Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Science and Technology Studies
Outsourced Governance: Data Entrepreneurship in Hangzhou and Shanghai

Against the backdrop of ambitious directives from the Chinese Communist Party mandating data-driven technologies for "smart city" solutions to urban problems, this dissertation studies how municipal governments are forging public-private partnerships (PPPs) with data analytics startup companies to produce new forms of social knowledge and new modalities of governance. These companies, headed by entrepreneurs who commercialize "big data" analyses of complex systems and staffed by computer programmers, are increasingly involved in projects that span telecommunications, transportation, wastewater, energy systems, and other domains traditionally overseen by state regulation. Through ethnographic research within and across networks of data entrepreneurship in Hangzhou and Shanghai, I attend to how these PPPs emerge from startups' efforts to formulate urban problems in terms amenable to analyses using artificial intelligence and regional governments' push to capitalize upon the value of urban data as an extractive resource. In exploring how the conjuncture of commercial interests, reformist public policy, and innovations in digital technology may be reshaping Chinese civil society, I seek to illuminate not only the divergent ways "big data" is adapted, localized and domesticated, but also the changing practices of governance in contemporary, neoliberal China.