Researching under authoritarian regimes

With authoritarianism becoming entrenched in Asia and democratic regimes attracted by repressive political strategies, it is appropriate to consider research strategies. “Reflections on Conducting Fieldwork under Digital Surveillance: Investigating Labour Politics in China’s Tech Industry” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1955293) is a timely Commentary for JCA, authored by Hong Yu Liu of the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge in the UK.

The article’s abstract states:

This article discusses how digitally mediated state control of citizens and society are affecting fieldwork in the People’s Republic of China. The aims of this article are: (i) to present my first-hand experience of conducting fieldwork in Shanghai and Hangzhou as a foreign investigator; and (ii) to exposit two types of digital surveillance encountered during fieldwork. The first is referred to as “digital profiling”: state authorities’ profiling of researchers based on their online identity and online activities. The second is “digital monitoring”: state authorities’ monitoring of the communication and interactions between researchers and informants online. In the final part of this article, some of the ethical considerations pertaining to the conduct of fieldwork under digital surveillance in China are considered. Consequently, it is hoped that the analysis presented here will benefit researchers at all career levels who are planning to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in authoritarian countries such as China.

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