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Interrogating Innovation

Nanyang Technological University
15-16 August 2019

“Innovation” is now a word that is widely used to describe many kinds of activities, especially scientific and technological ones. Globally, “innovation” has the power to attract vast amounts of financial, industrial, and intellectual resources. Many institutions, both in Singapore and beyond, are focused on creating or capturing “innovation.”


Although there have been various attempts to define “innovation,” part of its power stems from its polysemic quality. Rather than attempt to add to these definitions, this conference aims to examine what “innovation” does. What work does it do as a discourse or as an ideology? How does it organize and mobilize resources? Who does it include or exclude? How does it shape scientific or engineering practice? How does it shape social and urban relations?


Since “innovation” plays such a central role in motivating and funding today’s science and technology, interrogating innovation itself is critical for understanding how developed more socially responsible and socially responsive scientific and technological visions.  

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15-16 August, 2019

Day 1: Thursday 15th August



Participants to leave NEC

9.30am – 10.15am: Opening session

Welcome by CoHASS Dean, Joseph Liow

Introduction to NTU Institute of Science & Technology for Humanity

Welcome by Organizers

10.15-10.30am: Coffee break


10.30-12.00noon: Session 1: The power of innovation


Chair: Ian McGonigle, NTU Sociology


Payal Arora, Erasmus University

“Do the next billion users need more innovation? Rethinking AI for the common good”


Itty Abraham & Onat Kibaroglu, NUS

“Innovation as a boundary condition”


12.00noon – 1.30pm: Lunch at HSS Building (catered)



1.30pm-3pm: Session 2: Innovation and makers

Chair: TBC

Taylor Coplen, Hong Kong University

“Decentralized hardware production: makerspaces, Shanzhai, and the future of Shenzhen’s technology industries”


David Li, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab

3.00pm-5.00pm: Break (return to NEC)

(optional walking tour of Jurong Innovation District)

5.00pm: Bus from NEC to Substation


Session 3 (at Substation): Democratizing innovation


Chair: Hallam Stevens, NTU


Emily Chua, NUS

“Startup as a way of being”

Lina Dencik, Cardiff University

“Innovation and the disruption of justice”

Mahmud Farooque, Arizona State University

“Innovating with the public – one deliberation at a time”


8.00pm: Dinner downtown



9.30pm: Bus returns to NEC


Day 2: Friday 16th August

9.30am: Leave NEC for HSS Building



10.00am-11.30am: Session 4: Innovating power

Chair: Monamie Bhadra Haines, NTU

Shobita Parthasarathy, University of Michigan

“The politics of innovation in international development: the case of menstrual hygiene management in India”


Anju Mary  Paul, Yale-NUS

“Scientific Cultures on the Move: The Scientific Remittances of Returning Western-trained Asian Scientists”


11.30am – 1.00pm: Lunch at HSS building


1.00pm-2.30pm: Session 5: Redesigning innovation

Chair: Fang Xiaoping, NTU

Rolien Hoyng, Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Cybernetics and Liminality: Positioning the critique of innovation”

Cameron Tonkinwise, University of Technology Sydney

“Transitioning is a practice-based designing not a need-driven innovation”

3.00pm: Bus to One North 

4.00-5.00pm: Tour/visit JTC Launchpad @ One North

5.30-6.30pm: MRT from One North to Kent Ridge, then walk through Kent Ridge Park to Brass Lion distillery

6.30-7.30pm: Cocktails and/or continue walking to Gillman Barracks and Treetop walk 

7.30pm: Walk (10 mins) from Brass Lion to Pasir Panjang Food Centre for dinner

8.30pm: Bus returns to NEC/NTU



The symposium will be held at three different venues.

Most of day 1 (August 15th) will be held in the Humanities and Social Sciences building on the NTU campus, in the 5th floor conference room (HSS 05-07)

See the campus map here:


There will be an evening session on day 1 at the Substation in downtown Singapore. 


This is presented jointly by The Substation. This keynote is part of A Public Square, The Substation's 2019/20 programme that looks at how our physical spaces reflect or extend our ideas and attitudes about the public sphere. 


Learn more at


More information about the Nanyang Executive Centre can be found here:



Itty Abraham [abstract]

Head of Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS

















Professor Itty Abraham moved to NUS in 2012 after a long stay in the United States, studying, teaching, and doing research on subjects ranging from political violence to nuclear proliferation. After getting his PhD in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he worked at the Social Science Research Council in New York for over a decade. Most recently, he was at the University of Texas at Austin, in Asian Studies and Government.

