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Theses - Sociology


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  • ItemOpen Access
    Adoption in the USA: The racialised digital representation & monetisation of children
    Higgins, Isabelle
    In this thesis, I explore how children deemed eligible for adoption in the USA are represented and monetised by a range of digital ‘adoption advocates’, including governments, private adoption agencies and adoptive parents. Though there have been extensive studies on the racialised political economic forces that shape US adoption practices, and separate research into the racialised structures of digital technology, this thesis breaks new ground by considering how adoption practices are shaped by internet design and use. The thesis thus shows that the everyday realities experienced by children in the US adoption process are shaped by the intersections of racial, reproductive and digital forms of structural injustice. To make this argument, I draw on digital data collected over 12-month period, which I analyse using critical techno-cultural discourse analysis. Such analysis leads me to argue that digital ‘adoption advocacy’ is a diverse but sustained set of practices concerned with encouraging the placement of children, currently living in state care or with their birth families in a range of global locations, with adoptive parents in the USA. By using this framing, I connect the work of state governments (who share images and photographs of children in their care) to the work of adoptive parent social media influencers (who represent and monetise their everyday family life and their children’s perceived alterity). Drawing attention to the structural conditions of intersectional inequality that this representation and monetisation of children reflects and reproduces, I argue that the digital practices of ‘adoption advocates’ actively produce the inequalities that adoption in the USA relies upon. I show the significance of these digital practices by first placing them into a broader context, highlighting that representations of children of colour have been created by producers and for audiences occupying spaces of whiteness, throughout longer, non-digital histories. I then explore the relationship between ‘digital’ practices and the ‘non-digital’ material and embodied realities that such practices rely on and contribute to. The thesis does important work by showing the value of sustained engagement with an empirical case over time. It shows how structural forms of inequality shape the lives and experiences of a group of children whose personal information is repeatedly shared in the public domain, often without their knowledge or consent. In addition, by engaging reflexively with the power and inequality reflected in this empirical case, the thesis also explores the role that disciplinary social sciences can play in in identifying and challenging the reproduction of inequality.
  • ItemEmbargo
    The Limits of Social Citizenship: Unemployment Insurance and the Reproduction of the South African Racial Capitalist State, 1937-2023
    Hallink, Courtney
    Three decades following the end of apartheid, racial stratification continues to be reproduced along historically constituted lines. In this dissertation, I ask how the institutionalisation of unemployment insurance during the periods of segregation (1910-1947) and apartheid (1948-1994) continues to affect the racialization of social citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa. In other words, I ask how unemployment insurance legislation continues to undermine the democratization of social citizenship in the post-apartheid present. I use a historical sociological approach, engaging process-tracing while also drawing from historiographical literature and sociological theory. I draw extensively from legislative acts, parliamentary debates (Hansards), reports from various commissions of inquiry, and other relevant government and non-government materials. I draw heavily from secondary literature in order to contextualise the legislative changes made in the periods in question. Finally, I draw from a small number of interviews held with key informants on post-1994 social policy reform. I zoom in on five key episodes of policy building: the adoption of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) in 1937; the 1946 amendments made under the Jan Smuts government; the 1949 amendments made by the newly elected National Party government headed by D.F. Malan; the amendments made following the declared ‘independence’ of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and the Ciskei in the late 1970s and early 1980s; and, finally, the episode of policy reform following the democratic transition. The Union of South Africa, still under the British imperial arm, constructed an unemployment insurance system structured around the needs of the ‘ideal’ White worker to consolidate the South African racial capitalist state in the hands of the White minority. Drawing from Tiffany Willoughby-Herard’s path-defining Waste of a White Skin: The Carnegie Commission and the Racial Logic of White Vulnerability, I demonstrate how the ‘deserving’ White was defined against the anti-black logic of the ‘poor White’. In defining what whiteness was not, the White supremacist state was simultaneously defining what whiteness was. The ideal worker came to represent the urban, formalised, skilled, White male breadwinner. The ideal worker then, was not only implicitly racialized, but also gendered and classed. Situating the institutionalisation of the UIF in its broader historical and political-economic context, reveals how the state’s interest in upholding White supremacy was sometimes at odds with the demands of capital. Over time, as the state responded to these contradictions, the explicitly racialized exclusions were removed from the legislation. As a result, the UIF came to be mistaken as having been de-racialized in the final years of apartheid. The incremental naturalisation of racialization in the UIF’s eligibility criteria, combined with the rise of neoliberalism and the increasing presence of American imperial capital interests, meant that the UIF in the democratic era maintained its core structure first articulated by the White supremacist government. This is not to suggest that individuals historically racialized as Black cannot enjoy the ‘full rights’ of citizenship, but rather, it is to argue that the arbitrary markers that determine the boundary between inclusion and exclusion continue to obey the logic of normative (patriarchal) whiteness. In other words, individuals who approximate ‘middle-class whiteness’ are the most likely to enjoy the full benefits of social citizenship. As a result, historically marginalized communities continue to face exclusion (and precarious inclusion) from the social rights associated with South African citizenship.
