewed Bunnie Huang at the Shanghai Maker Carnival in October 2013 about his take on the Maker Movement, manufacturing China, the future of technology, and more!


Presentations & Talks

Greenspan, Anna. December 2012. 

“Shanzhai Style: Shadow Markets and Disruptive Technology” New Media and Cultural Transformation, Lecture, Shanghai University

It would not be going too far to say that [shanzhai] ‘copycat’ has more of an anarchist spirit than any other word in the contemporary Chinese language. 
-- Yu Hua

The story of development is supposed to follow the narrative of progressive time, in which the unregulated markets of the informal economy are replaced by the more advanced, transparent, and formal institutions of capitalism.

This talk will explore the cyberpunk nature of shanzhai electronics to argue that there is a deep anti-evolutionism (or alternative futurism) at the heart of China’s rise. By operating through the flat networks of the economic underground, moreover, shanzhai thrives outside China’s typically vaunted state led model of growth. 

As a culture and method of production, shanzhai, far from disappearing, has the potential to occupy the cutting edge of global high-tech. Fast, flexible, and unafraid to take risks, shanzhai ’s tendrils reach into the most obscure corners of the developing world. Shanzhai is a prime example of ‘disruptive technology;’ the name for low-tech experiments on the periphery that can revolutionize the core.

Shanzhai has extended beyond its origins in the manufacturing of cell phones (shanzhai ji or bandit phones) and has now come to designate a DIY,grass-roots ethos that has spread virally to constitute a creative culture of the street.  The founders of Xinchejian, Shanghai’s first hacker-space, suggest that shanzhai be understood as the shadowy twin of ‘open innovation’, a concept many believe is currently transforming the very nature of innovation itself. Shanzhai, thus constitutes one of the great counter-currents of contemporary technological mutation. Far more than cheap, fake phones, the informal factories and markets of shanzhai production fundamentally unsettle what the ‘world of tomorrow’ might bring.

Lindtner, Silvia. September 2013. 

Emerging Sites of Innovation: Hackerspaces, Hardware Start-ups & Chinese Manufacturers. Invited Lecture at the USC Annenberg Crunch Series.


David Li, May 2012


新山寨:当开源硬件遇见山寨 Xinshanzhai: When open source hardware meets Shanzhai