I am an anthropologist of technology, economy and social policy with a regional focus on China. I am currently completing my Ph.D. of social anthropology at Harvard University, with a secondary field in Science, Technology and Society. 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).
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 corporate managers, on-demand drivers, labor contractors, and cabbies— exploring how different groups of actors form unique moral understandings of the technological disruption induced by ride-hailing. For example, corporate managers of Didi and Uber tend to characterize technological disruption as deeply moral; since they believe that platforms can improve urban transportation and create job opportunities, they view their expansion as a moral imperative. Conversely, on-demand drivers question whether ride-hailing apps make cities better, but they still seek to profit from the disruptive boom. In online communities, some drivers even share knowledge about how to exploit platforms’ technological loopholes to fake trips and maximize profits. Every local community produces a distinct moral world through which they understand their place in society. By placing these moral worlds in parallel, my talk reveals how in this digital age, the boundaries of “local moral worlds” map ever more closely onto technological divides than the traditional divisions of geography, nationality, or culture.
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.
I completed M.A. degree in sociocultural anthropology at Columbia University and B.A. at Shanghai International Studies University.
Watch my speech at 2019 Harvard Horizons Synposium: