I am an ethnographer of technology and innovation, currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC Marshall Business School.
Employing a combination of ethnographic, textual, and visual methods, I have studied varied groups of actors from taxi drivers in Hangzhou, to beggars in Northwestern China, to slum dwellers in Shanghai, to AI policymakers at global conferences. Through these projects, I seek to understand how individuals make sense of economic and technological changes in contemporary societies, and how they navigate a shifting landscape of precarity and opportunities. I recently authored “Platforms as if People Mattered” (Economic Anthropology, 2019) and “Uber in China” (Harvard Business Review, 2016&2017).
I recently completed my Ph.D. of social anthropology at Harvard University, with a secondary field in Science, Technology and Society (2020). My dissertation “Moralizing Disruption: China’s Ride-Hailing Revolution” explores the emergence, contestation, and moralization of ride-hailing platforms in contemporary China. During 20- months of ethnographic fieldwork spanning six years, I immersed myself in communities of computer engineers, corporate managers, on-demand drivers, hackers, and labor contractors, exploring how different groups of actors participate in and make sense of the changes brought on by ride-hailing platforms. Through this multi-sited ethnography, I found that disruptive innovation is more than a business model— it is a socio-technological process that shapes, and is shaped by, different communities of actors with distinct moral views. For instance, the corporate managers of Uber China advocated for Silicon-Valley-style disruption, a process mainly driven by smarter technologies and capital-backed expansion. In contrast, the employees of Didi, China’s domestic ride-hailing giant, viewed disruption as revolution; they mobilized taxi drivers and local government oﬀicials to participate in the building of a more human-dependent infrastructure. These differences, I argue, are not simply a matter of divergent business strategies. They are a reflection of the deeper moral systems that structure technological innovation and social change.
I am also committed to using my research findings to inform technological designs and social policies that could empower individuals in global technological transformations. I am currently serving as the China representative for global think tank The Future Society, working on artificial intelligence policy research and community building between academia, governments, and industries.
Watch my speech at 2019 Harvard Horizons Synposium: