Compass of Sociology is pleased to welcome Professor Xiaogang Wu, who co-chairs the Social Stratification Section with Dr. Zhuoni Zhang as Associate Editor. Xiaogang is a professor of sociology at New York University Shanghai. The Sociology Compass Associate Editor’s role is to lead the ordering of recent review articles by subject area. We took the opportunity to speak with Xiaogang about his research and the goals of the Social Stratification Section as he and Dr. Zhang join the Sociology Compass editorial team. An interview with Dr. Zhang can be found here.
Tell us about your scientific activities and how you came to study sociology?
I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology from Renmin University in China and Peking University, respectively, and my PhD in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before moving to Hong Kong to join the faculty, I spent two years at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as an Andrew Mellon postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in sociology. in 2020 I moved to NYU Shanghai in the fall after 17 years of teaching at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Early in my career, I studied the labor market process in a transition economy and the role of socialist institutions in stratification processes in China. I then expanded my research on social stratification and mobility to include educational inequality, and more recently to comparative research in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
In my research, I mainly use quantitative methods to analyze population-based survey data that my research team collected in a more localized context, such as a survey of a group of college students in Beijing. [BCSPS]) (2009–2013), the Hong Kong Social Dynamics Research Group (HKPSSD) (2011–2021), and the Shanghai Urban Neighborhood Study. [SUNS] (2017-2019), as well as other publicly available and nationally representative data, such as the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) and the Chinese Family Group Survey (CFPS). This extensive data allows me to explore a range of sociological topics such as gender, ethnicity, identity, subjective class, public opinion, although education, inequality and stratification remain central to my research interests.
When I was in high school, I came across a small book translated from English, What is sociology? Introduction to the discipline and profession. I didn’t know at the time how famous author Alex Inkles was. The Chinese version was released in 1981. and only 1,000 copies were printed, but somehow I had the opportunity to read the book in a small Chinese town in the mid-1980s. When I chose my major, I listed sociology as my first choice and became the first batch of undergraduate students in sociology at Renmin University of China (sociology as a discipline was once abolished during the Maoist era and reinstated in 1979). Since then I have been in this profession for 35 years.
What questions would you consider the most compelling or important to your research area at this time?
We currently live in an era of high inequality and declining social mobility. In recent decades, these have become pressing issues with profound implications that governments in many countries have attempted to address. To emphasize the importance of studying inequality and stratification, I often quote Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of folly.” Social scientists should provide the wisdom and insights to monitor trends, identify causes, and propose policy solutions to mitigate the social and political consequences of such challenges. In order to carry out these studies, we can focus on some important questions in this research area as follows:
- First, how emerging new social trends shape patterns of inequality and stratification processes. These trends include demographic transition, globalization, digitization, which can have a significant impact on occupational and labor market structures.
- Second, how inequality is produced in different social contexts. We can shift the focus of inquiry from describing patterns of inequality to the process or mechanism through which inequality is produced. Thus, it is necessary to apply various innovative methods in this field of research.
- Third, what are the social and political consequences of rising inequality. More attention needs to be paid to the subjective dimension of social stratification, that is, how inequality is perceived and translated into individuals’ attitudes, social and political actions.
- Finally, what public policies can be implemented to reduce the negative effects of rising inequality. Research on inequality and stratification should be more embedded in the debate about social and economic policies and their impact on the dynamics of inequality and poverty.
What do you think sociological research contributes to society? Why is this important?
In my opinion, sociological research can help society in several ways. First, we use scientific methods to obtain facts and detect social trends (such as observing inequality) that go beyond the immediate impressionistic experiences of individuals. Second, individuals living in this modern era may be better informed to make choices within structural constraints. In this regard, sociological research can help individuals make realistic choices. Finally, sociological research can also help us identify social problems, place them in specific historical contexts and, if possible, find policy solutions to these problems or at least find ways to mitigate the negative effects of these problems. After all, sociological research can help us understand ourselves and the society around us and make our society a better place to live.
As Associate Editor of the Social Stratification Section of the Sociology Compass, what do you, Dr. Zhang, look for when ordering and evaluating review articles?