  • ItemControlled Access
    The Meaning of Being Independent: Precarities of Work and Lifestyles and Alternative-Seeking among Chinese Self-Employed Cultural Workers
    Liu, Ruoxi
    Notwithstanding the many emerging terms relevant to self-employed/independent workers, such as freelancers and flexible workers, and the growing discussion regarding new types of work and entrepreneurship, self-employed workers are still a minority in the Chinese labour market. Without an official definition and uniform categorisation, self-employed workers in Chinese society face an ambivalent situation in economic, social, and cultural terms. This thesis investigates the independent cultural workers, who constitute a significant population to study among the self-employed workers. They represent an important niche social group whose work ideally requires a high level of autonomy and creativity but who constantly face constraints from content regulation and censorship. Compared to other self-employed workers (such as gig workers and non-cultural digital workers) or those in other social contexts, independent cultural workers in China face challenges connected with being ‘independent’ in various aspects of sociality, culture, and gender. Contextualised in contemporary mainland China, a post-socialist society characterised by its own features of collectivism, individualisation, and neoliberal tendencies, this thesis studies the ‘independents’ who do cultural work to understand three sets of research themes from a sociological perspective: First, precarity and hope in independent cultural workers’ work and lifestyles; second, the politics of cultural production; and third, the individual-society-state relationship. The thesis adopts a mixture of qualitative methodologies (participant observation, in-depth interview, and solicited diary-keeping) throughout an 11-month period (from May 2020 to April 2021) of ethnographic fieldwork across a number of Chinese cities. Drawing on the testimonies of 111 interviewees, 16 diaries, and my own fieldnotes as a participant observer and engaging with the literature on precarity and hope in creative labour studies, the politics of cultural production, and individualism and individualisation, I first summarise their work and lifestyle practices, characterised by various precarities, not only in the normal sense as an aspect of work, but also from social, cultural, and gendered standpoints. I then investigate how they strive for self-realisation in part via negotiation at both individual and community levels, in response to the growing interest from the market and the state in self-employment. Last, I highlight their search for alternatives to various kinds of precarity and the increasing uncertainties created by the multiple players within China’s cultural politics. In particular, I identify their alternative practices in developing new modes of doing cultural work via self-organisation, cultivating alternative spaces, communities, and cultures, and pursuing a new, often non-confrontational cultural politics through everydayness and mobility-seeking. By pursuing three lines of enquiry, this research contributes to an understanding of the meaning of ‘being independent’ in an authoritarian society with residual collectivist, as well as neoliberal tendencies. I argue that ‘being independent’ in China starts with aspects of work but goes beyond it to also encompass cultural, social, and political aspects of life. I conclude by establishing workers’ reasons for being independent, which lie in achieving self-realisation, social withdrawal, and individualism, and the approaches to being independent, including disengagement from society and alternative-seeking. I finally position independent cultural workers as a drifting social group and reflect on the features of heterogeneity, in-betweenness, and temporality, shown in their work and lifestyle practices and status of being independent. Overall, this thesis furthers a more nuanced understanding of cultural/creative work, cultural/creative workers, and their communities; develops new insights into the individual-society-state relationship and contest individual agency at the grassroots levels in China; and provides a ‘cultural independents’-focused version of China’s individualisation process.
  • ItemEmbargo
    An Analysis of Social Networks and Framing in the Catalan Independence Movement: Towards a Theory of Networked Nationalist Collective Action
    Imperial, Miranda Carla
    In 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain struck down an enhanced Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia, refusing to give the territory extra provisions of nationality. This saw a new wave of Catalan pro-independence sentiment emerge, with ensuing demonstrations and online activism for Catalan nationalism. With this backdrop, my research seeks to bring an understanding to this new iteration of Catalan nationalist mobilisation by analysing the developments in Twitter-mediated collective action during 2012-2022. My main argument holds that Catalan nationalism during this decade is an example of a networked nationalist social movement: a prolonged mobilisation activity underpinned by relations between individuals, activist groups and even institutions collaborating together with nationalist activist aims, often those of greater self-determination and extending to independence and secession. This thesis identifies and addresses a glaring gap in the literature: a link between analysing nationalist mobilisation themes together with social movement organisational dynamics. Thus, my research undertakes a mixed-methods approach combining quantitative social network analysis and a qualitative content analysis focusing on interpreting activist frames that empirically brings together the two theoretical fields. In this way, I outline whether we can think of Catalan pro-independence as a social movement, how it has changed over time, who the key actors in the movement are, and how they have framed Catalan identities and reasons for mobilisation. My thesis reveals the existence of a mediated civic, liberal nationalist movement with prominent social movement organisations that focuses on grievances and oppositional framing. This understanding complicates civic and ethnic distinctions in nationalism theory, as well as previous understandings of Catalan nationalism. Ultimately, my findings shed new light on nationalism as a crucial, mobilising force, beyond individuals or institutions.
