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Hacking Imaginaries: Codeworlds and Code Work Across the U.S./Mexico Borderlands


Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2014 and 2016, this dissertation investigates emerging forms of hacking and tech entrepreneurship by moving between key physical sites in Mexico and the San Francisco Bay Area. The anthropology of hacking has shown that European and U.S.-based advocates of F/OSS (free and open-source software) regard formal politics as counter-productive to their technical craft, which is aimed at liberating information and technology. Anthropologists have mostly focused on an undifferentiated hacker community precisely because hackers themselves claim that markers of difference are irrelevant to their social and technical organization. But what happens when practices of hacking challenge the boundaries of colorblindness and intersect with constructions of race, nation, and class?

To examine how the shifting politics of hacking influence models for technology-driven capitalism, I conducted participant-observation in hackathons and co-working spaces with self-identified "hacker-entrepreneurs." At one level, my dissertation makes a comparative analysis of how communities positioned on separate sides of the U.S./Mexico border use their "code work" to make modifications to established technological and entrepreneurial protocols that themselves aim to redress economic injustices. On another level, as these two tech communities coalesce by participating in events aimed at empowering a Latina/o collective, I show how Latinidad gets constructed (and contested) across hierarchies of race, nation, and class.

Scholars have long been interested in social protests and movements among Latina/os and in Latin America. I find them in unlikely places-in spaces normally thought to be advancing capitalistic accumulation. My research shifts from thinking about technological capitalism in terms of abstract models and focuses instead on the logics and subjectivities people use to structure their everyday work and social lives. I look at one phenomenon that might ordinarily be broken up into different anthropological domains (technology, racialization, capitalism, global economy) and consider how they all come together by focusing on hacking/entrepreneurship as a critical site of academic inquiry.

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