PACS post / October 21, 2015

Interview with Jean Lin, Postdoctoral Fellow


Jean Lin

Jean Yen-chun Lin holds a PhD from the Department of Sociology at University of Chicago. Her research focuses on social movements, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and contemporary civil society development in China and Taiwan, with a particular interest in environmental and labor issue topics.


What got you interested in your research on non-profit organizations?

I started volunteering at World Vision Taiwan in high school. I translated letters between donors and their sponsor children from Chinese into English, and was a translator at a lot of their international events. During college, I served as a simultaneous translator for several training workshops for Taiwanese humanitarian NGOs, including one on the Sphere Project (Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response). In my junior year, I received a grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan to conduct research at Mercy Corps in Portland. This solidified my interest in the role of NGOs and other charity organizations, especially internationally. I then pursued a Masters degree at the University of Chicago in International Relations where my project was on the work of international environmental organizations in environmental campaigns in China and their interactions with local grassroots organizations. Before starting my PhD program in Sociology at the University of Chicago, I was a journalist for a year in Taiwan, working at Taipei Times, covering the social organizations beat which allowed me to meet a lot of wonderful local non-profit leaders/organizations and understand their work.


What are you currently working on at PACS?

I’m currently working on my dissertation book project which explains the rise of middle class not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) movements in Chinese communities, looking at various protest strategies, assessing how communities and community leaders interact with various government agencies during their movements, and understanding how protest leaders navigate ambiguous legal boundaries. My case studies are centered on urban community environmental protests in Beijing but I extend them to comparatively examine other similar protests across China to evaluate variations in movement outcomes. I also have several other projects in progress which includes a study of civil society organizational networks in China and how these network patterns affect policy/institutional outcomes, with a focus on environmental organizations. I plan to incorporate GIS mapping of environmental organizations, merging geographical data with existing descriptive data on social organizations and governmental datasets (e.g., population census, economic data) to provide a more comprehensive view of the environmental non-profit “field” in China. Another paper I am working on examines the cooperation and competition among Chinese and Taiwanese NGOs at local and international levels using organizational case studies. In addition, at PACS, I will be involved with the Digital Archives Project, which archives websites of Chinese NGOs.


What is an interesting finding in your current research?

As part of my dissertation, I analyzed an environmental survey conducted in China and found that media influence and environmental consciousness were the strongest predictors of environmental participation. However, when looking at types of environmental participation, there is a distinct age cohort difference. With the increase in age, respondents became less likely to participate in “issue-based environmental action” (participation in specific events which often occur only once and may not be as sustainable in nature), but with the decrease in age respondents were less likely to participate in “everyday” forms of environmental action (quotidian forms of environmental participation that occur more than once and are more sustainable in nature).

In the Chinese political context, age cohorts often exhibit characteristics which correspond to distinct political generations. There are two distinct political periods that the respondents experienced in this survey—the period during the Mao era (1943–1976), and the reform era, the period after his death, of rapid economic growth and social changes (1978-present). During the two political periods, individuals were exposed to socio-environmental values, and the concept of “man” versus “nature” differed greatly. Under Mao, the concept “man must conquer nature” was widely propagated as part of development, but at the same time the results show that the older cohort was found to be more likely to participate in everyday forms of environmental activities. Thus, even though there was “man must conquer nature” propaganda at the time of Mao, it seemed that the idea remained at the top and that citizens were not directly impacted by this concept. Although the older political generation is not likely to participate based on one-time issues, they seem to be engrained with more traditional environmental norms. Younger individuals were more prone to taking issued-based actions such as filing environmental complaints rather than recycling. With social, political, and economic change in post-reform China and its related civil society development, the younger generation is aware of channels of participation, but do not necessarily participate in sustainable activities such as trash separation. From these results, we can think further about bridging these two generations when carrying out environmental campaigns.


What do you do in your free time?

I am in an NBA fantasy basketball league and have been league champion two years running. When I’m not pouring over basketball stats in front of my computer, I try to go to as many Golden State Warriors games as possible. I also love to hike and cook. Favorite hikes in Northern California are Garrapata State Park and Point Lobos. Favorite type of cooking is anything that makes vegetarian food interesting.