GSA-China Welcomes Tom Douglass as the New Research Officer

Tom Douglass, PhD Candidate at the SSPSSR, has joined the team as the research officer. He will work with Dr. Joy Zhang on dissemination of research findings, project outreach as well as on the project’s final conference ‘Governing Trust in Biosciences: Institutional and Cultural Change’ to be held on 22 and 23 February 2018 at the British Academy.

Graduated with the highest average on his degree programme, Tom was awarded with a BA (1st Class) in Sociology and Social Policy and later earned an MA in Social Research Methods, both from Russell Group universities. Tom won the prestigious University of Kent’s 50th Anniversary scholarship, which supports highly selective candidates with ‘academic excellence and outstanding research potential’.

Tom’s current research examines ‘pharmaceuticalisation’ in the UK with a focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. In addition, he has also contributed to the teaching on core undergraduate modules, such as Fundamentals of Sociology (SO337), Sociology of Everyday Life (SO336), and Contemporary Sociological Theory (SO727).

Tom’s work on the regulation of pharmaceuticals and trust in healthcare have been published as book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles.

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Prof. Gao and Dr. Liao Bring the EMR to Leading Chinese Universities

This week, Chinese partners, Prof. Lu Gao and Dr. Miao Liao brought the Educational Module Resource (EMR) to science postgraduates at Tsinghua University. The decision to incorporate EMR into the course, Innovation and the Development of Science &Technology, as explained by the module convenor Prof. Zhengfeng Li, was to give students ‘a more comprehensives understanding of innovation’. Students’ feedback confirmed that content of the EMR helped them to be more sensitive about how to approach and communicate ‘unknown unknowns’ in emerging science.

A key deliverable of this ESRC project, the pilot 7 lectures of the EMR are arguably the first attempt to develop an educational resource on public engagement training that speaks to Chinese particularities. It aims to fill the gap of public engagement training in Chinese science curriculum.

Earlier this month, sections of the EMR have also been integrated into Yantai University compulsory module, Dialectics of Nature, which is taken by more than 500 postgraduate students across science and engineering majors. Owing to Prof Gao’s and Dr Liao’s effective outreach and strong commitment, other leading Chinese institutions, such as the Beijing Institute of Technology, the Beijing University of Chemical Technology, and a number of research institutions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have agreed to adopted sections of the EMR into their existing autumn modules.

This pilot run of the EMR is expected to generate valuable insights on institutionalising public engagement education in China. Prof. Goa and Dr. Liao will share their findings next February at this project’s final conference, Governing Trust in the Biosciences: Institutional and Cultural Change at the British Academy in London.

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Publication 5 – How to be modern? The social negotiation of ‘good food’ in contemporary China

Zhang, J. Y. (2017). How to be modern? The social negotiation of ‘good food’ in contemporary China. Sociology, forthcoming


Developing safe and sustainable food production for its population has been central to China’s ‘Modernisation Project’. Yet recent fieldwork in 3 Chinese cities suggests that there are two conflicting views on what a ‘modern’ agriculture should look like. For the government, modernisation implies a rational calculation of scale and a mirroring of global trends. But an alternative interpretation of modernity, promoted by civil society, has been gaining ground. For this camp, good food production is then established through a ‘rhizomic’ spread of new practices, which are inspired by world possibilities but are deeply rooted in the local context. Based on 14 interviews and 5 focus groups, this paper investigates the ongoing social negotiation of ‘good food’ in China. It demonstrates how a non-Western society responds to the twin processes of modernisation and globalisation and provides insights on the varieties of modernity in the making.

Key words: China, food, globalisation, grobalisation, social movement, varieties of modernities,

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Bernotaite presents at BSA’s Study Day on Risk and the Media

On Friday, September 8, BSA held a workshop on Risk and the Media, Research Officer, Ausma Bernotaite presented her work on risk frames of Golden Rice, a genetically modified food product, representation in the Philippine and Bangladeshi media.

Bernotaite drew on her work of contested media representations of GMO risk in Bangladeshi and Philippine media to argue that through different focus of GM food and public health perceptions and voicing arguments of varying groups of stakeholders, the two countries were able to construct radically different public discourses in the mainstream newspaper media. With a particular focus on a GM food product called Golden Rice, Bernotaite noted that the different forms in which these contentions were portrayed are in line with the quick research, field trial and document submission for further approval.

BSA’s Risk and Society Study Group has been an important research cluster at the University of Kent. This year’s event focused on risk in the media, and upcoming events will further explore the role of risk plays in social sciences.

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Publication 4 – Lost in Translation? Accountability and Governance of Clinical Stem Cell Research in China

Zhang, J. Y. (2017) ‘Lost in Translation? Accountability and Governance of Clinical Stem Cell Research in China’, Regenerative Medicine, online access:



Despite China’s regulatory initiatives to promote its research accountability, it still needs to prove itself as a trusted player in life science research. In addition, in contrast to its huge investment, China is losing the race in delivering quality application of stem cells. The trial implementation of the 2015 ministerial regulations seemed to offer hope in ending this dual ‘lost-in-translation’. Yet skepticism remains. By examining China’s regulatory trajectory in the last 15 years, this paper illustrates that it is a post-hoc pragmatic policy rationale and a soft centralisation regulatory approach that have hampered China’s governance. To improve China’s governance of accountability, policy-makers need to get beyond an ‘act-in-response’ regulatory ethos and engage with diverse stakeholders.