  • ItemOpen Access
    The role of finance and intangibles in the financialised pharmaceutical sector
    Hawksbee, Luke
    The last few decades are widely believed to represent a ‘new economy’: for some, it is a high-tech or ‘knowledge-based’ economy; for others, one dominated by finance. Finance has certainly exploded, and we have seen huge breakthroughs in high-tech sectors like pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, these same sectors face intensified public scrutiny, over issues ranging from monopolisation to pricing, product safety, and more. The nature and institutional context of the contemporary pharmaceutical sector affords shareholders major pay-outs, sowing resentment among the public who are forced to pay its rents even in the face of apparently slowed innovation. This thesis explores and explains how contemporary pharmaceutical business models operate—in particular, how there are shaped by financial considerations and intangible assets. Mixed methods are used, bringing together quantitative analysis of ‘big pharma’ accounts with a qualitative case study. The former incorporates data from 20 global big pharma firms selected based on their revenue over time and headquartered in 3 regions, spanning the years 1991–2017 inclusive. The latter focuses on Martin Shkreli, (former CEO of 2 notable firms that acquired and hiked the prices of several drugs) and is based on news media reports and other publicly accessible documents, such as investor presentations. Financial holdings, engineering and rent-seeking seem less significant to big pharma than other sectors. Big pharma remains committed to innovation, despite its partial commodification and outsourcing through takeovers and markets for intangibles. However, financial thinking does inspire the adoption by some firms of novel and controversial business strategies and models. These findings challenge influential notions within the literature, such as the perception that big pharma has largely abandoned R&D, or that small start-ups are by their nature innovative. They also strengthen the case for understanding financialisation as an uneven and combined phenomenon, as well as contributing to the process of synthesising the literatures on financialisation and assetisation.
  • ItemEmbargo
    Breaking the News: When Populists Turn Against the Media
    Pniewsky, Ayala
    November 7th 2016 found Ilana Dayan, a renowned Israeli journalist, exceptionally nervous. Nothing in her long career prepared her for this moment: she was about to read aloud a long smearing account of herself and her work on national TV. Like many reporters and news hosts worldwide, when Dayan entered the profession she could not imagine that one day she would be standing in front of the camera, telling the Israeli people that she was, allegedly, a traitor. But she did. For six long minutes, Dayan read out loud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s smearing reply to her investigative report. “The time has come to unmask Ilana Dayan”, she said, “because Dayan leads a concerted frenzy against Netanyahu. … Dayan has a problem not only with Netanyahu – but with the Israeli people”. The dramatic TV segment has quickly gone viral. This memorable moment demonstrates the unique challenges which journalists – and particularly women, people of colour, and religious/ethnic minorities – are now facing in various countries. My doctoral dissertation examines journalists’ coping strategies against populist attacks and online harassment. How do journalists cover populist smears targeting them, their colleagues, and their profession? How do these attacks affect their daily work? Which structural conditions enable them to fight back? And what role does social media play in this conflict? Through 45 interviews with leading journalists in Israel, large-scale public opinion surveys, and analyses of the populist rhetoric, its media coverage, and social media content, I explore four different coping strategies and their implications for democracy, equality, and the future of journalism. My work thus aims to contribute to the research on the relationship between journalists and publics, beyond questions of trust and credibility. It builds on media sociology literature – from Tuchman’s seminal work on strategic rituals of objectivity (1972) to Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model (1988) – combined with contemporary political theory and political science – from Mudde’s work on populism (2004) to Muller’s theory of democracy (2016) – to develop theoretical concepts like “strategic bias”, “journalistic imagination”, and “rituals of loyalty”. It concludes by suggesting real-world research-based advice for journalists under attack. Studying anti-media populism in Israel is particularly urgent. Populist media bashing has turned journalists’ lives in the region upside down long before Trump’s victory and the Brexit referendum, which sparked booming academic interest in populism and media. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has always been a fierce critic of the press (Peri 2004). Moreover, the ramifications of phenomena like online harassment and mob censorship (Waisbord 2020) are extremely consequential in Israel and Palestine. As I demonstrate in one of the empirical chapters, leading Israeli journalists have often avoided discussing and covering the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, due to their fear of political attacks and their attempt to maintain the public’s trust and attention. This was not necessarily effective; it has, however, remained a pervasive strategy in the Israeli news industry. I would argue that, apart from the financial incentives and the intense competition with social media, it is the ethos of journalism itself that drives journalists to play into the hands of right-wing populists who seek to discredit them. To improve the relationship between audiences and journalists – as well as our information environment – this ethos must be reckoned with and reconsidered.
  • ItemControlled Access
    Cyprus in the British Empire’s Time and Space: Documents, Objects, and Colonial Practices of Knowledge Production
    Pissaride, Iris
    This thesis traces the ways in which Cyprus is inscribed within the British Empire’s time and space by focusing on documents and objects composed and collected in the first thirty years of the British occupation. In so doing, it investigates practices of knowledge production in and for Cyprus — such as writing, photographing, collecting, mapping, surveying, displaying — and highlights how they engender bifurcations of belonging to history. The thesis adds to the research on colonial practices of knowledge production, and to critiques of imperial epistemologies by tracing how historical time in and of the West is written in and for Cyprus. Specifically, it implicates colonial archaeology within the imperial historical time wherein Cyprus is inscribed as a colonial space. Using a multi-layered approach to archival methods, the thesis traces genealogies and microhistories of power, while potentializing gaps and failures in colonialism’s nexus of narrating, documenting, and archiving. I first engage with materials of writing Cyprus from the beginning of the British occupation. These place Cyprus in the empire’s time, but outside of the empire’s space, through the concept and the object of the ruin. With abundance of ruins, Cyprus becomes a place of extracting the West’s history. This connects to an epistemological turn across Western disciplines, from the legitimacy of texts to that of objects, whereby ancient objects evidence bifurcations of East and West. Continuing from the macro to the micro, I then zoom-in on the archives of Francis Hill Guillemard, a British academic who visited Cyprus, collected objects for what he called “museum-stuffing”, and co-established the Cyprus Exploration Fund which excavated the island. Through his diaries and memoirs I trace the proliferation of “the collection” and “the knower” of history. I proceed by following another colonial agent through the archive: Horatio Herbert Kitchener — the mapmaker of Cyprus. I trace how Cypriots and their landscape were mapped and surveyed, eliminating Ottoman social relations and religious syncretism through documentation. I follow the process of fixation as various concepts of ascribing difference are tried out by colonial administrators to reach the ethnoreligious. I then track Cypriot lifeworlds left out: those that are not registered in the map and census, but are found in petitions and complaints filed-away in archives. As syncretic lifeworlds are dismissed, I trace how colonial pathways to modernity are displayed. They are displayed in the present as pathways to “progress” in the Colonial Exhibition; and in the past, through the archaeological Cyprus Museum, that, I argue, acts as a storage-room for Britain’s institutions. Finally, I zoom in again, this time on an object that was discussed and photographed intensely until it failed the discourse of collectable ancientness: a perforated monolith. I trace how this “failure” to enter Western history can potentialize ways of unlearning imperialism following Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s work. I conclude by suggesting the concept of imperial timescape to explain how Cyprus is used as a landscape of extractable time, and how it enters the West through a useful-for-the-empire ancient, rather than recent, past.