Payal Arora [abstract]

Associate Professor, Erasmus University, Rotterdam


















Born in India, Payal Arora moved to the US where she studied digital anthropology and development policy at Harvard and Columbia University. She is the author of the award-winning “Leisure Commons” book and most recently, the enthusiastically reviewed book “The Next Billion Users” with Harvard Press. She has consulted on tech innovation in emerging markets including for UNESCO, GE, and HP and has given more than 150 talks in 36 countries including a TEDx talk on the future of the internet. She sits on several boards such as the Facebook Advisory Committee, and for a number of organizations in New York including Soteryx (a data protection company), Columbia University’s Earth Institute Connect to Learn program, Makeocity (an educational startup on design, fabrication and entrepreneurship) and The World Women Global Council. She is an Associate Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, founder of an activist organization Catalyst Lab and Editor for Global Perspectives, a new University of California Press Journal. She lives in Amsterdam and considers herself a global citizen.

Emily Chua [abstract]

Assistant Professor of Sociology, NUS










Professor Chua an anthropologist working at the intersections of “the media,” information technology, global capitalism and authoritarian state politics, in China and in Singapore. I did my PhD in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. I also hold an MA in History from NUS, and a BA in Studio Art and History from Wesleyan University.

Carl Taylor Coplen [abstract]

University of Hong Kong












Taylor Coplen graduated from the University of Chicago with Honors in Philosophy and History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science & Medicine (HIPS). In addition to his major concentration, he studied various languages, including Akkadian and German. He conducted research on the preservation and linguistic analysis of tablets from the ancient Near East. He also co-founded and served as the managing editor for the UChicago Undergraduate Philosophy Review. Throughout his college career, he designed and taught courses concerning philosophy, history, and writing to Chicago Public School students. His current academic interests are focused on the development of science and technology in the People’s Republic of China, in relation to the nation’s wealth of historical innovation in these areas and modern economic ascendency.

Lina Dencik [abstract]

Reader at the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University, UK and is Co-Founder of the Data Justice Lab

















Lina has published widely on digital media, resistance and the politics of data and is currently Principal Investigator of the DATAJUSTICE project funded by an ERC Starting Grant. Her publications include Media and Global Civil Society (Palgrave, 2012), Worker Resistance and Media (Peter Lang, 2015), and Digital Citizenship in a Datafied Society (Polity, 2018).

Mahmud Farooque [abstract]

Associate Director, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO), DC; Clinical Associate Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS); Arizona State University
















Mahmud’s work focuses on making science more democratic and useful. He collaborates with academics, educators and analysts for participatory assessments and with boundary practitioners for reconciling the supply and demand for science. Mahmud is the principal coordinator of Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) – a distributive institutional network that engages citizens on decision-making related to science and technology. He led large-scale public consultation projects on biodiversityspaceclimate, and energy to support policy and decision-making at the national and global levels. His current public consultation projects involve Climate Change ResilienceGene DrivesDriverless CarsGeoengineering and Internet.


Rolien Hoyng [abstract]










Professor Hoyng's current project explores digital infrastructure and culture in Hong Kong and Istanbul. It is funded through an ECS grant from Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council. I am interested in questions of technology in particular contexts of use, where technological material affordances meet cultural aspirations and signification. For instance, I explore the politics of “openness” by looking at Open Data and fintech in Hong Kong. Furthermore, I look at data-centric governance and constructions of “accidentalness” in communication pertaining to e-waste and ecology. Last, I study smart urbanisms and the socio-technical networks of activism. Focused on two nonwestern global cities, my project might tell us more about globalization, not as a story of all-encompassing connectivity and free flow but of struggle over political subjectivity and belonging, data-centric forms of cognition and control as well as emerging ethical norms and political imaginaries.

David Li [abstract]

Director, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, Co-founder, Hacked Matter























David Li has been contributing to open source software since 1990. He is member of Free Software Foundation, committer to Apache projects and board director of ObjectWeb. In 2010, he co-founded XinCheJian, the first hackerspace in China to promote hacker/maker culture and open source hardware. In 2011, he co-founded Hacked Matter, a research hub on maker movement and open innovation. In 2015, he co-founded Maker Collider, a platform to develop next generation IoT from Maker community. He is also the executive director of Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab which facilitate the collaboration between global smart hardware entrepreneurs and Shenzhen Open Innovation ecosystem.


