Designing the South: Emerging Accounts of Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Collaboration Between Africa and China


Tuesday, October 8, 2019, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


Center for African Studies Lunge, 1280 Massachusetts Ave., 3rd Floor, Cambridge 02138

Presenter: Seyram Avle, PhD, Assistant Professor
Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

From the height of the copy-cat manufacturing years to the current era of big tech represented by the likes of Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent, etc., Chinese technology has contributed to much of the ambivalence around the country’s perceived global ascendancy. Particularly in the global south where China’s economic activity favors infrastructure building, Chinese tech firms have come to represent both innovation and expediency, even as they are perceived as security threats and agents of neocolonial enterprise. In Africa, firms such as the Shenzhen based Transsion also exemplify what is best described as a tenacious pursuit of markets at the so-called bottom of the pyramid, showcasing what the south of China has come to be known for: agile design and manufacturing that offers a wide range of price and quality to suit different customers.

Familiar as they might be, these accounts are necessarily partial and obscure others, particularly those that are now beginning to unfold. In this talk, I will present some emerging accounts of technology, entrepreneurship, and collaboration between Africa and China, focusing on collaborations between African and Chinese tech entrepreneurs. I will unpack ways that tech design and production, centered as they are on technical expertise and business acumen, work to 1) galvanize smaller and midsized firms to meet the demands of a rising technoclass across Africa, and 2) turn places like Shenzhen into an imaginary of where African (and broadly, global south) technological dreams can be made real. I will reflect broadly on the implications for Africa’s industrialization as well as our understanding of south-south tech transfer and economic flows.


More about the Presenter:
Seyram Avle is Assistant Professor of Global Digital Media at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she studies the situated practices and discourses of digital technology culture and innovation in the global south. Her research examines the various ways that digital technologies are designed, produced, used, and distributed transnationally in the global south, and through collaborations with the global north. This work spans various parts of Africa, China, and the United States. Her other line of research looks at the intersections of old and new media, particularly on the evolution and implications of ‘networked radio' in places like Ghana. Seyram’s research has been funded by the NSF, ProQuest, the University of Michigan and UMass Amherst. She is also co-founder and editor of Tech + Africa, an online publication focused on telling stories of tech makers and entrepreneurs in and from Africa.

(Center for African Studies event posting)