  • ItemEmbargo
    Agents in Crisis: Theoretical Studies on Agency, Meaning and Time
    Raza Mejia, Sebastian
    The concept of crisis has become a staple in describing the current state of the social world. In the last decades, sociological theorists have retrieved the notion in connection with its cognate idea of critique. This retrieval comes hand in hand with recognising a dual character of crisis situations. On the one hand, crises are produced by causal dynamics and mechanisms, which a naturalistic approach to social structures can account for. On the other hand, crises are made sense and transformed from within, which demands a more interpretivist approach to human agency. This thesis is a theoretical intervention in the latter dimension of crisis with the aim of building specific analytical models and a general theoretical framework that can account for how agents make sense, interpret and transform a crisis situation. Taking a step back from sociology to phenomenology, Part I of this thesis reconstructs the experience of a crisis. First, I argue that crises represent a particular type of action problem marked by ‘inchoateness’, differentiating them from risks, emergencies, puzzles and akin action problems. Inchoateness refers to a situation in which its organising framework is experienced as problematic, for it fails to orient agents to relevant facts and normative considerations. Second, I argue that organising frameworks – i.e., ‘the background’ – must be construed in normative and hermeneutical ways: it is constitutive by strong values and is open to interpretation. Crisis situations are opaque, normatively unintelligible and factually illegible, and relate to ‘hermeneutical gaps’ at the level of the framework. Third, I argue that the transformative resolution to inchoate situations shares the phenomenological structure of insights. An insight embodies a non-cumulative and non-linear solution which hinges on the transformation of the ways of seeing and ultimately frameworks. In Part II, in dialogue with hermeneutics, practice theory and different sociological approaches, this thesis argues that, in order to account for the situated and transformative sense-making of crisis situations made evident through phenomenology, sociological theory must take a threefold turn in its theorisation of agency, culture, and time. First, theories of agency must encompass the notions associated with the concept of the person – i.e., value-orientation and self-guided projectivity – without dismissing the situated and practical nature of human agency by granting self-interpretation and value-attunement a central role. Second, it argues that theories of meaning and culture must take an expressivist turn capable of encompassing the whole range of symbolic forms (bodily enactment, symbols and concepts) through which agents access, make sense and transform their frameworks. Third, sociological theories must turn to the question of temporalisation, which I differentiate from the question of time. They must account not only for the different temporal orientations of agency (e.g., the past-oriented character of habits and the future-oriented character of imagination), but also for how agency temporalises itself, that is, how it creates critical, non-linear, and non-cumulative transitions in self-understanding. Building upon these discussions, Part II also offers analytical models to account for different types of inchoateness, transformative-interpretative patterns and modalities of temporalisation. Bodily enactment, symbolic figuration and narrative bootstrapping constitute three interpretative patterns through which agents transform their frameworks in moments of crisis and temporalise their self-understanding.
  • ItemEmbargo
    IVF Journeys of No Return: A Sociological Analysis of Reproductive Ambivalence in Contemporary China
    Huang, Tianqi; Huang, Tianqi [0000-0002-0489-1678]
    This research presents an in-depth qualitative portrait of Chinese women’s in vitro fertilisation experiences (IVF) in the post-one-child era, providing a sociological analysis of reproductive politics in contemporary China. With the end of the one-child policy, the population policy in China has heralded a gradual retreat of anti-natalist policies and signalled a shift towards pro-natalism at the national level. However, at the individual level, the recent population policy does not seem to be embraced on a large scale, with people expressing unwillingness to have (or to have more) children and fertility anxiety about the high costs of childcare. Throughout this thesis, I argue that IVF journeys reveal multi-layered ambivalence around reproduction – with both pro-natalist and anti-natalist aspects – and that IVF also intensifies women’s ambivalence in their pursuit of fertility. I employed a multi- sited ethnography for this study combining participant observation at a family hostel for IVF patients from across China in Beijing with in-depth semi-structured interviews with 29 women, 2 clinicians and 1 bioethicist. I also visited several IVF clinics following women’s treatment trajectories and collected information from online IVF forums, group chats, media representations, and population policy documents. In my analysis of the data, I develop the concept of *ambi-natalism* to refer to the interplay of multiple ambivalent factors regarding reproductive culture and practice, including both pro-natalist and anti-natalist aspects. Three data chapters elaborate on aspects of the IVF journeys that characterise *ambi-natalism*. I start with how an IVF decision was negotiated within a family, move on to how women tried their best to navigate a successful IVF treatment, and finally explore how women reflect upon their IVF journeys and their motivations. This thesis draws on the sociology of reproduction, feminist IVF research, the sociology of the family, especially with regard to the ongoing individualisation process in China, and the sociology of population governance. The concept of *ambi-natalism* contributes to confounding the tidy dualism between pro-natalism and anti-natalism. On the one hand, it explains the coexistence of both pro-natalist and anti-natalist beliefs and practices regarding reproduction in contemporary China. On the other hand, *ambi-natalism* addresses the tensions between pro-natalism and anti-natalism in today’s China, pulling and pushing reproductive practices whereby bringing more ambivalence that is borne by women. Furthermore, I suggest that IVF encompasses *ambi-natalist* values and norms in contemporary China while participating in shaping a latent uncertainty about the state’s demographic future. Additionally, my work offers policy recommendations for building a more gender-equal and fertility-friendly society.