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Dr. Miao Liao Joins the Team

We welcome Dr. Miao Liao from Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development (CASTED), Ministry of Science and Technology, to join our research team on Governing Scientific Accountability in China. Dr. Liao is to work with Dr Joy Zhang to develop an Educational Module Resource (EMR) on the public engagement of science for key Chinese institutions.

The need to establish an EMR with locally-adapted teaching material to support scientific practitioners and educators learning about research-related practices, was identified in our Wuhan workshop this March. A pilot multi-media EMR (equivalent to 10 teaching hours) is expected to be launched in September. It aims to provide key Chinese institutions that participated in the Wuhan workshop with hands-on guidance on public engagement of science.

*Featured image: Dr Liao (second from left) at the ‘Scientific Risk and Public Engagement’ Wuhan workshop, March 2017.

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Publication 2 – Transparency is a growth industry

Zhang, J. Y. (2017). ‘Transparency Is a Growth Industry’, Nature, 545, S65.

A fierce public debate over the safety of genetically modified food has put pressure on Chinese researchers to engage with the public about their work… read the full article here:

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Publication 3 – Cosmopolitan Risk Community

Zhang, J. Y. (2017). ‘Cosmopolitan Risk Community in a Bowl: A Case Study of China’s Good Food Movement’. Journal of Risk Research, forthcoming



Ulrich Beck fundamentally transformed our way of thinking about human interdependence through his three core theses on risk, individualisation and cosmopolitanisation. However, two commonly observed deficiencies in Beck’s grand theory were its Eurocentric orientation and a lack of empirical grounding.

Based on 5 focus groups and 14 interviews with participants of the emerging Clean Food Movement in China, this paper extends the Beckian discussion outside Europe. Through examining how individuals understand both ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ risks associated with contemporary food consumption, this paper demonstrates that in the face of unpredictable and incalculable harms, risks are not seen as a ‘thing’, but are translated into ‘causal relations’. Subsequently, for Chinese stakeholders, the best way to safeguard food risks is to enact more visible and functioning interdependent relations in the food system. This in turn has given rise to new forms of communities which cut across conventional geographic, socio-economic and political boundaries.

The paper deepens a Beckian theorisation in two ways. First, it demonstrates that the ‘enabling’ effect of risk towards a cosmopolitan society is not limited to obvious global crises, such as climate catastrophes or financial meltdown. In fact, the mundane yet intimate concern of putting ‘good’ food in one’s dinner bowl already presses actors to form new social solidarities that are cosmopolitan in nature. Second, it goes beyond Beck’s assertion that the risk society has culminated in a cosmopolitan moment, and explores how a performative cosmopolitan community reshapes the ‘relations of definition’ to mitigate risks on the ground

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‘Transparency Is a Growth Industry’

The 25 May issue of Nature features Dr Joy Zhang’s commentary on the state of Chinese governance of scientific research, ‘Transparency Is a Growth Industry’. China is currently the world’s second largest investor on scientific research and is increasingly seen as an advantageous destination for scientific powers, such as the UK to forge sustained research collaborations. Drawing on her research on Chinese scientific governance in the past 12 years, Dr Zhang highlighted a welcoming shift of attitudes towards scientific communication and public engagement among Chinese scientific elites. Dr Zhang further mapped out key domestic and international factors that prompted such change but she also cautioned that a ‘coordinated structural and cultural change’ is needed within Chinese institutions for China to establish public engagement that matches its scientific ambition.

Dr Zhang was invited to write this contribution based on her current ESRC project, ‘Governing Scientific Accountability in China’, and on her 2015 publication in which she identified the ‘credibility paradox’ phenomena underlying Chinese scientific controversies. That is, as formal science communication channels are often closely tied to the vindication of development agendas, it undermines the public’s perception of the credibility of science, and promotes an erroneous  perception among scientists that they are (politically) ’unqualified’ to contribute to public outreach.

Full Nature commentary can be accessed at:

Full paper on the ‘Credibility Paradox’ phenomena can be accessed at:

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China’s central science newspaper reports on Joy Zhang’s work

On 27 March 2017 China’s official science newspaper, Science and Technology Daily, reported on Dr Joy Zhang’s ESRC workshop in Wuhan. The workshop stems from Dr Zhang’s ESRC funded project, ‘Governing Scientific Accountability in China‘.

Extensive fieldwork from the study has found that although there is good will from both scientific practitioners and civil society groups, as well as heavy investment from the Chinese government, a key hindrance for (re)building trust and accountability of science in China is a lack of public engagement skills amongst scientists. The event addresses this gap by bringing together 50 delegates (i.e. policy advisors, scientists, bioethicists, sociologists, public engagement experts and relevant civil society staff) from both China and the UK, arguably for the first time, to identify a roadmap for public engagement that is pertinent to Chinese particularities.

As an official media outlet, Science and Technology Daily is a key communicative channel of the Chinese government for its scientific strategies. The newspaper cited Dr Zhang’s vision of China’s public engagement of science at length and echoed her view that promoting a state-society collaboration in the building of risk communication and a risk responsive system is crucial for China’s global research competitiveness.

In addition, Professor Xian’en Zhang, China’s former Director General of Basic Research at the Ministry of Science and Technology, highly commended Dr Zhang’s event for it made a convincing case of how social research can contribute to the rational governance of scientific practices in China.

Read the full report (in Chinese) on the Science and Technology Daily website.

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