Onat Kibaroglu [abstract]
















Onat is a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore researching the impacts of the digital street economy in Southeast Asia, with a focus on Singapore and Indonesia. Onat holds a MA in Southeast Asian Studies from National University and a BA in Business Administration from Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey. He has studied Mandarin Chinese for a year in Fudan University, Shanghai after his graduation, having also spent a semester each in University of Hong Kong and Science Po Paris during his undergraduate studies. He has tutored globalisation and international relations themed undergraduate classes in National University of Singapore and given seminars in multiple countries regarding implications of the internet on everyday life and the global economy.


Shobita Parthasarathy [abstract]

Professor of Public Policy and Women's Studies, and Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, at University of Michigan



















Professor Parthasarathy's research focuses on the governance of emerging science and technology in comparative perspective. She is interested in how technological innovation, and innovation systems, can better achieve public interest and social justice goals, as well as in the politics of knowledge and expertise in science and technology policy. She has done research in the United States and Europe, and her current research explores the politics of innovation in international development with a focus in India. She is the author of numerous articles and two books: Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and Building Genetic Medicine: Breast Cancer, Technology, and the Comparative Politics of Health Care (MIT Press, 2007). Patent Politics received the 2018 Robert K. Merton Award from the Science, Knowledge, and Technology section of the American Sociological Association, for an outstanding book on science, knowledge, or technology. Findings from Building Genetic Medicine influenced the 2013 US Supreme Court decision prohibiting patents on isolated human genes. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Chicago and Masters and PhD degrees in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University.


Anju Mary Paul [abstract]

Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore












Professor Paul is an international migration scholar with a research focus on Asian migrations. Her work on the stepwise international labour migrations of Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers has been published in her award-winning book Multinational Maids: Stepwise Migration in a Global Labor Market (Cambridge University Press 2017). She is currently wrapping up her next book project on the brain circulations of Asian-born, Western-trained bioscientists. She has also published articles in the top sociology and migration journals including the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Migration Studies, and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Cameron Tonkinwise [abstract]

Director of the Design Innovation Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney 



















He returned to Australia after being the Director of Design Studies and Doctoral Studies at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, and the Associate Dean Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design and co-Chair of the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School in NYC. Cameron has a background in continental philosophy and continues to research what design practice can learn from material cultural studies and sociologies of technology. His primary area of research and teaching is Sustainable Design. Cameron is widely published on the ways in which Service Design can advance Social Sustainability by decoupling use and ownership – what these days is referred to as the ‘Sharing Economy.’ He has also been a strong advocate for the importance of critical practice-based design research. Cameron’s current focus, in collaboration with colleagues at CMU and an international network of scholar-practitioners, is Transition Design – design-enabled multi-level, multi-stage structural change toward more sustainable futures.


[in order of presentation]

Payal Arora 

Do the next billion users need more innovation? Rethinking AI for the common good

The 21st century is marketed as the age of innovation. Sir John Chisholm, an expert on change management, declares that technology will change “the very future of the human race.” Ryan Allis - an angel investor in 25 companies including SpaceX, Elon Musk’s Mars project— provides a startup guide to ease us into this new era. All we need to do is reimagine “everything,” says Allis. With just “a laptop, a smartphone, and the cloud,” we can access any service anytime. While traditional institutions such as the educational system in low- income countries is regarded as a “stunning market failure” according to the likes of Matt Keller, former Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE, the market “success” of new technology  will step in and take its place. Smart technology will replace not-so-smart people. Humans, it seems, have become obstacles to their own betterment. Technology entrepreneurs today are busy making all- inclusive, self- contained autonomous apps for the next billion users –majority of whom are outside the West and live in countries with less liberal institutions. Centralized reform is being discarded for personalized solutionism. Automation of self-help is the foundation of the innovation age. This talk will argue against this popular narrative and bring to question this laboratory approach of using the next billion users as the guinea pigs for social progress – and why we have become more forgiving of technological failure than of human failure.