  • ItemEmbargo
    Environmental Movements in China’s Digital Age
    Sun, Xiaokun
    New media technologies have transformed environmental campaigns and activism in China. The social media affords both Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and local protester communities the opportunity to embrace the dynamics of environmental movements in the digital age, when flexible networks of communications among stakeholders are necessary and encouraged. The use of social media is these days redefining power arrangements and capital accumulation in China’s environmental movements. Environmental NGOs and local communities use different tactics to work using what the social media affords. In this thesis I explore environmental movements in China’s digital age. First, I critically assess how the social media is used differently by environmental NGOs and the loosely self-organised field of local environmental protester communities. By analysing 76 in-depth interviews with stakeholders, seven cases of localised small-scale protests, and three large-scale Anti-PX Protest Movements, I evaluate how the use of social media is shaping China’s environmental movements. Although analysing social media offers insights for understanding China’s environmental movements, it is not enough to attribute to new media technologies the ultimate influence on the logics of the local-communities-field and the environmental-NGOs-field. Rather, taking account of a 9-month internship in two environmental NGOs and subsequent empirical analysis, I provide insights into the ways that environmental NGOs, protester communities, the government, and traditional media journalists interact with the social media, and accordingly how different forms of capital are exchanged. Drawing upon a field approach, inspired by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, I build the empirical investigation and extend the field theory in understanding social media and social movement research. The lessons learned have led me to propose a new form of capital: public capital. The findings of my research reveal how different forms of capital – including cultural, social, symbolic, economic, and now ‘public – environmental NGOs and local communities possess are changing in relation to social media affordances and use. Among the findings is that the use of social media has brought stakeholders of the environmental movement field a variety of chances and challenges to act and communicate with each other; the use of social media strengthens interactions among environmental NGOs and local communities; the social media has helped to expand the networks of environmental NGOs and activist communities; and the social media has blurred distinctions between NGOs and local community actions, albeit in limited ways. In a digital age of social media, environmental NGOs and protester groups not only shared resources; they were also able to take risks together. With the use of social media, environmental NGOs could secretly become involved in street activism, while local protesters learned alternative ways of public interest litigation to sue the polluters. However, the study reveals that face-to-face personal networks and traditional mass communication are still at the core of China’s contemporary environmental movements. Possible explanations for this include a huge digital divide, censorship and surveillance, and a lack of sufficient funds and qualified personnel among NGOs. The results reconsider how uncertainties, censorship, and the risks of surveillance and personal danger complicate any use of the social media for social movements.
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    Civil Society and the Politics of Values: Social services and the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan
    Weise, Madita
    This dissertation analyses how the role of civil society organisations (CSO) in Jordan changed in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis between 2011 and 2019. CSOs are often the most important actors in the immediate aftermath of a crisis providing emergency aid and consolation for communities. However, they are also essential to the ability of a society to weather the medium-term impact of crisis by paving the way for and shaping social values and behavioural change in a country. Thus, crisis acts as an inflection point in which CSOs assume renewed or changed responsibilities. The case of CSOs in Jordan responding to the Syrian forced displacement crisis reveals that the mediation occurred in four ways. First, the CSOs changed their (i) objectives and (ii) their behaviour fostering values of social justice and community service. Second, the CSOs changed their relationship with (iii) the community and (iv) the government mitigating the impacts of the forced displacement crisis. The research offers implications for the debate of the role of CSOs in the Middle East and how to envision its continued development and progress. It also contributes to the discourse of CSOs as it embeds it in a crisis context. My research design builds on insights from phenomenology and interactionism to hone in on the subjective experience of the Jordanians who helped in the emergency response to the refugee crisis. Therefore, to answer these questions in my dissertation, I conducted interviews with CSO staff and volunteers, and a wider group of Jordanians involved in the response to the influx of Syrian refugees between 2011 and 2019. The text analysis of CSO motivational statements as well as secondary source analysis allowed me to assess the transformation of CSOs during crisis. The results of my research showed that CSOs change during crises in important ways with implications for understanding the societal trajectories of change. During the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan, CSOs stepped in to provide social services to those in need. Shaped by the experience of working in this crisis harnessed social justice values of CSOs and their staff. These values generated, in a Bourdieusian sense, capital. These forms of capital propelled CSOs in the dynamic crisis context to assume political roles as the arbiter of transformed values of social justice. As a result, CSOs providing social services to Syrian refugees to help, became agents in the politicisation of the transformed values themselves. Thus, based on these findings, ongoing scholarly debates on civil society organisations in the Middle East may further investigate how the evolving role of CSOs impact the dynamics of social change in the region at large and how CSOs themselves evolve because of crisis contexts.
