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Hackathons and the Cultivation of Platform Dependence


Private firms, public institutions, and civil society organizations have taken up hackathons as a way of engaging publics in technological innovation all over the world. This chapter offers ethnographic and historical case studies of three hackathons: a citizen-organized hackathon in Delhi, India; a global, multi-city hackathon convened by the World Bank; and a private sector hackathon in Silicon Valley. As short-term, volunteer run events, these hackathons functioned to extend and valorize existing infrastructural investments at the expense of longer-term, more costly, but more locally relevant infrastructural investments. The events also enlisted those privileged with coding skills, English skills, and teamwork skills as mediators of local community needs rather than building substantive, accessible participation for communities. I argue that hackathons privilege research and development through the pursuit of “low hanging fruit,” cultivating dependence on existing platforms and their vested interests.

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