Amy Hanser

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Decoding China’s pink economy : emergence, gendered distinctions, and mainstream companies’ pursuit of pink money (2023)

This dissertation examines how the economic institutions of the pink economy have emerged in China since the early 2010s, how gendered sociality has influenced the way the lesbian and gay male consumer markets are organized, and how Chinese mainstream companies have marketed to lesbians and gay men by mobilizing repertoires of subcultural codes, sociocultural norms, and cultural trends in contemporary China. This dissertation draws on interviews, ethnographic data, media data, and social semiotic analysis of gay advertisements to address these different yet inextricably linked questions. This study contributes to the existing literature on the sociology of markets that demonstrates how the state, gender, and sociocultural norms shape market economies. It also fills a crucial gap in the sociological study of markets: understanding how sexual identity shapes market development and organizations. My research findings can be summarized as follows. First, unmet consumer demand forms the basis of the pink economy sector, and the state set the scene for the nascent pink sector to emerge: government policies triggered a surge in funding resources and technology infrastructure upgrades that laid the material foundations for pink entrepreneurship. Pink companies have strategically leveraged government policies to negotiate their legitimacy with the authorities. Second, this study indicates that certain types of commerce existing in the gay male consumer market do not dovetail with lesbians’ preferred ways of socializing characterized by security and privacy. Opportunities for the lesbian and gay male markets exist in different types of trade and business. Third, Chinese mainstream companies have capitalized on public ignorance of LGBTQ culture by employing gay subcultural codes in their marketing practices. In patrilineal China, gay marketing is influenced by different cultural perceptions of same-sex intimacy between men and women, resulting in distinct portrayals of gay men and lesbians. Some advertisements featuring gay men and lesbians have enjoyed popularity on the coattails of the thriving danmei culture and the China-Chic economy. Gay marketing is embedded in the social realities of contemporary China: the dynamics among state power, sociocultural norms, cultural trends, and multiple subcultural groups that mainstream marketing has attempted to pull in.

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The cultural economy of urban development: density and the politics of affordable housing in Toronto and Vancouver (2021)

In the face of a growing housing crisis, since the early 2000s cities throughout North America have created various policies to encourage urban developers to build affordable housing in exchange for extra density. This phenomenon has produced novel public-private arrangements and prompted some developers to take on a dual identity of luxury condominium builders and partners in solving the housing crisis. Considering this significant shift in the responsibilities of the private sector, how can we understand the new role of developers in providing affordable housing through density? What are the motivations and justification of actors in the industry, government, non-profit, and public sphere in supporting or challenging these arrangements? My dissertation draws on 100 qualitative interviews with politicians, developers, and other actors in the field of urban development in Toronto and Vancouver, two years of ethnographic observation, and frame analysis of over 500 newspaper articles, to address these questions through three standalone yet interrelated papers. Drawing from work in cultural sociology, geography, and anthropology, which emphasizes the role of meaning, symbolism, and different forms of non-market exchange in the economy, I advance an urban cultural economy approach for the study of urban development. First, I argue that the exchange of density between the private sector and the state takes the form of gift-giving and reciprocity and this has a consequential impact on land-use decisions. This finding adds nuance to debates on urban neoliberalization. Second, I argue that giving back through density agreements allows developers to accumulate symbolic capital, which is simultaneously altruistic and profit-oriented. This finding advances understandings of non-economic capital in the field of urban development. Finally, through an analysis of Canadian news media, I show how exchanging density for rental housing relies on cultural understandings of housing tenure and fictional expectations of the future of housing markets. This finding contributes to recent work on the role of narratives and storytelling within the capitalist economy. In addition to advancing theoretical conversations in urban, cultural, and economic sociology, my dissertation also provides suggestions for how to improve urban development policy in Canadian cities.

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Borders within the Border: Economic Development and Mobility in Two Sub-Regions of the Pearl River Delta, South China (2015)

This dissertation explores how local labour markets and labour migration are constructed within in the Pearl River delta region in Guangdong province, south China. The Pearl River delta region has become one of the most industrialized and prosperous regions in China since economic reform began in 1979. Industrial growth has occurred in areas that were primarily agricultural, yet the trajectory of growth has been uneven. Uneven development has generated two distinct economic structures and economic activities within the delta region. The core area is highly industrialized, and partially urbanized, while the periphery is less industrialized and by Pearl River delta standards marginally developed.The data for this study were derived primarily from a survey conducted in five formerly rural communities in the Pearl River delta. Over 400 labour migrants were interviewed. Ethnographic observation and secondary documentary analysis complemented the survey data. I argue, firstly, that rural industrialization created large scale labour migration in and around village settlements rather than urban areas. Labour market formation in Chinese rural contexts offers a sharp contrast to current migration studies and labour market formation. Secondly, the hukou system and other policies of residence management have major consequences for labour migration in China. Labour migration occurs in a domestic context and despite some distinctions occurs within a single cultural system. Chinese labour migrants cross administrative boundaries and face cultural adjustment such as language and industrial work. They can be seen as analogous to foreign workers as described in international migration studies. Yet institutional arrangements create unequal access to the benefits of citizenship and distinctive living arrangements. They generate contested identities in the places where migrants seek employment. The social networks of migrants have become facilitating factors in obtaining jobs and initial settlement, yet they may also hinder social integration into highly solidary host communities. This study has implications beyond labour market formation and identity change. Given the large population of labour migrants in China and the patterns of labour migration under specific institutional context and local social characteristics, it casts light on the profound social transformation in China as a whole.

