Ya-Wen Lei. 2021. "Delivering Solidarity: Platform Architecture and Collective Contention in China’s Platform Economy." American Sociological Review: 86(2) 279-309. DOI: 10.1177/0003122420979980.
* 2021 Best Paper Award, Communication, Information, Technologies, and Media Sociology Section (CITAMS) of the American Sociological Association
An essay based on this article on Marxist sociology blog: here.
"How China’s food delivery apps push gig workers to strike" contributed by Meaghan Tobin at Rest of World: here.
"I precari della gig economy e la rappresentazione del conflitto" contributed by Vittoria Mazzieri at Il manifesto: here.
"Chinese Food-Delivery Workers, Unite!" contributed by Chana R. Schoenberger at Stanford Social Innovation Review: here.
This study examines how and when labor control and management leads to collective resistance in China’s food-delivery platform economy. I develop the concept of “platform architecture” to examine the technological, legal, and organizational aspects of control and management in the labor process and the variable relationships between them. Analyzing 68 in-depth interviews, ethnographic data, and 87 cases of strikes and protests, I compare the platform architecture of service and gig platforms and examine the relationship between their respective architecture and labor contention. I argue that specific differences in platform architecture diffuse or heighten collective contention. Within the service platform, technological control and management generates work dissatisfaction, but the legal and organizational dimensions contain grievances and reduce the appeal of, and spaces for, collective contention. Conversely, within the gig platform, all three dimensions of platform architecture reinforce one another, escalating grievances, enhancing the appeal of collective contention, and providing spaces for mobilizing solidarity and collective action. As a result, gig platform couriers are more likely to consider their work relations exploitative and to mobilize contention, despite facing higher barriers to collective action due to the atomization of their work.
Keywords: platform economy, labor control, collective action, grievance, gig platform, technology, law, China.
Ya-Wen Lei."Upgrading China through Automation: Manufacturers, Workers and the Techno-Developmental State." Work, Employment and Society.May 2021. DOI:10.1177/0950017021999198
Research summary contributed by Nga Than at the Montreal AI Ethics Institute: here.
"Made In China — By Machines" contributed by Anastasiia Carrier at The Wire China: here. PDF file: here.
This article analyses how local states, electronics manufacturers and low-skilled workers perceive and make decisions about automation under China’s techno-developmentalism. Since the early 2010s, local states have made automation—specifically, the substitution of robots for human workers—the linchpin of their techno-developmentalist strategy and set statistical targets to facilitate policy implementation. Although manufacturers realized the limitations of such substitution, most continue to overstate the power of robots in order to receive material and symbolic benefits from local states, which rely on manufacturers to achieve their statistical targets. Meanwhile, most low-skilled workers embrace the state’s vision and see automation as beneficial for national progress, although these workers are the most excluded by state policy. Essentially, China’s techno-developmentalism has led to symbiotic state-capital relations that marginalise low-skilled workers, while reproducing a national sociotechnical imaginary that prioritises abstract notions of technological progress over the actual efficacy of automation, labour protection and social equality.
Keywords: China, automation, robot, sociotechnical imaginary, techno-developmentalism.
Ya-Wen Lei. 2021. "Publics, Scientists, and the State: Mapping the Global Human Genome Editing Controversy." The China Quarterly 246:400-427. DOI:10.1017/S0305741021000229
Literature on scientific controversies has inadequately attended to the impact of globalization and, more specifically, the emergence of China as a leader in scientific research. To bridge this gap in the literature, this article develops a theoretical framework to analyse global scientific controversies surrounding research in China. The framework highlights the existence of four overlapping discursive arenas: China's national public sphere and national expert sphere, the transnational public sphere and the transnational expert sphere. It then examines the struggles over inclusion/exclusion and publicity within these spheres as well as the within- and across-sphere effects of such struggles. Empirically, the article analyses the human genome editing controversy surrounding research conducted by scientists in China between 2015 and 2019. It shows how elite scientists negotiated expert–public relationships within and across the national and transnational expert spheres, how unexpected disruption at the nexus of the four spheres disrupted expert–public relationships as envisioned by elite experts, and how the Chinese state intervened to redraw the boundary between openness and secrecy at both national and transnational levels.
Keywords: public sphere, expert sphere, transnational public sphere, transnational expert sphere, scientific controversy, human genome editing.
Ya-Wen Lei. 2020. "Revisiting China’s Social Volcano: Attitudes toward Inequality and Political Trust in China." 6 Socius: 1-21 (Featured Article).
Existing literature suggests that, despite rising inequality in China, Chinese people tend to tolerate inequality, so it would be unlikely that rising inequality would cause sociopolitical instability. Few studies, however, have systematically explained Chinese people’s attitudes toward inequality, analyzed attitudinal changes over time, or examined the relationship between such attitudes and political trust. My analysis of national surveys in 2004, 2009, and 2014 yields three findings. First, critical attitudes toward inequality consistently correlate with a structural understanding of inequality and skepticism of procedural or institutional justice. Second, Chinese people’s attitudes toward inequality changed little between 2004 and 2009, but between 2009 and 2014, there was increasing criticality of both inequality and its seeming disjuncture with China’s socialist principles. Third, people who are discontent with income inequality in China are more likely than others to distrust the local government, and those who draw on socialism to critique inequality are more likely to distrust both the central and local governments. Together, these findings suggest rising inequality could have political ramifications.
Keywords: inequality, socialism, social volcano, political trust, China.
Ya-Wen Lei. 2016. "Freeing the Press: How Field Environment Explains Critical News Reporting in China." American Journal of Sociology 122 (1): 1-49, Lead Article).
* 2017 Best Research Paper Award from the Asia and Asian American Section of the American Sociological Association
* 2017 CITAMS Paper Award Honorable mention, Communication, Information, Technologies, and Media Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association
* 2012 Outstanding Student Paper Award, The Section on Communication and Information Technologies, American Sociological Association.
* 2012 Graduate Student Paper Award, The Section on Human Rights, American Sociological Association.
* 2012 Katherine Luke Graduate Student Paper Award, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan.
This article examines critical news reporting in China as an instance of collective resistance in authoritarian contexts. It draws on field theory to understand why and how news media in certain localities were able to resist political pressure and report critically on important social problems, despite limited media freedom. Through a comparative study of six newspaper organizations in the three coastal cities of Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai, the article demonstrates the significance of local field environment for critical news reporting. The findings reveal how site-specific field environments can alternately enable or constrain collective resistance in an authoritarian context. In localities where the journalist communities were paired with a competitive newspaper market and less unified state agencies, the field environment allowed journalists to produce critical news reports. But when the local political and economic fields were less fragmented and competitive, respectively, the opposite was true.
Ya-Wen Lei & Daniel Xiaodan Zhou. 2015. "Contesting Legality in Authoritarian Contexts: Food Safety, Rule of Law and China's Networked Public Sphere." Law & Society Review 49 (3): 557-593 (Lead Article).
Since the introduction of the Internet, China’s networked public sphere has become a critical site in which various actors compete to shape public opinion and promote or forestall legal and political change. This paper examines how members of an online public, the Tianya Forum, conceptualized and discussed law in relation to a specific event, the 2008 Sanlu milk scandal. Whereas previous studies suggest the Chinese state effectively controls citizens’ legal consciousness via propaganda, this analysis shows that the construction of legality by the Tianya public was not a top-down process, but a complex negotiation involving multiple parties. The Chinese state had to compete with lawyers and outspoken media to frame and interpret the scandal for the Tianya public and it was not always successful in doing so. Data show further how the online public framed the food safety incident as indicative of fundamental problems rooted in China's political regime and critiqued the state's instrumental use of law.
Ya-Wen Lei & Daniel Xiaodan Zhou. 2015. "Embedding Law into Politics in China’s Networked Public Sphere" (The Internet, Social Media, and a Changing China, Jacques deLisle, Avery Goldstein, and Guobin Yang, eds., University of Pennsylvania Press).
This article reveals neglected aspects of the Chinese state’s legalistic legitimation strategy by examining how Chinese people engage with law and relate it to politics in China’s networked public sphere. In order to analyze this phenomenon, we first conducted a content analysis of the 2007–08 South China tiger scandal—a scandal that attracted national-level attention and aroused much discussion online. We decided to study this scandal given its relation to court decisions and problematic local government officials. The case allowed us to examine the ways in which netizens engage with law and the extent to which netizens relate problems about law to China’s political system. We qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed official news reports and texts produced by participants in a major online forum. To enhance the generalizability of our study, we also analyzed a nationally representative dataset—the 2008 Asian Barometer Survey. Integrating our findings based on content analysis of the South China tiger scandal and statistical analysis, we argue that the Chinese state’s legalistic legitimation strategy can backfire with the expansion of China’s networked public sphere, as the online public’s interaction with law and with one another in the public sphere enables citizens not only to uncover problems in China’s legal system, but also to connect these problems to the political regime more generally.
Ya-Wen Lei. 2011. "The Political Consequences of the Rise of the Internet: Political Beliefs and Practices of Chinese Netizens." Political Communication 28:291-322.
* 2009 First Prize in the Graduate Student Paper Competition of the 37th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy.
This article addresses a long-standing question: What are the political consequences of the rise of the Internet and the attendant emergence of netizens in China, particularly in terms of China’s democratic prospects? Given the Chinese state’s firm control in the realm of traditional media, the Internet has been expected to bring about political and social change in China since its introduction. Although scholars have had divergent views on what this change might look like, there has been no systematic effort to produce representative evidence to address the debate. Examining a nationwide representative survey data set, this study finds that Chinese netizens, as opposed to traditional media users and non-media users, are more politically opinionated. In addition, they are more likely to be simultaneously supportive of the norms of democracy and critical about the party-state and the political conditions in China, while also being potential and active participants in collective action. This article argues that, despite the competent authoritarian state, a more decentralized media system enabled by technology has contributed to a more critical and politicized citizenry in China’s cyberspace. The Internet has made it possible for China’s media system to undertake a new, albeit restricted and contingent role as a communication institution of the society. As critical citizenry, China’s netizens constitute a new social force challenging authoritarian rule.