Making Things Together: The Island & The Valley, Selves & Software, Here & There
This dissertation explores the work of startup tech entrepreneurs in Jamaica, and how, through intertwined strategies, they craft software and self using design and development methods, understood as emerging from Silicon Valley's successes. These approaches have become attractive globally as routes for securing economically successful products and businesses. They also shape action and identity, producing new ways of being in the world and drawing adherents into an ever renewing process of imagining, building, and becoming. While the entanglement of self and labour is central to the neoliberal entrepreneurial ethos, tech entrepreneurship and startups offer their own forms and entanglements that are informed by the materials, opportunities, and often utopian ideologies of technology development. In Jamaica, these are further shaped by, and give new expression to, existing technical practices and industrial histories, traditions of self-making, and the subjectivities of race, class, and gender that are unfolding within the island's transnationally-informed culture. I attend to the superpositions that result, paying particular attention to how questions of what, and who has value are expressed and shaped within and across the island's borders. In Jamaica, as across the globe, there are now hubs of entrepreneurial activity modelled after images the Valley projects. I follow the moves of entrepreneurs as they search for collaboration, funding, and legitimisation through these programs, moving in transnational circuits that cut through Silicon Valley. While Jamaica is known in these circles, it is not understood as a site from which technology can be developed. I show how entrepreneurs work to cast themselves and the nation as capable, and how the island's understood culture operates as both blessing and burden within this effort. Despite the emancipatory rhetoric invested in today's tech entrepreneurialism, the largely black Jamaican entrepreneurs are faced with prejudices at home and abroad. I demonstrate how decisions about who counts as a valid tech entrepreneur and which methods they can employ are arbitrated along lines of colour and class. Finally, I argue against a reading of their work as a tropicalisation of things designed in more temperate climes. Jamaica has been interwoven into global capitalism since its discovery, and its resulting heterogeneity and ability to incorporate disparate and often incoherent forms destabilises notions of the indigenous or the authentic. Rather than drawing a line that unproblematically connects The Valley's ideas and The Island's actions — California as metropole and Jamaica as the colony — I argue that a shift in perspective might allow us to see the their work as inherently and always modern, globally informed and future-focused in a way that the Valley has always claimed to be.
Information science; Cultural anthropology
Sengers, Phoebe J.
Welker, Marina Andrea; Jackson, Steven J.
Ph. D., Information Science
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis