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Christo Sims

Associate Professor and Affiliated Faculty in Science Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Design Lab

Christo Sims is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. He also holds affiliations with Urban Studies, Science Studies, Ethnic Studies, and the Design Lab at UCSD. During the 2020-21 academic year, he was an in-residence member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

A scholar of technological change, social inequality, and social practice, Sims has authored award-winning books and acclaimed articles at the interfaces of science and technology studies, sociology, anthropology, communication & media studies, and urban studies. Trained as a historically attuned ethnographer, his current book project focuses on how regional economies centered on knowledge work are attempting to sustain economic growth in the face of ecological limits and severe social inequalities. Using Silicon Valley as a case study, the project traces how processes of industrial development affect ecological conditions and the spatialization of inequalities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Previously, he studied how social reformers in the U.S. frequently turn to new technologies to fix educational institutions and uproot entrenched inequalities despite decades of disappointing results.

He first solo-authored book, Disruptive Fixation: School Reform and the Pitfalls of Techno-Idealism (Princeton), won the Best Book Award from the Communication, Information Technology, and Media Sociology section of the American Sociological Association. His most recent work was published in the acclaimed journal Public Culture, and he is currently co-editing a special issue on Science and the State with members of 2020-21 class of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Sims is also a member of the Social Science Research Council’s Just Tech Network.

Sims teaches courses on practice theory, the climate crisis, social inequality, social movements, moral economies, and the ethics and politics of technology design. Having worked as both an ethnographer and a designer, Sims is a founding member of both the Studio for Ethnographic Design at UCSD and the University of California Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design. He is also a core member of the Nature, Space, and Politics research group.

Raised in rural Northern California, Sims is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bowdoin College. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. 


Disruptive Fixation: School Reform and the Pitfalls of Techno-Idealism. 2017. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology

Tom Boellstorff and Bill Maurer, Series Editors)

    • Winner of the 2018 Best Book Award from the Communication, Information Technologies, and Media Sociology (CITAMS) section of the American Sociological Association.
    • Reviewed in: Contemporary Sociology; Technology and Culture; Mind, Culture, and Activity; Learning, Media and Technology; Pedagogies; New Media & Society; Weekendavisen (Denmark); Transfers.

Digital Media and Technology in Afterschool Programs, Libraries, and Museums. 2011. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (with Becky Herr-Stephenson, Diana Rhoten, and Dan Perkel)

Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. 2010. Cambridge: MIT Press. (with Mizuko Ito, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Rachel Cody, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Heather A. Horst, Patricia G. Lange, Dilan Mahendran, Katynka Martinez, C.J. Pascoe, Dan Perkel, Laura Robinson, and Lisa Tripp)

    • Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: 10th Anniversary Edition. 2019. Cambridge: MIT Press.


  • "Introduction: Science and the State." Public Culture. Forthcoming. (With Alondra Nelson, Charis Thompson, Sonja van Wichelen, Joy Rhode, Josh Barkan, and Diana Graizbord).
  • "Making Sustainability Concrete: Designs for Green Architecture in Silicon Valley." Public Culture. Forthcoming. (With Akshita Sivakumar).
  • If you do not have access, please feel free to email me for pre-prints.
  • “Green Magic: On Technologies of Enchantment at Apple’s Corporate Headquarters.” 2022. Public Culture, 34(2).
  • “Living Theory: Gender Play and Learning to Live a Life Less Ordinary” in Gender Replay: Reflections on Youth, Feminism, and Schools. 2022. Oeur, F.O. and C.J. Pascoe (eds.). New York: NYU Press.
  • “Pedagogic Fixations” in The Digital Age and Its Discontents. 2020. Helsinki, Finland: Helsinki University Press.
  • “Learning, Technology, and the Instrumentalization of Critique” in The Anthropology of Technology: A Handbook. 2020. London: Palgrave.
  • “How Idealistic High-Tech Schools Often Fail to Help Poor Kids Get Ahead,” in Zócalo Public Square, June 13, 2019.
  • “Idealism” in Keywords for Ethnography & Design, a special issue of Theorizing the Contemporary, an editorially-reviewed online publication of the journal Cultural Anthropology. 2018.
  • “The Politics of Design, Design as Politics” in The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography. 2017. New York: Routledge. Download author’s pre-print
  • “From Differentiated Use to Differentiating Practices: Negotiating Legitimate Participation and the Production of Privileged Identities.” 2014. Information Communication & Society, 17(6), pp.670–682
  • “‘Video Game Culture,’ Contentious Masculinities, and Reproducing Racialized Social Class Divisions in Middle School.” 2014. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 39(4), pp.848–857.
  • “Is it Time to Rethink ‘Digital Inequality’ (Again)?” 2013. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research 14.0. Denver, CO: Association of Internet Researchers.

My teaching focuses on the social, political, and ecological aspects of technology and design. In all my classes, I direct attention toward the often quotidian ways in which persons, designed artifacts and environments, and historical structures make, sustain, and transform each other. Since coming to UCSD, I have developed and taught the following courses: undergraduate and graduate courses on “situated practices” (core theory classes required of all undergraduate majors and PhD students), intermediate and advanced undergraduate studio courses on critical design (developed with my colleague Lilly Irani), an undergraduate course on media technologies and social movements, an undergraduate seminar that uses speculative design to explore futures for public universities, and graduate practicums on intellectual craftwork and ethnographic practice.