#AoIR2018 has ended
Friday, October 12 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
Cultures of Production

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Jack Linchuan Qiu, Julie Yujie Chen
Shenzhen, China, has become known as “the Silicon Valley of Hardware” due to its ascendance in the global digital economy in recent decades. It allows us to raise a key question about the material and spatial order of today’s digital world: Does technological innovation always occur first in the core regions of the world system, and then spread to more peripheral regions like China? This paper develops the conceptual idea of “margins at the center” in which the three types of marginality -- the edges of geography, the fringes of history, the vectors of the renounced -- intertwine. It then uses fieldwork data, interviews and primary documents to tackle the above question by examining shanzhai mobile phone manufacturing and drivers’ use of, and struggle against, ride-hailing platforms in Shenzhen, seen through different vantage points of labor, capital, and the state. In all, Shenzhen is a prism for us to see possibilities of digital economies in the Global South. The acts of innovation and struggle in Shenzhen depict complex reactions to new types of Western imperialism now taking form in and through the digital economy. We argue that cores and margins may shift or even reverse in the realm of digital innovation. We conclude by reflecting on why certain “margins” turn out to play a “central” role in contemporary digital transformations; under what conditions; and what are the global implications of alternative digital economies in Shenzhen, for marginality to generate impact beyond the margins, even upon the supposed core.

Rivka Ribak
In his work on the politics of algorithms, Tarleton Gillespie reminds us that such seemingly technical infrastructures are translations of social ideas and practices into computer language. Gillespie urges the study of algorithms to attend to "the people involved at every point: people debating the models, cleaning the training data, designing the algorithms, tuning the parameters, deciding on which algorithms to depend on in which context" (2016:22). This research heeds his call, seeking to trace the ways in which social ideas about cyber security and privacy are shaped before they are inscribed in code. Specifically, it draws on in-depth interviews, conducted with Israeli developers in the winter of 2017-18, in order to disentangle the flow of ideas about cyber security and privacy in local and cross-cultural encounters, and to shed light on the ways in which these social ideas are negotiated and then written as software for apps and related products. The research addresses three questions:

How do Israeli developers conceptualize information privacy and data security?

How are local concepts of privacy and security re-shaped in the encounter between Israeli workers and other workers – from the US, Europe, and Asia?

How are these cross-cultural encounters stabilized and inscribed in code?

Kate Miltner
Over the past five years, a sociocultural discourse around "learning to code" has gained remarkable traction in the United States. This discourse positions computer programming as central to the economic health of the nation in a 'new' global economy and essential for individual access to the most desirable labor markets, particularly for marginalized groups such as women and people of color. It also asserts that mass technological skills training is necessary to address a "skills gap" that has left 500,000 well-paid technology jobs unfilled in the U.S (Swartz, 2017). In connection to this discourse, hundreds of coding bootcamps and coding schools have launched around the United States, churning out tens of thousands of graduates annually. Tech leaders insist that these workers are desperately needed to fill the thousands of "new collar" jobs that are being created within the technology sector.

This work-in-progress paper examines the implications of this discourse and its manifestation in social practice, doing so in two interrelated ways. First, it articulates and interrogates the American "learn to code" discourse, especially as it pertains to "new collar" jobs and workers. Second, it offers early stage analysis from ethnographic fieldwork taking place at a two-year, "full stack" coding program in San Francisco. By examining the continuities and disjunctures between the ideals of the "learn to code" discourse and how it manifests within coding schools, this paper offers a unique perspective on how longstanding power dynamics are reproduced in the material and social arrangements of technological production.

Suzanne de Castell, Karen Skardzius
Since the 1990s, conversations about the dearth of women working in the video game industry have centered on three topics: 1) ways to draw more women into the field, 2) the experiences of women working in the industry, and 3) the experiences of those who once worked in the industry but left (Cassell & Jenkins, 1998; Hepler, 2017; Kafai, Heeter, Denner & Sun, 2008). While there has been considerable research on the conditions and occupational identities of video game developers, less scholarly attention has been devoted to women in games work, the barriers/obstacles and challenges/opportunities they face, or how they talk about their experiences. Our study looked to see who among the group of women who work in the games industry has already invested her time and energy to tell a public story, whether that is in a blog posting, a book chapter, a televised talk, a radio interview, or other public media, thereby building the foundations of the study by focusing on that sub-group.

This paper offers a feminist methodological approach that demonstrates how discourse focused on affect can be re-read as intimately related to silences about power, and how the rhetorical constraints that public speech imposes upon what can be said about “women in games” aids us in understanding what might remain unspoken, and why.

Friday October 12, 2018 11:00am - 12:30pm EDT
Sheraton - Drummond West