Ling Han holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, San Diego. Her research explores the logic behind community formation and community change in developing world through analyzing the crucial role of nongovernmental organizations and social innovations. At the intersection of service provision, urban governance, and nonprofit organizations, her dissertation examines the uneven formation and development of the social work profession in China that has come to dominate community welfare reform.
What are you currently working on at PACS?
My larger research agenda looks at the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially the service provision NGOs and other types of service innovation, in shaping community governance and bringing community change. My dissertation, “Professionalizing Service Provision: The Field of Social Work in Urban China,” examines the logic behind the uneven formation and development of the social work profession in China that has come to dominate the community welfare reform. To give you a little background, although the national social work licensing exam was only in force since 2008, according to government’s projection, China will have 1.45 million professional social workers 2020. To solve this puzzle, I spent two years of ethnographic research in Beijing following the development of social work in different districts and created an original dataset. During the PACS postdoctoral period, I will be working on turning the dissertation into a book manuscript.
In other ongoing projects, I study topics relating to social welfare and gender. A revised chapter, in preparation for journal submission, I discuss the potential of the state-led social innovation project to bring social change. I am also working on another research paper about the career path and occupational choice of women working in the Chinese nonprofit sector. This paper will attempt to explain the trend of increasingly more women work in NGOs. At PACS, I will develop a new project exploring the mechanisms of community change in China from the angle of corporate social responsibility and welfare restructuring.
What is an interesting finding in your current research?
Social work is generally perceived as a female-dominated profession in most countries. While I was presenting my work, the most common question that people ask is whether there are more women doing social work than men. In the United States, according to the 2014 Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 81.9% of social workers are women. What about China? From my field observation and the city-level statistics, the ratio of male to female social worker is roughly about 1:2. Although this doesn’t mean that men in China are more willing to participate in human services, the number has great implication for our understanding of the Millenial generation because over 80% of all social workers have college degree with an average age around 27 years old. Moreover, the process of implementing social work in the community is full of conflicts because most social workers are strangers to the community, and their social work interventions are often very foreign to community residents. Yet, these young social workers are finding ways to innovate how services are carried out.
What got you interested in your research on nonprofit organizations?
I think it all started from my disobedience to parents’ expectation on me becoming a medical doctor treating women, a common model minority complex. Instead, I studied Women’s and Gender Studies at UC Berkeley. While I embraced theories about third world feminism, I found myself, coming from an immigrant background, being very ignorant about women’s activism and gender researches in my home country. When it was few months before graduation and I was panicking about what to do with my degree, I decided that I would go back to Taiwan to work at a women’s organization. I submit blind resume and introduction to several gender research centers and nonprofit organizations inquiring whether they could hire me with paid. Some responded and were willing to meet with me. However, due to budget constraint in most grassroots organizations and the uncertainty of putting a fresh-off-the-boat person at work, they could not offer a position to me. Luckily, the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Research Program at National Taiwan University offered me a job, and suddenly I became the executive secretary of that center handling both scholarly activity and social engagement. This gave me the great opportunity to meet with leaders of leading nonprofit organizations and feminist scholars in East Asia.
During my master’s study at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, I developed strong connections with grassroots women’s and gender-based organizations in China as part of my mater’s thesis. During my PhD studies at UC-San Diego, I interned at one of the oldest women’s organization in China, and my field observation has led me to my current research on the development of a new professional class of social worker and service-provision NGOs in China. While retelling the past always distorts the reality a bit, the motivation in studying the nonprofit sector has always been present in my work.
What do you do in your free time?
I have two cats named Dodo and Ponyo—they demand me to play with them or respond to their needs at all the time while at home. They provide the necessary distractions for me to complete my work—oftentimes I have to use a laser pen on one hand while patting with the other hand. I am also an avid reader of Japanese manga and try to make it a ritual to read it before bed. This has been a habit of mine since elementary school, and my first-ever comic book was Osamu Tezuka’s Dr. Black Jack. In between working at PACS and doing yoga, I am fascinated by the texture and materiality of things that require craft—ranging from the quality of paper, the flow of ink color, the smoothness of extra-fine fountain pen nib, the pattern of washi tape, and the intricacy of nail art. Handwriting and doodling bring me delight. I also acquire knowledge of other fields from my partner who is an amateur chairologist and audiophile. Okay, I confess that I am a stationary addict and a “small fresh” wannabe, as in the Chinese slang, but I limit myself to only seeking those affordable yet high quality craftsmanship. If you know what I am talking about, feel free to drop me a line!