Abigail Coplin is an assistant professor in Vassar College’s Sociology Department and Program on Science, Technology, and Society. She also holds a secondary appointment in Vassar’s Asian Studies Program. Dr. Coplin’s research is situated in political sociology, economic sociology, organizational sociology, and science and technology studies. It examines the entanglement of science, politics, markets, and nationalism in contemporary China.
Biotechnology inherently blurs boundaries between science and commerce, market and state, the global and the national, and personal privacy and collective interest. Dr. Coplin’s research probes these tensions. She analyzes the development of China’s biotechnology and agrobiotechnology industries to elucidate how scientific innovation, business, and regime legitimacy co-evolve in the contemporary People’s Republic of China, how the Chinese state contends with scientific experts and incorporates expertise in its governance schemes, and how China’s pursuit of high-tech development is restructuring relationships among Chinese society, industry, and the party-state.
Dr. Coplin is currently completing a book manuscript titled Domesticating Biotechnological Innovation: Science, Market, and the State in Post-Socialist China. Drawing on extensive ethnographic field work in Chinese biotechnology firms and academic laboratories, in-depth interviews with researchers, businessmen, and local officials involved in this sector, and textual analysis of various laws, policy documents, and media resources, her book project argues that China’s efforts to build its biotech industries center on the state, scientists, and firms deploying nationalist imaginaries to reframe social anxieties around contentious technologies as a struggle between China and foreign interests. This nationalist frame shapes each tier of China’s biotechnology project: the nationalist performances and symbiosis between firms and local governments pervasive throughout the sector; the emergence of unique commercial/academic organizational forms that defy categorization; the career trajectories of actors in the industry; the types of technology developed; and even the contours of social criticism leveled against these technologies. The book project shows that while China’s approach aims to create an ecosystem in which technological innovation, market profit, and regime legitimacy are mutually reinforcing, it is fraught with tensions, hinges on international networks of science and business, and potentially hampers the global influence of Chinese firms and researchers.
Additionally, Dr. Coplin is also working on two spin-off projects. The first traces the evolution of multi-faceted, symbiotic ties between local governments throughout China and Chinese biotech and tech firms, dubbed “symbiotic imbroglios.” It demonstrates how these collaborative links are integrated into the firm’s business models and the state’s governance strategies alike, entwining state legitimacy claims, service provision, technological innovation, and enterprises’ profits. The second explores how Chinese firms legitimate themselves and their technological products within developed nations and markets by examining how Chinese biotechnology companies negotiate their global expansion into the United States, Europe, and Japan.
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 the Fulbright Association.