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Contested Innovation in the Global Silicon Valley

Contested Innovation in the Global Silicon Valley

Skolkovo (Сколково), Russia and Shenzhen (深圳) China

A symposium co-organized by Irina Aristarkhova, Robert Adams, Silvia Lindtner
Stamps School of Art & Design, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, School of Information, and the International Institute

Over the last 5 years, the manufacturing region surrounding Shenzhen has transformed in the global tech imaginary from a site of cheap and copycat production into a rising innovation hub often dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Hardware.” From the MIT Media Lab to Chinese trade policy, various stakeholders are investing in the future of Shenzhen that fuels China’s broader ambitions to overcome its image as the world’s factory, into a global design innovator. In Russia, the desire to build its own Silicon Valley is being realized near Moscow and named after a village nearby: Skolkovo. It follows Russian officials’ and academics’ visit to Silicon Valley in California, including Apple’s campus in Cupertino, led by former President and current Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev in 2010. The Russian government hopes that Skolkovo will become a blueprint for moving Russia away from the extraction-based economy towards the one based on innovation. Innovation, however, is a highly-contested term, not only because it is used to assert geopolitical interests of each country that invests in it, but also because it expresses values of human creativity and ingenuity that are not just utilitarian (solving existing problems), but also, future-oriented: innovative products and services change the way we communicate, live, and organize ourselves socially and culturally. This symposium brings together a cross-regional Chinese-Russian research collaboration to study the spatial ecology and the current products that come from the two places - Shenzhen and Skolkovo – within the disciplinary context of material culture studies, design, art, new media theory, and embed such cross-regional methodology in our teaching.