Scaling Techno-Optimistic Visions

Seyram Avle, Cindy Lin, Jean Hardy, Silvia Lindtner


Techno-optimism, or the enduring belief that technology use and production are promising for humanity, is bound up in past and ongoing ideals of modernity, progress, and “development.” As a particular form of hope and aspiration, techno-optimism is harnessed for nation-building and economic development projects that invest in the promise of scaling. This article demonstrates that this enduring techno-optimism requires various forms of entrepreneurial labor, and that the promise of scaling and technological progress together form a contemporary technique of governance.


digital technology; entrepreneurial life; entrepreneurial citizens; technological promise; scale; techno-optimism

Full Text:



Ames, Morgan G. 2020. The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Child. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Anagnost, Ann. 1997. National past-times: Narrative, representation, and power in modern China. Durham, NC. Duke University Press.

Anderson, B. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition. London and New York: Verso.

Appadurai, A. 1996. Modernity at Large, University of Minnesota Press.

Avle, Seyram, and Silvia Lindtner. 2016. "Design(ing) 'Here' and 'There': Tech Entrepreneurs, Global Markets, and Reflexivity in Design Processes." In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 2233-2245.

Avle, Seyram, Silvia Lindtner, and Kaiton Williams. 2017. "How methods make designers." In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 472-483.

Bardzell, Shaowen, Jeffrey Bardzell, and Sarah Ng. 2017. "Supporting cultures of making: Technology, policy, visions, and myths." In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 6523-6535.

Bijker, Wiebe E., Thomas Parke Hughes, and Trevor J. Pinch, eds. 1987. The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Bijker, Wiebe E. 1997. Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: Toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Bivens Rena and Oliver L. Haimson. 2016. “Baking Gender into Social Media Design: How Platforms Shape Categories for Users and Advertisers.” Social Media & Society 2 (2016): 4.

Callon, Michel. 1998. "An Essay on Framing and Overflowing: Economic Externalities Revisited by Sociology.” The Sociological Review 46, no. 1_suppl (1998): 244-269.

Carr, E. Summerson, and Michael Lempert. 2016. "Introduction: Pragmatics of scale." In Scale: Discourse and dimensions of social life: 1-24.

Cartier, Carolyn. 2011. Globalizing South China. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Castells, Manuel. 2011. The rise of the network society. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Chakravartty, Paula, and Sreela Sarkar. 2013. "Entrepreneurial justice: The new spirit of capitalism in emergent India." Popular Communication 11, no. 1 (2013): 58-75.

Chan, Anita Say. 2013. Networking peripheries: Technological futures and the myth of digital universalism. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Collier, S. J. 2011. Post-Soviet social: neoliberalism, social modernity, biopolitics. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ.

Dirlik, Arif. 1989. The origins of Chinese communism. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Dourish, Paul, and Scott D. Mainwaring. 2012. "Ubicomp's colonial impulse." In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 133-142. ACM.

Easterling, Keller. 2012. "Zone: The spatial softwares of extrastatecraft." Places Journal (2012).

Edwards, Paul N. 1997. The closed world: Computers and the politics of discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Falzon, M.-A. 2009. Multi-sited ethnography: theory, praxis and locality in contemporary research.

Ferguson, James. 2006. “Transnational Topographies of Power.” In Maurer and Schwab (eds)., 79-98. Accelerating Possession: Global Futures of Property and Personhood. New York, NY.

Columbia University Press.

Ferguson, James. 2014. "Transnational topographies of power: beyond" the State" and" civil society" in the study of African politics." Occasional paper 19 (2014): 45-71.

Florida, Richard. 2014. The rise of the creative class--revisited: Revised and expanded. Arizona. Basic Books.

Fox, Sarah, Jill Dimond, Lilly Irani, Tad Hirsch, Michael Muller, and Shaowen Bardzell. 2017. "Social Justice and Design: Power and oppression in collaborative systems." In Companion of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, pp. 117-122. ACM.

Gallagher, Mary Elizabeth. 2011. Contagious capitalism: Globalization and the politics of labor in China. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

Gal, Susan. 2016. "Scale-making: Comparison and perspective as ideological projects." Scale: Discourse and dimensions of social life: 91-111.

Glauber Ann Jeannette, Sarah Moyer, Magda Adriani, and Iwan Gunawan. 2016. The cost of fire: an economic analysis of Indonesia’s 2015 fire crisis. Washington, DC. The World Bank.

Goldstein, Jenny E. 2014. "The afterlives of degraded tropical forests: New value for conservation and development." Environment and Society 5, no. 1: 124-140.

Greenhalgh, Susan. 2010. Cultivating Global Citizens: Population in the Rise of China. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Haraway, Donna. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN. University of Minnesota Press.

Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York, NY. Routledge.

Haraway, Donna. 1998. "Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective." Feminist studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 575-599.

Hecht, Gabrielle. 2012. Being nuclear: Africans and the global uranium trade. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

Hecht, Gabrielle. 2018. “Interscalar Vehicles for an African Anthropocene: On Waste, Temporality, and Violence.” Cultural Anthropology, 33, 1, (2018) 109-141.

Hyndman, Jennifer. 2001. "Towards a feminist geopolitics." Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien 45 (2): 210-222.

Irani, Lilly. 2015. "Hackathons and the making of entrepreneurial citizenship." Science, Technology, & Human Values 40, no. 5 (2015): 799-824.

Irani, Lilly. 2019. Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India. Princeton University Press.

Irvine, Judith. 2016. "Going upscale: Scales and scale-climbing as ideological projects." In Carr & Lempert (Eds). 213-232. In Scale: Discourse and dimensions of social life. Oakland, CA. University of California Press.

Knorr Cetina, Karin. 2009. Epistemic cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Lempert, Michael. 2012. "Interaction rescaled: How monastic debate became a diasporic pedagogy." Anthropology & Education Quarterly 43, no. 2 (2012): 138-156.

Lin, Cindy, and Andrew Moon. 2016. "Negotiating Time: Design as Historical Practice." PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies 13, no. 2 (2016).

Lindtner, Silvia. 2020. Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

Lindtner, Silvia and Seyram Avle. 2017. “Tinkering with Governance: Technopolitics and the

Economization of Citizenship.” In Proc. of the ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 1, CSCW, 70: 1-18.

Marcus, G. E. 1995. "Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography." Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 95-117.

Massey, Doreen. 1993. “Power Geometry and a progressive sense of place. In Bird, Curtis,

Putnam, Robertson, and Tickner (eds). 59 – 69. Mapping the futures. Abington, Routledge.

Mitchell, Timothy. 2002. Rule of experts: Egypt, techno-politics, modernity. Oakland, CA. University of California Press.

Neff, Gina. 2012. Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.

O’Donnell, Mary Ann, Winnie Wong, and Jonathan Bach. 2017. Learning from Shenzhen: China’s Post- Mao Experiment from Special Zone to Model City. Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.

Ong, Aihwa. 2006. Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham, NC. Duke University Press.

Ong, Aihwa and Donald Nonini, eds. 2003. Ungrounded empires: The cultural politics of modern Chinese transnationalism. Abingdon, UK. Routledge.

Porter, Theodore M. 1996. Trust in numbers: The pursuit of objectivity in science and public life. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press

Rajan, K.S., 2006. Biocapital: The constitution of postgenomic life. Durham, NC. Duke University Press.

Radjawali, Irendra, and Oliver Pye. 2015. "Counter-mapping land grabs with community drones in Indonesia." In Proceedings of the Land Grabbing, Conflict and Agrarian—Environmental Transformations: Perspectives from East and Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai, Thailand (2015): 5-6.

Rofel, Lisa. 2007. Desiring China: Experiments in neoliberalism, sexuality, and public culture (2007). Durham, NC. Duke University Press.

Roitman, Janet. 2005. Fiscal disobedience: An anthropology of economic regulation in Central Africa. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

Rose, Nikolas. 1990. Governing the soul: The shaping of the private self. Taylor & Frances/Routledge.

Sarkar, Sreela. 2017. "Passionate Producers: Corporate Interventions in Expanding the Promise of the Information Society." Communication, Culture & Critique 10, no. 2 (2017): 241-260.

Saxenian, AnnaLee. 1996. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Sims, Christo. 2017. Disruptive fixation: School reform and the pitfalls of techno-idealism. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

Star, Susan Leigh, and Karen Ruhleder. 1996. "Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: Design and access for large information spaces." Information systems research 7, no. 1 (1996): 111-134.

Terranova, Tiziana. 2000. “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy.” Social Text, 18, 2, (2000): 33-58.

Tsing, Anna. 2000. "The global situation." Cultural anthropology 15, no. 3 (2000): 327-360.

Tsing, Anna. 2011. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

Tsing, Anna. 2012. “On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge, 18, 3, (2012): 505−524

Tsing, Anna. 2015. The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1975. "Place: an experiential perspective." Geographical review (1975): 151-165.

Wallis, Cara. 2013. "Technology and/as Governmentality: The Production of Young Rural Women as Low-Tech Laboring Subjects in China." Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 10 (4): 341-358.

Zhang, Amy. 2014. "Rational Resistance: Homeowner contentions against waste incineration inGuangzhou." Special feature: Contested Urban Spaces: Whose right to the city? China Perspectives. 2 (2014): 45-52.


Copyright (c) 2020 Seyram Avle, Cindy Lin, Jean Hardy, Silvia Lindtner

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.