Informatics Alumna Lilly Irani Receives Diana Forsythe Prize for Chasing Innovation

November 1, 2019

The 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize has been awarded to informatics alumna Lilly Irani (Ph.D. ’13) for her bookChasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India. The prize celebrates work in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science or technology, and the book captures that spirit in its examination of how long-standing power hierarchies continue to influence opportunities. In particular, the book documents the rise of “entrepreneurial citizenship” in India, demonstrating how “a global ethos of development through design has come to shape state policy, economic investment, and the middle class in one of the world’s fastest-growing nations.”

Irani, now an associate professor of communication and science studies at UC San Diego, based the book on work conducted at UCI for her Ph.D. dissertation, Designing Citizens in Transnational India. She opens the book’s acknowledgments by thanking her Ph.D. advisor, Chancellor’s Professor of Informatics Paul Dourish. “[He] was the first to brave the whole manuscript draft, cover to cover,” she says. “He models intellectual fearlessness, having tread paths from computer science to social theory long before I did.” She also thanks Informatics Professors Gillian HayesJudith GregoryMelissa MazmanianBonnie Nardi and Geof Bowker, among many others at UCI, including Kavita Philip from the Department of History and Keith Murphy in the Department of Anthropology.

“It was by crossing Aldrich Park between Informatics, History, Anthropology, and Feminist Studies — and even to the old Arts, Computation, and Engineering trailer — that I was able to bring together the resources to do this work,” says Irani. “What I valued most about UC Irvine was how faculty and graduate students made spaces for people to cross disciplines. This was in the founding of the school, and you can still feel that possibility to today, to draw on whatever fields you need to work on thorny problems in the world.”

Created in 1998, the Diana Forsythe Prize is awarded annually at the AAA meetings by a committee consisting of one representative from the Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and two from the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC). It is supported by the General Anthropology Division (GAD) and Bern Shen.

— Shani Murray