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Digital Entanglements: discourses and practices around Sino-Swiss fibre optic infrastructures since the 1970s

English title Digital Entanglements: discourses and practices around Sino-Swiss fibre optic infrastructures since the 1970s
Applicant Dommann Monika
Number 192205
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Historisches Seminar Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.08.2020 - 31.07.2024
Approved amount 1'031'840.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
General history (without pre-and early history)
Ethnology

Keywords (13)

Critical Infrastructures Studies; Economic History; Digitalisation; History of Technology; Infrastructures; Anthropology of Technology; Media Studies; China; Business History; Transnational History; Knowledge; STS; Switzerland

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Das Projekt „Digitale Verflechtungen“ verfolgt das Ziel, eine globale Geschichte der „digitalen Schweiz“ seit den 1970ern zu schreiben. Am Beispiel China-Schweiz konzentriert es sich auf die noch wenig erforschten Infrastrukturen - Glasfasern -, die die Digitalisierung erst ermöglichen. Das Projekt vermag damit einerseits USA- und Europa-zentrierte Digitalisierungserzählungen neu zu denken und andererseits trägt es zu einem besseren Verständnis der Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft der Digitalisierung in und über die Schweiz hinaus bei.
Lay summary
Das Projekt behandelt den Zeitraum von den 1970ern bis zur Gegenwart. Es setzt an beim kommerziellen Aufkommen der Glasfasertechnologie, der Verlagerung der Mikroelektronik-Industrie nach Asien in den ‘70ern, der Entstehung der Volksrepublik China als High Tech-Nation und der chinesisch-schweizerischen wirtschaftlichen Zusammenarbeit im Bereich der technischen Infrastrukturen seit 1978. Es wird davon ausgegangen, dass die Digitalisierung in der Schweiz – und speziell die Glasfaser-Infrastrukturen, die die Digitalisierung erst ermöglichen –, nicht verstanden werden können, ohne die Berücksichtigung der Rolle Chinas beim Aufbau dieser Infrastrukturen. Das Projekt erforscht, wie chinesisch-schweizerische digitale Infrastrukturen auf komplexe Weise historisch, politisch, wirtschaftlich, sozial und technisch miteinander verflochten sind.
Dazu umfasst das Projekt zwei Teilprojekte: (a) das historische Teilprojekt „Transnationale digitale Schweiz“, das Schweizer Unternehmen und Akteure im Bereich Glasfaser und ihre Rolle in der transnationalen Wirtschaft der Schweiz seit den 1970er Jahren in den Blick nimmt; und (b) das ethnologische Teilprojekt „Chinas digitale Seidenstrasse in die Schweiz“, das aus einer sozial-technischen Perspektive die gegenwärtigen chinesisch-schweizerischen Glasfaser-Beziehungen sowie Flüsse von Technologien, Menschen, Vorstellungen und Wissen untersucht.
Insgesamt ermöglicht das Projekt: (1) Einen Beitrag zur globalen Geschichte der „digitalen Schweiz“; (2) eine faktenbasierte Darstellung der chinesischen Präsenz in der Schweiz, die einseitige Sichtweisen auf „China“ in Frage stellt; (3) Einblicke in die soziale Seite der technologischen und wirtschaftlichen Verflechtungen und eine Sichtbarmachung der menschlichen Akteure hinter den häufig unsichtbaren digitalen Strukturen; und (4) Ein neues Instrumentarium interdisziplinärer Methoden zur sozio-technischen Untersuchung digitaler Infrastrukturen.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 16.06.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Review of "Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation by Silvia M. Lindtner, Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2020"
Kaufmann Lena (2021), Review of "Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation by Silvia M. Lindtner, Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2020", in The China Quarterly, 246, 1-2.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Global Interference? Science and Foreign Policy Interactions in China Talk given at a conference Chinese digital infrastructures in Switzerland: Entanglements of economic, political and scientific interests 20.05.2022 Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany Kaufmann Lena;
University of Lucerne, Social Anthropology Colloquium Individual talk China's Digital Silk Road to Switzerland: Materialities, Actors and Narratives 26.04.2022 Lucerne, Switzerland Kaufmann Lena;
China's Digital Silk Road to Europe: Connecting Switzerland Individual talk Invited talk 17.11.2021 Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic Kaufmann Lena;
Conceptualizing the “Belt and Road Initiative” and its Effects Talk given at a conference China's Digital Silk Road to Europe: Connecting Switzerland 14.06.2021 Toronto, Canada Kaufmann Lena;
"Digital Anthropology Practicum", ISEK - Anthropology, University of Zurich Individual talk Methodological reflections on Swiss-Chinese entanglements in digital infrastructures 21.04.2021 Zurich, Switzerland Kaufmann Lena;
“Entangled Im/Mobilities” Conference, Mobile Cultures and Societies, University of Vienna Talk given at a conference Rethinking mobility and immobility through Sino-Swiss entanglements in digital infrastructures 18.03.2021 Vienna, Austria Kaufmann Lena;
EU COST Action "CHERN - China in Europe Research Network" WG II Webinar Individual talk China's Digital Silk Road to Switzerland from an on-the-ground Perspective 12.03.2021 Amsterdam and Stockholm (Webinar), Netherlands Kaufmann Lena;