Itty Abraham &

Onat Kibaroglu

Innovation as a Boundary Condition

A conventional genealogy of “innovation” begins from Schumpeter, runs through neoclassical economics (among others, Solow 1957; Krugman 1979), and emerges, shiny and polished, in the 21st century’s irrational exuberance over startups, unicorns and other mythical beasts.  Seen from the Global South, however, innovation has a parallel genealogy, which begins from global structural inequality. Underdevelopment emerges in the work of Prebisch, Frank, Sunkel and others as a constituent outcome of the technological superiority of the Global North.  The idea of innovation, produced through metaphors of impediment and mimicry as technological limits, now becomes a boundary condition.  Innovation separates North from South; in its commonsense version, the need to overcome this limit is elevated to the obvious and necessary as the contemporary “measure of man” (Adas, 1990).  How and when local innovation becomes the rallying cry for Southern states is a story of national incorporation into dominant global narratives of achievement and progress (not resistance to it).  The other side of that incorporation might be called, following Ackbar Abbas, a form of “poor theory”: the invisibility of local innovations, humble yet effective, socially responsive and indigenously developed, which may yet open up meanings of “the technological society” when given their due.  This paper will explore these assertions through eclectic and disjointed discussions of Indonesia, Turkey and India. 

Taylor Coplen 

Decentralized Hardware Production: Makerspaces, Shanzhai, and the Future of Shenzhen’s Technology Industries

Producing hardware has become cheaper, faster, and easier. Technological advancements have resulted in the development of widely-available, powerful hardware components that allow individuals to create novel products. This technological change has resulted in two distinct communities who seek to take advantage of its potential: the international maker movement and Shenzhen’s shanzhai production networks. The maker movement developed from a group of amateur technology enthusiasts in Western Europe and North America, who aimed to create new forms of technology from open source components. Similarly, shanzhai production networks developed in China’s Pearl River Delta and used the tools of open source hardware to produce cheap alternatives to popular electronic products.

This analysis will argue that the maker movement seeks to shift the means of production from traditional firms to individuals, while the shanzhai production networks lower socioeconomic barriers to technological production. Moreover, shanzhai production networks lower the barrier of technology expertise by establishing a cooperative community in which an individual with an innovative idea can connect with collaborators who possess the requisite technological expertise to bring it to fruition. As a result, both communities constitute distinct ways in which technological production is undergoing a process of democratization.

David Li

Grassroots Open Innovation: A Shenzhen narrative

The city of Shenzhen in southern China is being called “Silicon Valley of Hardware” and recognized as the most important innovation hub in China. The city went through a tremendous transformation in the past four decades going from a collection of fifteen fishing villages of 300,000 people to a modern metropolitan producing 90% of global electronic/ICT products. Moreover, the city came into the global limelight as the sweatshops with suicidal workers in iPhone factories in 2010. In China, the city was known as the Zhaidu (寨都), the capital of Shanzhai, the knockoff copycat production.

This talk presents that the rapid transformation of Shenzhen to a global innovation hub is the result of its grassroots open innovation ecosystem that commoditizes the technologies and empowers mass innovation and entrepreneurship through low IP barrier technology diffusion. The open innovation ecosystem of Shenzhen presents an alternative narrative to the IP heavy techno-solutionism narrative of innovation today. The Shenzhen approach centers around mass empowerment and collaboration of people with open and commoditized access to the technologies and the production of information and communication technology objects.

The Shenzhen bottom-up open innovation ecosystem is increasingly become important for the next innovators and entrepreneurs, especially in the emerging economies. The ecosystem is more inclusive since it supports real impacts rather than novel ideas regardless of the background of the innovators.

Emily Chua

Startup as a way of being

This paper looks at startup founders in Singapore as individuals who are engaged not only in making innovative businesses, but also in making themselves – cultivating habits and dispositions, building up networks of personal relationships and fashioning individual identities, around the idea of innovative enterprise. I look at how innovative entrepreneurship is being promoted by the Singapore government, and undertaken by many people here, not merely as a way of making a living, but as a more all-encompassing way of being in today’s world. Many current, former and aspiring startup founders in Singapore speak at, attend and connect to one another through events that are organized around themes such as entrepreneurship as a lifestyle, strategies for funding oneself, attitudes towards failure and techniques for managing stress. As participants in such events, and as members of the broader “startup ecosystem” in which they take place, founders do not only work on building their products and businesses; but also on building themselves into individuals who have the right social instincts, cultural resources, personal habits and even philosophical convictions, for thriving in an age of globally mobile capital and its attendant uncertainties. I explore the practices and processes of self-formation that such individuals are engaged in, to consider how state-initiated efforts to promote innovation in Singapore are contributing to the emergence of new forms of social and cultural life.