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    Installectualism: Public Intellectuals in a Digital World
    Shanti, Ehab
    The emergence and exploitation of new communications tools gave birth to an entirely new breed of public intellectuals for which existing sociological and theoretical frameworks do not suffice to capture the nuanced yet unrestrained facets of the phenomenon and its transformative capacity. The thesis presents a new theoretical framework by building on a foundation of interdisciplinary inquiry into the major trends that constitute the communications revolution. Respectful of the three most salient features that make this an entirely new phenomenon (i.e., speed, contagion, and superficiality), the thesis advances the concept of Insta-llectualism (e.g., “insta” as in insta-success or Instagram) as a more apt definition of this new breed. The thesis crystalises three major components that constitute this emergent phenomenon using interdisciplinary research methods such as natural language processing (NLP), deep learning (DL), and network analysis. First, intellectuals as social media influencers and digital entrepreneurs. Secondly, how new mediums allowed for positioning and discourse that is more engaged, rapid, and viral, albeit often superficial and occasionally belligerent. Finally, how, through a complex algorithmic system of recommendations and reinforcement learning, machines have galvanised the phenomenon, established ego-centred network chambers, and created clusters of polarised communities.
  • ItemOpen Access
    The industrial relations of China’s internet industry: Politics, technology, and labour activism
    Liu, Hong Yu; Liu, Hong Yu [0000-0003-1754-0145]
    This thesis is organised around a collection of articles on the work experience of technology workers in China’s internet industry. It adopts a pluralist industrial relations approach and comments on themes that go beyond the Marxist tradition of labour studies in sociology. Both macro- and micro-angles are deployed in the investigation of a leading Chinese internet company, Digitech (pseudonym); a separate case study of Alibaba also is included. Drawing on qualitative methodologies – including 61 interviews, workplace observations, policy documentation and analysis – this thesis investigates the work experience of China’s technology workers, particularly with regard to how this experience is affected by government policies and the implementation of digital management technologies in the workplace. It also explores motivations for collective action by technology workers and the challenges they face in reality. Chapter 1 introduces the theoretical tradition and explains the benefits of the pluralist industrial relations approach used in this research project. It also gives details of the research design and methodologies, including considerations of research ethics during the design, fieldwork and write-up stages of this doctoral project. The empirical chapters follow. Chapter 2 argues that the Chinese government plays a significant role in shaping the collective work experience in business reality by promoting competition within the business sectors. It also finds that the censorship of online labour activism and ambiguity in court decisions have lowered the interest of technology workers in organising and defending their rights. Chapter 3 documents how technology workers are managed through digital technology and details the impacts of this management approach on their working and living conditions, namely an increase in work intensity and an intensification of competition among workers. It also shows that workers gain higher incomes but proportionately lower shares of the gains from their increased productivity. All of these characteristics contribute to a new form of digital Taylorism. Chapter 4, a case study of the latest example of labour activism in China’s internet industry, argues that despite the Chinese government’s expanding efforts to exert authority over society, technology workers remain militant in defending their rights against workplace sexism. Chapter 5 reflects on the research methodologies deployed in this study, arguing that the state control and surveillance of citizens on both the physical and online terrain can have important yet scant-discussed implications for the conduct of academic fieldwork. Lastly, Chapter 6 concludes the thesis by revisiting the industrial relations system and job quality in China’s internet industry. It also provides recommendations for policy and academic communities, presents some limitations of the current research, and describes some directions that might be taken by research based on the foundation built by this dissertation.
  • ItemControlled Access
    The Social Codes of Tech Workers: On the Quest to be Middle-Class Wealthy and Morally Worthy
    Dorschel, Robert Constantin; Dorschel, Robert [0000-0002-8839-2752]
    The digital labour debate has produced manifold insights into new forms of work and class relations emerging within digital capitalism. So far, however, most research has either focused on tech entrepreneurs or the highly precarious crowd and gig workers, neglecting the growing ranks of professionals who render digital technologies. My study fills this gap by uncovering the subjectivity of so-called ‘tech workers’ — the middle-class fraction responsible for encoding, designing, and managing the algorithms and platforms that permeate social life. Drawing on theoretical concepts from Bourdieu, Foucault, and Lamont, my thesis pursues two interconnected questions: Firstly, what kind of social codes structure the subjectivity of tech workers? And secondly, what forms of boundary-making go hand-in-hand with the subjectivation of tech workers? I position my study in the research field concerned with the nexus of work, capitalism, and subjectivity. Through a systematisation of relevant literature, I reconstruct two ideal types of middle-class white-collar workers: the ‘organisational self’ typical in industrial capitalism, and the ‘entrepreneurial self’, which became the dominant middle-class subjectivity in post-industrial capitalism. My study shows how tech workers are different from both types. To do so, it draws on 52 original interviews with tech workers in the US and Germany as well as extensive discourse analysis of study programs and job ads (188 documents in total). The combination of methods allows me to map out the self-classifications as well as the institutional interpellations of tech workers. The empirical analysis reveals that despite notable differences across national sites and within the professional segment, tech workers typically cultivate a post-entrepreneurial subjectivity. Through a number of social codes – including a return of social critique, hybrid professionalism, as well as lifestyles of ordinariness and mindfulness – tech workers transform the figure of a market-oriented self whose normative capacities exhaust themselves in a longing for creative self-actualisation. My analysis unearths that tech workers are on a quest to be middle-class wealthy and morally worthy. Furthermore, I argue that tech workers are forming a contradictory middle-class fraction. While their social codes demonstrate clear contours of a distinctive social formation, I discuss critically how the class formation is partly undermined through the hacking of their moral codex into yet another spirit of capitalism. My study thus reveals how tech workers hold an economically contradictory position in between capital and labour as well as a morally contradictory position in between emancipation and the (re)production of structures of domination. This finding allows us to better understand how subjectivity and class relate within a rapidly growing and highly influential professional segment of contemporary capitalism. Thereby, my study not only contributes to the digital labour debate but also to the sociology of class and culture more generally.