Self-organised

Title Date Place

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions "Behind the Scenes", immersive audiowalk in Planet Digital exhibition, Lena Kaufmann & NowHere Media International German-speaking Switzerland 2022
Talks/events/exhibitions "Flow – A Visual History of Flow", in Planet Digital exhibition, Monika Dommann & Jürg Lehni International German-speaking Switzerland 2022
Media relations: radio, television IQ - Wissenschaft und Forschung: Unterseekabel - Lebensadern der Informationsgesellschaft Bayern 2 International German-speaking Switzerland 2021
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Prefiguring China’s Digital Silk Road to Europe: Connecting Switzerland Transformations: Downstream Effects of the BRI blog, University of Toronto International 2021

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
183016 Verkabelungen: Chinesisch-Schweizerische Verflechtungen digitaler Infrastrukturen seit 1970 01.12.2018 Digital Lives

Abstract

The project ‘Digital Entanglements: discourses and practices around Sino-Swiss fibre optic infrastructures since the 1970s’ contributes to writing a global history of ‘digital Switzerland’ in order to better understand the past, present and future of digitalisation in Switzerland. To do this, the project focuses on the still-understudied socio-material infrastructures - fibre optics - that, first of all, enable digitalisation. The project is based on the assumption that digitalisation in Switzerland in general, and Swiss fibre optic infrastructures in particular, cannot be understood without taking into account China’s past and present role in the establishment of these infrastructures. For this, it is essential to gain a sound historical understanding of the microelectronics industries’ shift to Asia in the 1970s, the emergence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a high-tech nation, and Sino-Swiss economic cooperation in the field of technical infrastructures since 1978. Focusing on the complex transnational entanglements in the field of Sino-Swiss fibre optic infrastructures, the project investigates two main questions: (1) How are Sino-Swiss digital infrastructures historically, politico-economically and socio-technically entangled? (2) How do these entanglements manifest themselves in both discourse and practice? To answer these overarching questions, the project comprises: (a) the historical sub-project ‘Transnational digital Switzerland: Swiss fibre optic infrastructure companies and their role in Switzerland’s transnational economy since the 1970s’, which focuses on a political and business history and investigates the sub-question: What is the specific role of entrepreneurs, scientists and state actors in the emergence of these infrastructural entanglements? And (b) the anthropological sub-project ‘China’s digital silk road to Switzerland: a socio-technical perspective of Sino-Swiss fibre optic business relations’, which asks in view of the socio-technical relations around these infrastructures: How are people, technologies and related knowledge and skills in the Sino-Swiss fibre optic infrastructures circulated and transferred within these complex transnational entanglements? The focus is on the time frame since the 1970s, paying special attention to the period between the 1990s and today.These questions will be answered both historically and anthropologically, through an interdisciplinary methodological approach that combines methods from history, social science, media studies and science and technology studies (STS), including oral history interviews, analyses of archival, media and economic documents, as well as institutional ethnographic case studies.This will result in: (1) A contribution to a global history of ‘digital Switzerland’;(2) A balanced account of the Chinese presence in Switzerland, based on sound empirical data to challenge prevailing, one-sided Western narratives about China;(3) Insights into the social aspects of the intensifying technological and economic entanglements, rendering visible the human actors that shape and are shaped by these new digital structures; and (4) A new set of interdisciplinary methods for the socio-technical investigation of digital infrastructures in various local and global settings.More broadly, the project will contribute to a better understanding of the impact of digitalisation in and beyond Switzerland, a fact-based assessment of China’s digital silk road initiative and the related risks and opportunities.
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