Lina Dencik

Innovation and the Disruption of Justice

The drive to turn vast amounts of activity and human behaviour into data points that can be tracked, collected and analysed has become a significant feature of contemporary social life; what has been described as the ‘datafication’ of society. With these developments we are confronted with a significant shift in governance and a fundamental transformation of state-corporate-citizen relations. Whilst this is often hailed as ‘revolutionary’ in its potential for enhanced efficiency, security and innovation, we have also seen an increasing concern with the societal implications of these developments. In particular, a growing body of research has pointed to the multiple ways in which datafication both introduces and entrenches key questions pertaining to a broader concern with social justice, such as issues of inequality, discrimination, and exclusion. Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s concept of ‘abnormal justice’, I sketch how datafication intersects different nodes of abnormality: 1) the ‘what’ of justice (the ontology); 2) the ‘who’ of justice (the scope); and 3) the ‘how’ of justice (the procedure). How datafication, in other words, disrupts the very grammar of justice (noting, as does Fraser, that abnormality has tended to be the rule rather than the exception in worldly state of affairs). Disruption here is dual -- both with regards to justice in general as well as the particularities of justice in relation to data – and points to the way data processes are part of long-standing struggles that have often been side-lined or ignored in justice debates.

Mahmud Farooque

Innovating with the Public—One deliberation at a time

Responding to the growing mistrust of the institution of science as a means of contributing to personal, social and economic well-being, an increasing number of scientific advisory bodies have been issuing a variety of calls for upstream and sustained engagements with diverse stakeholders and the general public. Unfortunately, beyond few disparate examples and despite abundance of methodological choices and options, stakeholder and public engagement for decision-making in the upstream remains at its infancy and struggling to garner sustained institutional commitment and stable financial support.

This talk will focus on the rationale, development, and operationalization of the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST), a distributed institutional network launched in 2010 in response to the growing gap between science and the public and in recognition of the difficulties of innovating in political crisis driven institutions. It brings together academic research, informal science education, and non-partisan policy analysis to engage citizens on decision-making about science and technology. After its first demonstration project on biodiversity in 2012, ECAST has been successful in securing funding for multi-site public engagements on issues of Planetary Defense (NASA), Nuclear Waste (DOE), Climate and Energy (UNFCCC), Community Resilience (NOAA), and Solar Geoengineering (Sloan).

ECAST’s latest project, “Navigating our shared driverless futures” is an international collaboration with France’s Missions Publiques to bring together the voices of lay citizens in public forums in cities across North America, Europe, and Asia. The project’s principal aims also include helping local level decision-making. The day-long deliberations interrogate hundreds of representatively diverse participants about their present-day mobility challenges, trust and confidence in automated systems, preferred scenarios for development, and governance of issues such as access, equity, privacy, security and liability.  Built on past learning, the project provides important insights about emerging opportunities for innovating with the public and the challenges that remain.

Roylien Hoyng

Cybernetics and Liminality: Positioning the Critique of Innovation


Whether celebrated or feared, we often hear of a supposedly imminent world of smart cities producing relentless data streams, things “talking” to one another from supply chains to fridges, and ubiquitous surveillance not just registering our cheekbones but even our gaits or heartbeats. Instead of presuming the ubiquity and omniscience of datafication and cybernetic control, I want to highlight the continuous presence of liminality in today’s datafied world. Supposedly, recursive feedback loops function to combat liminality, contingency, and difference not by eliminating or ignoring it, but by integrating it. Yet what are the sites of excess, illegibility, accident, and resistance to the cybernetic control? In this presentation, I distinguish between cybernetics’ encounter with non-digital liminality, on the one hand, and its engendering of post-digital liminality, on the other. One obvious way to understand non-digital liminality would be as what resists datafication and resides in the interstices of digital-infrastructural networks or beyond the purview of data-centric gazes. We might repurpose the notion of subalternity from postcolonial critique to consider such instances. Post-digital liminality is perhaps harder to place but can be understood as the undecidability, incomputability, and speculative element within cybernetic computation itself. This presentation provides examples of both forms of liminality by referring to smart urbanisms as well as logistical media. My aim is to understand their consequences and political purchase from a situated perspective that considers cybernetics as part of concrete contexts of practice. My presentation furthermore raises questions about the positionality of the critical scholar of cybernetics. Do we too easily identify with the cybernetic gaze and, if so, at what cost? How do we design our research around liminality instead?

