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Abstract

How might we move beyond current critiques of speculative finance and Silicon Valley to think more broadly about the relation between technological imagination, finance, and an emerging moral economy? This thesis takes up this question through an ethnographic exploration of “the Pitch” at Y-Combinator’s Demo Day in Silicon Valley – a venue that has gained international attention for its capacity to launch successful startups. The pitch is the key moment when aspiring startups put to test the coaching and guidance that they have received in the Y-Combinator program toward selling the promise of their technological innovation to an audience of possible investors. Through a close reading of a number of Demo Day videos available on the web, together with analyses of material collected via zoom interviews with past participants in the Y-Combinator program, I disassemble the discursive mechanics of the pitch into its central rhetorical components and affective hooks. In my argument I engage the pitch as a heuristic that reveals the financial speculation elicited through Demo Day as an emerging expression of techno-entrepreneurial capitalist ethics rather than mere rationalized calculation toward the maximization of profit. To paraphrase the argument, the pitch makes explicit the normative assumptions at work through speculative finance and technological innovation, thus bringing forward the implicit values that inform the investment of time and capital. In laying out this argument, I think with Laura Bear’s notion of technologies of imagination beyond its critique of post-crisis capitalism. Whereas Bear puts emphasis on speculation as an expression of calculated risk, I underscore it as a potential force of ethical orderings in Silicon Valley’s financial culture.

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