Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Berkeley
Disenchanted Hacking: Technology, Startups, and Alternative Capitalisms from Mexico

My dissertation research ethnographically investigates emerging and contested forms of hacking and entrepreneurship in Mexico. Studies on hacking culture have mostly focused on European and U.S.-based advocates of free and open-source software who adopt a stance of "political agnosticism"; anti-authoritarian hacker collectives read ties to formal politics as counter-productive to their technical craft. Emergent work in Latin America finds that hackers more directly engage with state practices of governance to actively debate how relations with the state can be redefined. In Mexico, while citizens organize to protest pressing social problems—violence, impunity, and corruption—young entrepreneurs work feverishly within "co-working" spaces to develop tech startup ideas aimed at solving these same systemic issues. There has been no sustained analysis of the complex ways individuals navigate domains that seem contradictory: a hacker-world aimed against capitalism, and an entrepreneur-world that advances capitalist practices. These nuances become particularly important as scholars take seriously alternative capitalisms from the Global South and refocus "the economy" on the small-scale models people use to project their livelihoods into the future. How do people living under precarious conditions create alternative protocols for technology-driven capitalism as they negotiate "a life worth living" by proposing small reinventions to established expert models? To examine more closely how the shifting politics of hacking influence alternative models of capitalism in Mexico, I use mixed methods—participant observation, in-depth semi-structured interviews, and "social network metadata analysis"—to focus on three specific practices of hacker-entrepreneurs: (1) recruitment of members to work on tech startup projects; (2) public interfacing of startups via "pitching"; and (3) decision-making processes used to create and maintain relationships across diverse social networks.