Dissertation Research

My dissertation—“Asserting Indigenous ‘Self-Sufficiency’: Inclusive Design and its Limits in a Precarious Taiwan”—investigates the rise of participatory design (參與式設計) as a government strategy to innovate new medical and agricultural technologies in hopes of rectifying health inequalities and improving crop yields in Taiwan's Indigenous communities. I interrogate how such inclusionary policies based on “design thinking” ignore questions of historical and structural inequality, as well as obscure quests for nation-building and Indigenous self-determination—two different notions of “self-sufficiency” (自給自足)—in a precarious contemporary Taiwan. 

Through 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork, the dissertation examines how Amis Indigenous communities insist that systemic issues like economic inequalities, lack of health resources, and severed land relations well exceed the scope of design practices. In four empirical chapters, I explore how participatory policies open up gray zones of power for communities to tactically seize resources and steward new institutions that accord with their needs.

In my Coda, I meditate on why self-sufficiency, and why the inclusion of marginalized communities in projects of technological innovation, are gaining traction in the context of geopolitical dramas surrounding today's Taiwan and China. I turn to historiographical research as well as short-term ethnographic fieldwork done on Chinese participatory design projects to make this comparative case.

Follow-up Project

In my second project, I turn to circular bioeconomy (循環生物經濟) guided neighborhoods and residential complexes in Taiwan and China. These projects likewise insist on a notion of self-sufficiency”—secured through urban and technical infrastructures—as a comprehensive solution to pandemic, environmental, and political crises. I interrogate the techno-optimism of these projects, and examine the tensions of their deployment in minoritarian and Indigenous communities.