My dissertation looks at the explosive rise of "participatory design" (參與式設計) movements in Taiwan. In fields ranging from healthcare to environmental remediation and public housing, the government has been investing heavily in projects to recruit the participation of elderly, Indigenous, rural, or otherwise minoritized communities in the production of new technologies. Ultimately, these projects of inclusion are tasked with the end goal of making historically marginalized communities "self-sufficient" (自給自足) —no longer in need of aid—through locally-suited technological innovation.
My research asks why this strategy of inclusion has come to be the case. It offers a 21-month long ethnographic investigation of how two concepts—"participatory design" and "self-sufficiency"—are transforming both governance strategies and grassroots politics in Taiwan. I focus on how local communities engage in interviews and oral histories with bureaucrats to produce new medical technologies (such as smart health systems and health education apps) and environmental technologies (such as agricultural and environmental monitoring systems) "suited to their needs." Using feminist science studies, I place my emphasis on how they understand these movements, as well as how they contest, subvert, and rework the ontological and epistemological assumptions built into these government programs' claims. In so doing, I hope to illuminate how different interpretations of a complex and thorny set of ideas—participation, democracy, self-governance, or sovereignty—are transforming grassroots movements, practices, and demands in Taiwan.
I also ask why the idea of "self-sufficiency" (itself a gendered concept), and why the inclusion of marginalized communities in technological production, are historically and presently 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.
In my second project, I turn to "circular bioeconomy" (循環生物經濟) guided neighborhoods and residential complexes in Taiwan and China. I do so in order to continue asking questions on the concept of "self-sufficiency" as well as to investigate why particular human-nonhuman living arrangements in both countries are taking on newfound political urgency.