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Local citizenship and socialized governance: Linking citizens and the state in rural and urban Tianjin, China (2012)

This study uses the China case to revisit some of the central assumptions of the literature on citizenship, showing how citizens and states are formed in and through the local places where citizenship is practiced. It suggests that the location of the political and of citizens have been an understudied aspect of citizenship orders, not just in relation to the growing impact of global and transnational forces, but also in sub-state entities.Through fine-grained examination of the daily interactions between citizens and state agents, this study shows how citizenship in China is embedded in local relationships of belonging, participation and entitlement anchored in institutions that organize people in workplaces, urban neighborhoods and rural villages. Based on 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork in four communities in Tianjin, China, the study examines how two such institutions, the villager and residents committees, act as a nexus for participation and formal rights, while also providing social welfare to the needy. The practices of these institutions bind citizens to the state through a face-to-face politics that acts both as a mechanism of control and a channel for claims-making and pressure from below, a mode of rule I call “socialized governance.” Both enabling and constraining, this exists in tension with bureaucratic-rational forms of governance, such as the current Chinese leadership’s objective of “ruling in accordance with law.” While the frameworks for citizenship are set at the national level, its local, cellular character means great variation among places in both form and practice. My model of local citizenship helps explain patterns of economic and social inequality and of contentious politics in contemporary China. While the unsettling of the congruence between the national and citizenship has been widely noted, this study points to how local, national and global institutionalized dimensions of citizenship have consistently been mediated through or exercised in sub-state entities. The narrative of the nation-state has so dominated the literature on citizenship that it has generally made invisible the actual techniques and processes through which citizenship orders are made, re-made and contested. As a unitary state with a strong national project, the China case provides intriguing material for rethinking how the local shapes citizenship.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Confiding in strangers: negotiating trust in mental health service consumption in China (2021)

Research on trust in economic transactions have formed a dichotomous conceptualization of trust as motivated by either economic rationality or emotional intimacy, neglecting other possibilities of trust. Drawing on Simmel’s theorization of the Stranger and Zelizer’s relational perspective, I argue that “stranger trust” is a type of trust that rests on the interactional presentation of objectivity and emotional neutrality. Using interview data with mental health service consumers in China, I address the question: how do participants of therapeutic relationships form trust under the unfavorable institutional environments for mental health services in China? My findings show that participants in therapeutic relationships create trust by framing the service provider as “Strangers”, which is established through three interactional processes 1) identifying affinities and differences, 2) protecting social distance, and 3) depersonalizing emotions. From the clients’ perspective, these interactional processes mitigate the risk posed by a lack of institutional regulation for mental health service provision. This study calls attention to how relational practices create and maintain trust in settings with weak institutional supports for trust.

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Inclusion? exclusion! : citizenship, migration policies and anti-migrant campaigns in Beijing (2018)

When migration is substantially increasing in the contemporary world, states build complex systems to manage the movement of migrants, and these institutional borders significantly influence migrants’ attainment of citizenship. Besides institutional arrangements, the broader political context also shapes the management of citizenship. However, in existing literature, studies on migration and citizenship focus mostly on the international level and pay less attention to the local citizenship and domestic migration. This thesis studies how the policies changes of the migration system and political campaigns directly targeting migrants both shape the constitution of local citizenship and the experience of migrants through examining the case of Beijing, China. Using data from interviews, government documents and media articles, this thesis investigates both Beijing’s reform of the hukou system into a point-based system and its political campaigns against migrants, which began in the form of “urban beautification” and then developed into the direct eviction of migrants. This thesis finds that while Beijing’s point system renders better chances for migrants to gain local citizenship in Beijing, the greater acceptance produced by policy changes has been undermined by the anti-migrant campaigns which increasingly problematize migrants. This study not only exhibits the fragility of migration institutions, but also reveals how the political context, specifically the authoritarian system, produces and exacerbates the exclusion of migrants. This study adds a non-nation-state case to the existing literature on migration studies, also reveals the importance of studying the politics of migration.

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Disappearing in plain sight: an exploratory study of co-occurring eating and substance abuse dis/orders among homeless youth in Vancouver, Canada (2017)

How are disordered eating and substance abuse embodied, experienced, and articulated within a context of multi-dimensional marginalization? Existing studies that address this question emphasize medical influences and gather clinical samples, thereby overlooking those for whom structural constraints such as poverty make accessing costly and time-intensive treatment unrealistic. In this study, I fill methodological and empirical gaps in the literature by using qualitative methods to explore the co-occurrence of eating and substance use disorders among homeless youth. This study consists of two parts: (1) semi-structured interviews with youth and (2) structured interviews with key informants employed by low-barrier support services. Results show several indicators of co-occurring disordered eating and substance abuse among homeless youth. There is a strong link between conscious self-starvation due to body image concerns and compensatory substance abuse behaviours, while youth also engage in substance abuse to mitigate the effects of hunger related to food insecurity. Further, there is a significant disparity when comparing youths’ eating disorder and food-related health literacy to their substance use disorder health literacy. Finally, patterned responses among youth and front-line workers suggest that while service providers have several supports in place to assist youth who are engaging in problematic substance use, there is a shortage of existing infrastructure to assist youth who are struggling with disordered eating. I conclude by offering suggestions for further research on co-occurring eating and substance abuse disorders among vulnerable populations.

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From nameless Marxist to public sociologist: the intellectual trajectory of Shen Yuan in contemporary China (2014)

The study of intellectuals constitutes a vibrant intersection of political sociology, sociology of knowledge, sociology of intellectual life, and sociological theory. Influential scholars such as Karl Mannheim, Zygmunt Bauman, Pierre Bourdieu, and Michel Foucault have enriched the social-historical understanding of intellectuals in modern societies; and more recently, the New Sociology of Ideas (NSI) has extended this endeavour with studies of social scientists and humanities scholars in Western countries. This thesis, however, documenting the intellectual trajectory of Shen Yuan (沈原, b. 1954) since the 1960s, is the first empirical study of a Chinese social scientist as a public intellectual produce within the sub-field of the NSI. It explains how Shen negotiated an authoritarian regime to become a public intellectual. In order to explore such a process, this study demonstrates the importance of attending to the way Shen sees and defines himself as an intellectual. Following Gross’s theory of Intellectual Self-Concept, the research shows that the key to understanding the making of Shen as a public intellectual is to study the Chinese sociologist’s changing intellectual identity, from problematic Marxist during the 1980s and 1990s to public sociology after 2000. To trace Shen’s intellectual trajectory, this research utilized original interviews with Shen Yuan and several of his students in Beijing, and primary sources including Shen’s publications. While employing various interpretative tools, including Gross’s intellectual self-concept, Bourdieu’s field and habitus, and Watson’s dual concepts of orthopraxy and orthodoxy, the research makes two conceptual contributions to the sociology of intellectual life: both archived identity and conceptual literacy hone an analytical understanding of the development and work of public intellectuals.

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Cuba in transition : entrepreneurs, tourism and political compromise in Havana (2011)

Since the early 1990’s Havana, Cuba has undergone considerable socioeconomictransformation resulting from the legalization of some forms of private enterprise. Paladares,Cuban owned and operated restaurants, have emerged in Havana as a significant industry,fueled largely by both tourism and Havana’s second economy. The liberalization of Cuba’sdomestic economy has, in turn, impacted social and political ideologies, particularly amongHavana’s wealthiest paladar owners. Concerns and speculation about the future role ofCommunism in the country have made the role of paladares increasingly problematic forboth researchers and political officials in the region. However, this research demonstratesthat more modest paladar owners attempt to mediate principles of socialism and capitalismby largely acquiescing to stringent government regulations. Alternatively, their wealthycounterparts engage openly in illicit business practices, often with near impunity from Cubanofficials now indentured to the financial dividends traded for toleration. This research spansfour neighbourhoods across Havana and draws on interview data gathered from nine paladarowners and ten weeks of participant observation. This thesis argues that paladares are notantithetical with ongoing social security and political stability for Cuban people and thattourism along with the second economy it helps to enhance are themselves detrimental tomany of the gains championed by Cuba’s revolution.

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To applaud or not to applaud: Governance and the (re)production of identity through high-cultural consumption (2010)

This research investigates high-cultural consumption in urban China during the last decade,looking in particular at attendance of Western classical music concerts. By studying theaudiences, I intend to explore the reasons behind the popularity of this cultural consumingpractice in a market economy with Chinese characteristics. Situated in Shanghai, a 'globalcity’ in making, I also view this phenomenon from a post-colonial perspective – given thecity’s semi-colonial history in the early 20th century. In this paper, I try to bridge Foucaultiangovernmentality in the sense of self-cultivation and governmental intervention in the culturalmarket, with Bourdieu’s capital conversions by illustrating how urbanites in Shanghaiappropriate high-cultural consumption in the process of their identity (re)production. I arguethat Shanghairen’s attendance at, and interest in, Western classical music concerts is anepitome of the local’s response or coping mechanism when encountering the ‘modern’ globalin its historical and contemporary forms. This cultural consumption practice promoted by themunicipal government – based on its manipulation of Shanghairen’s aspiration towards themodern West – in reality contributes to the formation of both the local residents’ identities,and the urban culture. Furthermore, the appreciation of Western classical music concertscloses up the perceived distance between Shanghai and the advanced West, meanwhile,enlarges the ‘quality’ (suzhi) gap between Shanghairen and people from the rest of China.

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News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

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