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Accepted Paper:

Negotiating digital capital: unraveling contested terrains of Chinese fibre optic networks in Switzerland  
Lena Kaufmann (University of Zurich)

Short abstract:

This paper focuses on the social side of Chinese fibre optic networks in Switzerland. It ethnographically explores how representatives of Chinese Information & Communication Technology firms and their Swiss partners navigate public concerns, emphasising Swissness and envisioning high-tech futures.

Long abstract:

This paper focuses on a particularly contested case of Chinese digital capital—Chinese fibre optic networks in Switzerland—and the involvement of both Chinese and Swiss companies. In Switzerland, as elsewhere, Chinese technologies play a pivotal role in these networks. Despite Switzerland generally being more receptive to incorporating Chinese technologies compared to other Western countries, there is a growing scepticism within the Swiss public regarding potential future dependencies and cybersecurity concerns. This paper is based on ethnographic field research in Switzerland, including interviews with representatives of Chinese companies in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and their Swiss partner companies, participant observation during industry events and data centre visits, and documentary analysis. By emphasizing the everyday, social aspects of digital infrastructures, it asks how Chinese and Swiss company representatives navigate these public concerns. I demonstrate how, in an increasingly tense geopolitical setting, they attempt to disassociate these technologies from their Chineseness. This is reinforced by employing European workers who advocate for the company, presenting their companies as European and highlighting their Swissness. Meanwhile, Swiss partners often conceal their Chinese collaborations and technologies. Moreover, company representatives present their technologies as future-proof, promising an ever more digital and automated era, necessary for sustained innovation and economic power. These presentations are framed around narratives envisioning a sustainable and green high-tech future for all.

Traditional Open Panel P293
Unveiling Chinese digital capital in global mobilities and encounters
  Session 1 Friday 19 July, 2024, -