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    Kurdish Politics in the Cauldron of the Middle East: Lessons from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq from Post-Invasion 2003 to the 2017 Independence Referendum
    Salih, Rebwar Rawf
    This thesis aims to critically analyse the political system of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), with a particular focus on the 2017 independence referendum to see why its government (the KRG) has lost strength internally by losing the trust of its people and externally towards Baghdad politically, economically and militarily. The thesis explains the methodology used to collect data during six months of fieldwork and 93 interviews. The following qualitative analysis examines the effect that the Kurds have had on the politics of Iraq, the Middle East and beyond in detail, and Kurdish politics in Iraq is treated as a case study. The research uses data from primary and secondary sources, focusing on interviews, observation and archival documents and collecting data through the opinions and the interpretation of the words of interviewees in relation to accepted theories in the literature. This thesis is original in terms of its relationship to history as well as broader regional questions, which I will contextualise through the recounting of events in the periods I am examining. However, what makes this contribution unique is my original empirical work in conducting systematic and rigorous interviews not only with political elites, but also with writers, judges, activists and political analysts. The thesis analyses the historical background of Kurdish politics in Iraq and examines the party political system in the KRI, with a main focus on historical division within the Kurds and the emergence and development of the main two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). It explains how both parties maintain power and rule the region. The thesis looks at Kurdish politics in post-2003 Iraq and examines the idea of consociationalism to address the approaches used to manage conflicts in divided societies, with an emphasis on the role played by ethnic and sectarian differences. The thesis examines which conflict regulation theory is best suited for Iraq—consociationalism and federalism or majoritarian unitary models. The attitude the Kurdish leadership adopted in Erbil is examined, along with the policies and decision-making processes within the KRG towards Baghdad and the reasons the KRG went ahead with the independence referendum. The consequences the referendum brought to the KRG are examined to help work out why consociationalism was unable to prevent unrest. The text examines the conflict brought about by the referendum, analysing the reactions from Baghdad, regional powers and the international community, particularly the United States. The polarization among the Kurdish political parties which led to their defeat on 16th October 2017 is examined, as well as issues raised by the referendum. The thesis looks at the KRI’s political system and explains whether the Kurds have formed a systematic government within their own region. Did the KRG follow democratic principles and liberal values, or is based on nepotism, dynasticism and corruption. The thesis focuses on how the KRG functions and provides services before analysing the judicial system in order to see if it is functioning independently. The region’s economy is analysed with a particular focus on oil, and oil-based economics is analysed based on the theory of rentier economic systems. The geopolitical effects of the Kurds in the Middle East are examined by critically analysing Kurdish politics in Iraq, where the Kurds have tried to build independent socio-economic structures and take control of oil resources and revenues.
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    Adorno, Aesthetics, and Critical Theory Beyond Europe
    Awad, Abdullah
    I investigate the philosophical and sociological backdrop against which Theodor W. Adorno conceives of aesthetic theory in his late work, asking how such a theory may provide an opening for rethinking the role of critical theory beyond Europe. I begin by tracing Adorno’s thought back to the German Idealist tradition, foregrounding Kant’s critical project and Hegel’s phenomenology. In doing so, I assess Adorno’s intellectual milieu, in which the reification of form posed a challenge to the content of critical inquiry. I argue that Adorno, in response to this challenge, developed an emphatically aesthetic conception of critique. In making this argument, I delve into Adorno’s aesthetic theory and its relationship to twentieth century German sociology, exploring the categories of subjective experience, mediating institutions, and the totality of social relations. By highlighting Adorno’s insistence on the imbrication of form and content, I offer a critical assessment of his reception by the later generations of the Frankfurt School, as well as in contemporary anglophone sociology. In contrast to such reception, I focus on two figures, the British sociologist Gillian Rose and the French philosopher Jacques Rancière. I argue that Rose and Rancière open Adorno’s aesthetic theory to metaphysical frameworks and canons of art other than those to which Adorno was committed. In considering how their inheritance may provide an opening for rethinking the role of critical theory beyond Europe, I engage with Adorno’s reception in Postcolonial Studies, before turning to an Iranian performance in Paris and an innovative institute in Amman.