Cameron Tonkinwise

Transitioning is a Practice-based Designing not a Need-driven Innovation

Clichés (that are also sexist) like ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ persist when innovation presumes that humans are, more or less universally, sets of fixed needs for which there are infinite variety of value capturable ‘solutions.’ ‘Design Thinking’ has at least the merit of directing would-be innovators toward primary research, to discover people’s ‘pain points’ and ‘jobs to be done.’ However, because these ‘empathetic’ ‘dives’ or ‘spikes’ must be done hastily (as part of Lean Agile product development), they tend to be structured by theoretical frameworks such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Following Jean Baudrillard’s call (1972) for a deconstruction of the discourse of needs underlying design-driven innovation, this presentation will explore the ways in which Manfred Max-Neef’s alternate account (1986) of needs should in fact direct designers toward situated ‘social practices.’ These constellations of things, skills, and meanings, held together by affective judgements about when the practice has been performed well reorient the focus from exnovational (Sandeep 1996) kinds of innovation to engagements aimed more at diffusing innovations or, more accurately, trying to influence the evolution of social practices. This new approach to ‘social innovation’ which could be called Transition Design, avoids ‘value capturing’ unnovations (Haque 2009), and so is a fitting perspective for cultural diverse societies needing to begin processes of degrowth.



Shobita Parthasarathy 

The Politics of Innovation in International Development: The Case of Menstrual Hygiene Management in India


The international development landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, with growing excitement about the power of innovation to improve the lives of the poor. Both traditional development agencies and new social venture funds, social entrepreneurs and incubators, and philanthrocapitalist initiatives emphasize the transformative potential of new and evidence-based technologies, processes, and ideas that are scalable, often commodifiable, and can be implemented quickly. Innovation, these proponents argue, is an antidote to the problems of past development interventions, by using both scientific knowledge and market insights to be both nimble and democratic. But what are the political implications of bringing Western innovation ideology to international development? And what does democracy mean in these contexts? Focusing on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in India, in this talk I argue that innovative interventions for development are establishing and reinforcing the legitimacy of science and market institutions for eliciting and interpreting the voices of the marginalized in Southern countries. And yet at the same time, like previous methods for hearing the subaltern, these institutions are constructing citizens and their voices in particular ways. In the case of MHM, girls and women are seen asproto-citizens who are ignorant and primitive, reliant on both MHM interventions in order to empower themselves and realize their full economic and political potential. In the process, traditional and indigenous knowledge and innovation go unvalued and even denigrated.  

Anju Mary Paul 

Tentative title:  Scientific Cultures on the Move: The Scientific Remittances of Returning Western-trained Asian Scientists 


What do returning Asian academic scientists who previously trained and worked in the West bring back with them when they return to work in Asian universities and research institutes? Using data drawn from 119 in-depth interviews with elite Asian scientists in China, India, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States, I describe the scientific cultures that these scientists were exposed to when they first moved to the West for training. I identify seven key dimensions of difference that interviewees self-reported in their accounts of the scientific cultures they were exposed to in the West vis-à-vis what they had been exposed to when they first trained in Asia: (1) the approach to learning, (2) the approach to problem solving, (3) the priorities for administrative work processes, (4) the scope of research ambitions, (5) the degree of autonomy that individual scientists were given and expected to have as they pursued their research, (6) the level of importance given to rank and seniority in the workplace, and finally (7) institutional attitudes towards difference. For those scientists who chose to return, this exposure to a new scientific culture shaped what I call the “scientific remittances” they brought back with them. I end by discussing how these norms and value-based kinds of scientific remittances do not always align with the intentions of national-level governments when they try to lure Asian scientists to return to Asia and bring back scientific knowhow, reputational standing, and network connections with them.



Monamie Bhadra Haines

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Ian McGonigle

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Ian Rowen

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Hallam Stevens

Associate Professor of History 


The symposium is sponsored by NTU's College of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences and by the Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Research Center. The organizers also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Substation for hosting one of the sessions. 


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