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Abigail Coplin Assistant Professor of Sociology and Science, Technology and Society

Dr. Abigail Coplin’s research is situated in political sociology, economic sociology, and science and technology studies. It examines the entanglement—and coproduction of—science, politics, and nationalism in contemporary China, and exposes mechanisms by which non-democratic states contend with experts and incorporate expertise into their governance schemes and legitimacy claims. Her various projects demonstrate that while the Chinese Communist Party-state (CCP) seeks to harness science and technology as a legitimizing ideology and economic driver, semi-incorporating them within the state also gives rise to new, often unintended, dynamics that the party-state must address. 

Dr. Coplin’s teaching also probes the science-market-state nexus. Co-appointed in Vassar’s Sociology Department and Program on Science, Technology, and Society, she teaches State-Society Relations in the US, China, and EU (SOCI/INTL 280), the International Social Life of Science and Technology (STS/SOCI 240), Asian Sociotechnical Imaginaries (STS/SOCI 345), Introduction to Sociology (SOCI 151), and Research Methods (SOCI 254).

Dr. Coplin holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University, an M.A. in Regional Studies of East Asia from Harvard University, and a B.S. in Chemistry and East Asian Studies from Yale University. She previously has held fellowships from the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Contemporary China, the Yale Council on East Asian Studies, and Fulbright Association. She is an avid sailor, spontaneous dancer, and aspiring molecular gastronomist.

 

  • At Vassar since 2019

Contact

  • Office: Blodgett Hall
  • Hours: For Fall 2020, office hours will held be via Zoom
  • Box: 21

Dr. Abigail Coplin’s research is situated in political sociology, economic sociology, and science and technology studies. It examines the entanglement—and coproduction of—science, politics, and nationalism in contemporary China, and exposes mechanisms by which non-democratic states contend with experts and incorporate expertise into their governance schemes and legitimacy claims. Her various projects demonstrate that while the Chinese Communist Party-state (CCP) seeks to harness science and technology as a legitimizing ideology and economic driver, semi-incorporating them within the state also gives rise to new, often unintended, dynamics that the party-state must address. 

Dr. Coplin’s book project, “Domesticating Biotechnological Innovation: Science, Market, and the State in Post-Socialist China,” demonstrates how these interactional dynamics and legitimacy struggles drive China’s distinctive trajectory of knowledge-economy development. Specifically, she analyzes China’s agrobiotechnology and biotechnology sectors, industries that are both deeply significant, economically and politically, to the Chinese party-state and highly contentious in Chinese society. Drawing on extensive mixed method qualitative fieldwork, Dr. Coplin shows how China’s efforts to “domesticate” these contentious technologies center on deploying nationalist ideologies to reframe social anxieties around the technology as a struggle between China and foreign interests. This nationalist frame functions as the crucial logic organizing relations among science, state, and market, and thus sets China on a path of knowledge-economy development divergent from advanced, liberal democracies. Moreover, this institution-building principle structures each tier of China’s agrobiotech project: the nationalist dynamics of the sector; the emergence of unique commercial/academic organizational forms; the career trajectories of actors in the industry; the type of technology developed; and even the contours of social criticism leveled against this technology. Though not always possible in practice, this sociotechnical imaginary aims to create an ecosystem in which technological innovation, market profit, social stability and regime legitimacy are rendered mutually reinforcing. 

Dr. Coplin has also initiated a second project centering on the emergence of symbiotic local government-firm ties across plural Chinese high-tech industries. It shows how the P.R.C's techno-nationalist orientation cultivates multifaceted circuits of symbiosis between technology enterprises and the state, dubbed “symbiotic imbroglios”. Within China’s domestic ecosystem, technology firms engage in nationalist performances and collaborate with local governments in service provision and governance to gain data, labor, land, and platforms on which to trial new technologies. Local officials, in turn, foster high-tech economic growth, gain assistance in solving persistent social problems, and distinguish themselves as “policy innovators” through alliances with domestic technology firms. Over time, these collaborative ties are integrated into the firm’s business models and the state’s governance strategies alike, entwining the party-state’s governance goals, technological innovation, and enterprises’ profits. While these entanglements enable Chinese enterprises to dominate China’s technology markets and facilitate the party-state’s “taming” of firms and technologies, they also place firms and the state at risk of being tainted by one another’s legitimacy crises. The project thus examines how the rise of China’s knowledge economy is restructuring boundaries among Chinese society, science, industry, and the party-state. It suggests that certain forms of science and technology may develop more efficiently under authoritarian conditions, and strengthen, rather than undermine, the governance capabilities and legitimacy of autocratic regimes.

Dr. Coplin’s teaching also probes the science-market-state nexus. Co-appointed in Vassar’s Sociology Department and Program on Science, Technology, and Society, she teaches State-Society Relations in the US, China, and EU (SOCI/INTL 280), the International Social Life of Science and Technology (STS/SOCI 240), Asian Sociotechnical Imaginaries (STS/SOCI 345), Introduction to Sociology (SOCI 151), and Research Methods (SOCI 254).

Dr. Coplin holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University, an M.A. in Regional Studies of East Asia from Harvard University, and a B.S. in Chemistry and East Asian Studies from Yale University. She previously has held fellowships from the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Contemporary China, the Yale Council on East Asian Studies, and Fulbright Association. She is an avid sailor, spontaneous dancer, and aspiring molecular gastronomist.