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    Making Futures, Making Selves: The Future-Oriented Subject in Eco-Political Documentary Films
    Zobel, Mareike
    The core interest of this dissertation is the constitution of the future-oriented subject in eco-political documentary films. While the genre of feature-length eco-political documentaries has been proliferating since Al Gore’s success with An Inconvenient Truth (2006) at the Academy Awards, feature films as production sites of discursive knowledge are only just starting to gain sociological attention. Located in the borderland between affective narrative and factual representation, eco-political documentaries position themselves as educators of climate futures, inspirers of environmental action and promoters of sustainable lifestyles – as conceptual and practical how-to guides for the future. Building on a grounded theory approach, my reconstructive analysis of feature-length documentaries released between 2006 and 2019 traces how practices of ‘doing future’ in the films are portrayed as inseparable from processes of constituting the self, processes of subjectivation: Engaging with the future becomes engaging with oneself, and developing the self a prerequisite for an alternative future. Considering eco-political documentaries an ‘interpellative genre’, I ask what the represented subject forms (as protagonists, filmmakers, or collectives) suggest who we are supposed to be to create alternative futures, how their processes of becoming relate to specific concepts of the future, and what underlying concept of the human subject informs the narratives. I conclude by discussing how the subjectivities that are advertised as being fit for the future echo the logics of both cultural neoliberalism and posthumanism.
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    Internal Migration in China: New Perspectives on Family Life
    Li, Aihong; Li, Aihong [0000-0001-6226-8350]
    Over the past half-century, China has witnessed the largest internal migration in history, with millions of predominantly rural workers moving to become part of the urban workforce. The hukou household registration system means that migrant workers experience various forms of disadvantage relative to those born in cities, in terms of access to housing and other social amenities; in addition, families are often separated for protracted periods by migration. In this thesis I analyse the effects of migration from three novel and under-researched perspectives. The first is about rural children’s experiences of boarding school. The mental health of children left behind by migration has generated a huge literature, but the role played by boarding schools has received little attention; existing evidence is mixed and does not take into account parental migration. Using data from the first wave of the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS 2010), I investigate the relationship between boarding school and a range of child outcomes, controlling for both household and community characteristics. I find that boarding school is associated with poorer mental health for children; in addition, although boarding school is predominantly a rural rather than a "left-behind" phenomenon, left-behind status slightly modifies the influence of boarding on children’s academic performance and academic satisfaction. Secondly, I explore the emotional health of older people whose children have migrated for work. A small literature has documented negative effects on elders’ mental health, but it does not investigate the mechanisms that underpin this relationship. Using data from CFPS 2010, I introduce three new dimensions. I consider temporal factors, finding that elders’ mental health decreases the longer their children are away, but recovers after a certain length of time. I also distinguish between left-behind parents based on whether all or some of their adult children have migrated, finding that rural elders suffer less adverse impacts, and recover twice as quickly from the absence, when only some of their children have migrated. Finally, I investigate moderating effects, showing that providing (grand)childcare and receiving economic support from migrant children mitigate negative effects on mental health. Thirdly, I examine the extent to which migrant households have access to financial services provided by banks, insurance companies and other institutions, using data from the China Household Financial Studies (2013). Multilevel estimates reveal substantial differences in financial inclusion by hukou status, with significant modifying effects of city development. The findings shed light on the potential for market failures that deny access to financial services to groups of people, and suggest how policymakers could regulate the financial services market for better consumer protection, financial inclusion, and rural-urban integration. Results from all three empirical chapters suggest that internal migration and economic reform in China have not benefited rural citizens as intended. Rural children suffer significantly poorer mental health in boarding schools; elderly parents’ mental health is strongly impacted by their adult children’s migration, and migrants in urban areas – even those who have successfully converted to an urban hukou - experience impediments when attempting to integrate into urban life. Evidence from multiple perspectives of family life suggests a need for institutional changes leading to fairer and more equal outcomes for rural migrants and their families.
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    Human Germline Genome Editing as a Potential Reproductive Choice: An Exploratory Sociological Study in the United Kingdom
    Kaur, Amarpreet; Kaur, Amarpreet [0000-0002-4928-9234]
    This thesis explores key factors that appear to influence attitudes towards the use of human germline genome editing (hGGE) as a reproductive choice in the United Kingdom (UK), and suggests how identifying these factors could assist in the design of future regulation. Key factors were identified using a three-phase process of primary data gathering. These included a mixed-methods online survey of a tailored sample of 521 members of the British public, semi-structured interviews with 13 relevant experts and professionals, and structured interviews with 21 people affected by monogenic conditions. Data from these three sequential phases of research were triangulated to identify the findings presented in this thesis. The findings indicate that support for applications of hGGE as a potential legal reproductive choice in the UK may be contingent on three precursory conditions being met. First, that hGGE is robustly regulated to limit its potential applications to preventing disease. Second, that the scientific concerns surrounding the safety and success of hGGE technologies are resolved before the technology is approved for use. And third, that if hGGE were to become a possible reproductive choice in the UK, equitable access to its benefits could be of importance. Other factors, such as the nature and perceived severity of a genetic disease in relation to quality of life and to a person’s mental health, also appeared to influence the attitudes of respondents to and participants in this research. Chapters 1-2 introduce the research question and methodology. Four subsequent chapters explore the significance of the research findings, and how they might inform the design of future regulation of hGGE in the UK. Two recommendations and eight considerations for future governance are summarised in the concluding chapter.