We would like to invite researchers to contribute to review articles summarizing the existing literature and discussing future research directions in this area. We are looking for both conventional and innovative topics relevant to social stratification research. For mainstream topics, we would like to highlight empirical evidence from non-Western societies that could challenge and revise existing theories on those topics. For example, empirical findings from East Asian contexts can be compared and contrasted with existing knowledge from European or North American countries to enrich the literature in this area.
Our second line of interest is to explore the challenges of new social and economic transformations to the concepts, tools and theoretical paradigms adopted in the narrowly defined field of social stratification research. For example, the acceleration of digitization and the rise of the platform economy may transform the labor and employment market, potentially undermining the profession, which is a key concept in social stratification research.
We are particularly interested in authors from interdisciplinary backgrounds and research using innovative methods. We also want to expand the peer review community to draw expertise both from outside sociology and from relevant subfields of sociology. Papers on major non-Western societies of the Global South are particularly welcome.
What inspires you to participate in Sociology Compass as an associate editor?
I was the editor-in-chief Chinese Sociological Review (CSR) since 2011 (CSR, ISSN: 2162-0555 [print]ISSN: 2162-0563 [online]). Under my leadership, CSR (originally known as Chinese sociology and anthropology) has been transformed into the premier international peer-reviewed journal for the study of Chinese society and culture. This role gave me the opportunity to get to know many scientists through their work, and the editorial experience was very rewarding. SoCo is a different type of journal, publishing mainly specialist review articles but accessible to non-specialists. I believe that this is exactly what professional sociologists must achieve.
Research on social stratification and mobility is a highly technical area of our discipline, but the issues we investigate are of great interest to the general public. The Social Stratification Section of the Sociology Compass (SoCo) will be a platform for colleagues to reflect on what has been achieved, what future research directions will be, and to share these reflections and insights with a wider audience. As Associate Editor of the Social Stratification Section, I wish that insights and perspectives based on evidence and experience from non-Western societies would be heard in particular.
What would you put at the top of a recommended reading list for readers and researchers new to your discipline?
I recommend three books for new readers in the area of social stratification:
1. Persistent inequalityCharles Tilly (1998)
The first introduces a powerful new approach to the study of persistent social inequality. Tilly challenges the idea that inequality can be understood in degrees and emphasizes the categorical nature of social inequality. Unlike many other contemporary analyses, which explain inequality along gender, class, race/ethnicity lines, Tilly uses a single concept to account for how inequality arose. People draw boundaries between themselves and ‘others’ and thus form ‘categorical pairs’. Tilly’s book describes four social mechanisms that create and maintain paired and unequal categories: exploitation, opportunity accumulation, emulation, and adaptation. Although the former was borrowed directly from Marx and the latter from Weber’s concept of social closure, the latter two processes are more original and arresting. Emphasizing the latter two processes, the book presents inequality more sensitive to the interaction of micro and macro contexts and the fluidity of the historical process.
2. Capital in the twenty-first centuryThomas Piketty (2014)
The second is a “sociological” book written by the French economist Thomas Piketty. The central thesis of the New York Times best-selling book is that when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of economic growth over the long term, the result is wealth concentration, and this uneven distribution of wealth leads to social and economic instability. Inequality is not an accident, but rather a feature of capitalism that can only be changed by state intervention. If capitalism is not reformed, the democratic order itself will be threatened. He proposes a global system of progressive wealth taxes to help reduce inequality. The book combines historical perspectives and hard data to address one of the most pressing issues that many countries have attempted to address.
3. Sociology as a population scienceJohn H. Goldthorpe (2016)
The third book, written by one of the leading stratification researchers, British sociologist John Goldthorpe, provides a new rationale for recent developments in sociology that focus on identifying and explaining probabilistic patterns in human populations. In this concise and accessible book, Goldthorpe shows how sociology has become more secure in the “probabilistic revolution” that has occurred in both the natural and social sciences over the past century, and illustrates this central argument with examples from social stratification, the sociology of the family, and the sociology of revolutions to promote quantitative sociology. .
Professor Wu is the Associate Editor of Dr. Zhuoni Zhang, whose interview you can read here.
Professor Wu and Dr. Zhang take over these associate editorships from Dr. Joan Maya Mazelis, who ends her term in 2022. at the end We would like to thank Dr. Maya Mazelis for her dedication and commitment to leading the Social Stratification Department. last year. You can view the articles published during this term here.
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