Innovation Bubbles: Digitizing, Diversifying, and Financializing Global Higher Education in China

Lee, Rachel Naomi. Innovation Bubbles: Digitizing, Diversifying, and Financializing Global Higher Education in China. Dissertation from the University of Washington, 2022

          How is innovation defined in contemporary policy–disruptive creativity, scientific and technological advancement, developing marketable products, or something else? Who determines the boundaries of permissible innovation, and is innovation innate, learned, or both? Innovation 'hubs, 'incubators,’ and ‘factories,' have been constructed to accelerate processes of creativity, but what does the process of innovation actually look like in practice? Prototypes, start-ups, promissory narratives of change and other tools of hype in popular innovation mythologies promise us new futures with breaks from the past, though often while occluding present conditions of inequality. The attempts to securitize knowledge production through the logic of patented intellectual property leads to less transparent and effective innovation for the social good, as it often works to justify the continuation of inequality, generally speaking, as resources, authority, and truth are focused at the sites of the university, the market, and the elite. For example only allowing academic knowledge, economic knowledge, or fully-funded knowledge to be considered valid in a time of mass saturation with digital media, the basic questioning of all knowledge (e.g. QAnon, Fake News, COVID-19 distrust).

          Innovation Bubbles: Digitizing, Diversifying, and Financializing Global Higher Education in China uses ethnography to examine interactions between universities, governments, and corporations that collaborated to build three joint venture universities, this dissertation explores issues in delineating clear boundaries for practices around censorship and academic freedom in transnational contexts. Two contradictory interests at play in contemporary Chinese policy come together at JVUs in the form of innovation bubbles: the Chinese government’s aim for economic development through research, patents, and other forms of creative or “white collar” labor, and its desire for political stability through restricting speech, movement, and information.